Archive for May, 2015

California Broker: Certainty In An Uncertain World

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

The challenge for many owner-managers of brokerages is that they find thinking about the future of their organisation hard work. I am referring to taking conceptual ideas of how to transform the business into pragmatic steps that everyone within the firm can readily understand how their daily interactions support or hinder the firm’s progress.The future of brokerages in California and other businesses is frighteningly simple. There are five components, here are three of them: the quality of management (QM), the quality of employees (QE) and the amount of uncertainty within the business (AU).

In this month’s California Broker, the pre-eminent publication for life and health insurance businesses in California, James provides essential advice for every Owner, irrespective of their time horizon and objectives.

Click below to learn about the other two components and how you can quickly apply this powerful technique to better understand what action you need to undertake to accelerate the probability of arriving at your desired destination.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

An Interview With Me From The Street

Monday, May 18th, 2015

TheStreet’s reporter, Ralph Jennings, interviews James about the dramatic growth in Chinese overseas direct investment in the insurance, real estate, infrastructure and other related asset classes. The logic is obvious to most but it is the emotional reasoning that is largely misunderstood or unknown. Why would Fosun want to replicate Berkshire Hathaway? Read on

More U.S. Properties Are Being Snapped Up by Chinese Companies



Ambiguous Titles In An Unambiguous Business

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Do you work in a function that many of your colleagues, clients and business partners ask “Precisely, what does [fill in your function] do?”

I am reminded as much by separate but related conversations. “Strategic Advisory” functions in reinsurance brokers, who offer mostly tactical not strategic advice. “Operating Partners” in private equity firms, who are not seen as or rarely act as  “partners” in the traditional sense of the word. “Client Advisory” in a global art business, who are largely low-paid implementers, not seen as a peer of the client, and rarely provide advice.  The function’s title is a “catch all” sobriquet for a range of activities, which might differ by products/service offered, markets served, client groups and so on.

The only way to make any sense of these functional titles is to ask “Tell me in one or two sentences, how are your clients better off or personally better supported by your work?” Lo and behold, most people enter into a preamble about the multitude of tasks and activities they undertake, in the belief that the listener will be exponentially wiser. I point this out because it gets to the heart of why so many businesses in finance, insurance and professional services have become masters at making the simple complex from the moment they hand you a business card and rarely articulate their value impressively.

My observation is that in future we will see a dramatic increase in functional titles descriptive of the specific value and results that the client receives, not the activity performed or the empty sobriquet. The alternative is we see an increasing reversion to core functional titles (Marketing, Sales, Delivery, Operations etc.).

There is one obvious proviso. Individual titles within these functions that are for grandeur rather than impact will be scorned or treated with increasing cynicism. We are awash with “Chiefs” in many businesses (Chief Human Resources Officer, Chief Customer Experience Officer, Chief Risk Officer), yet few in reality participate at the top table in setting the firm’s strategy. They collect the kindling for the wood fire but they do not get to choose the menu for the night’s dinner or decide how rare or well done the steaks shall be cooked.

Now let’s get back to the hard work of improving our client’s well-being.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.




Rebuilding Trust

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

England’s most high profile cricketer, and a former neighbour, Kevin Pietersen finds himself out in the cold today chastened by the statement from his past Captain and English Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss, “I don’t believe any team can function in any sort of capacity if there’s no trust, if we don’t trust each other’s intentions.”

The reasons why as suggested by Pietersen’s supporters have been overlooked in favour of casting blame and aspersion. The general media has reported Strauss’s statement as fact when the answer is a little more nuanced. There is trust. After all why would Strauss even invite Pietersen to a meeting, least he think he wouldn’t show up or offer him an advisory role on the future of cricket. The issue is that there is insufficient level of trust with the right people to bring him into the team environment now, Pietersen’s actions need to have greater impact and there needs to be clearer indicators of success.

Similar objection can and do arise in profitably growing and expanding a business when an investor, client, employee or business partner becomes increasingly uncomfortable with you. It takes two forms, professional, they perceive through your actions and/or behaviour that you are not competent to resolve the matter or personal, there is dwindling personal chemistry and enthusiasm to continue working with you.

Let’s be clear “trust” is defined as the hand-on-heart belief that at all times you will act and behave in the other party’s best interests.

What are the indications “no trust”  is the issue if unlike Pietersen you don’t know for sure? The other party questions your credentials repeatedly. You are continually asked about yourself rather than your ideas or insights on how to improve the investor, client, employee or business partner’s performance. You are brushed off with superficial responses, the other party name drops or seeks to upstage you about their past experiences.

What are you to do? Take your time, don’t jump to the conclusion, answer questions fully. Provide appropraite examples and case studies to support your points. ask a lot of questions about the other party, their motivations for being in the business and hopes. If there are others in the room embrace them in the conversation but keep a focus on the key person you must influence. Find common experiences or perspectives that demonstrate you share similar not dissimilar philosophies. Listen assertively and keep your mouth shut.

What are the indications you are successful? You are asked to go for a drink or meet socially. The other party moves the conversation from the superficial (background, social chat) to the detailed areas of help (business, investment, hiring opportunity, collaboration etc.) There is self-disclosure from the other party about their own failures. The other party confides confidential information (“We are weak in these areas…”). The other party asks for more time together or asks immediately for a further meeting.

The point is that we should be well prepared at countering the “no trust” issue. On a day Pietersen batted imperiously for 7 hours, he lasted 40 minutes before being given out LBW offering no shot to Strauss’s questions. Thankfully profitably building a business is not a game of cricket and  the investor, client, employee or business partner shouldn’t be umpiring.

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Published Article in WealthBriefing

Friday, May 8th, 2015

WealthBriefing, the premier news, features and information source for the global wealth management sector asked me to contribute a piece on the retirement revolution sweeping through many economies. The uncertain future for wealth managers, financial advisers and others demands that those running those businesses dramatically transform their business models. Yet many are moving in inches, fearful of  the future and uncertain where to start.

Retiring Pensions – Challenges For Wealth Management

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

An Interview with Me from Le Temps

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Isabelle Talbot, a reporter from Swiss news publication, Le Temps interviewed me on the fast developing trend for financial well-being programmes in the workplace. A product of the US and European fintech and edutech boom, innovative technology tools are enabling employers for the first time to provide highly personalised, mass financial education previously the preserve of the private banking world, at low cost.

The implications are profound for the lives of countless millions of workers and their families, who are being asked to take on greater financial burden and personal risk with the decline of defined benefit retirement plans.

Equally wealth managers, insurance carriers and financial advisers, faced with rising market demand, cost and regulatory pressures, have an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate, invest in or acquire entrepreneurial early and mid-stage businesses.

“Les entreprises américaines se portent au chevet de leurs salariés désargentés”


© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Buying “Cheap” Votes

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Here in the UK, 36 hours before an election, we have every political leader desperately promising “sweetners” to assorted members of the electorate to get their support in Thursday’s tight General Election. Am I alone in thinking the more these statements are lobbed from the political trenches the less impact they have on landing (perceived credibility and impact)? If the opinion polls and betting markets are correct, we will end up with an elected government where all these promises are up for negotiation in the hard bargaining that follows (largely worthless).

There is a similar effect in selling a business, when buyers in an auction start making last minute “promises” on investment, jobs and the preservation of cherished assets, when in all probability they cannot expect to make money doing so. The net effect is that their credibility is severely hurt when they need it most, at the closing and in the 90 days thereafter, to persuade key strategic areas of the business and constituents to support their growth plans.

Of course, if your only goal is to get elected or close the sale and not govern effectively or grow the business profitably, you have little to worry about.


© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.


Painting Investors Into The Picture

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

At a cocktail party earlier in the week at the London home of a major art buyer and industrialist, I asked where his passion for art started. Surrounded by some fabulous pieces of art hanging from the walls, I presumed I was going to hear how art had been a part of his life from an early age or when building his fortune and how he had acquired an “eye” for great art.

His response was was far more direct – a chance adventure around a neighbour’s home in St Tropez just 15 years ago (he is in his late 70’s) and the fact that art appreciates in value.

When you articulate your brand, do you spend hours trying to concoct a fanciful and complex story to about the perceived value or do you tell it as it is? Do your clients or customers come looking for a deep and meaningful story when their needs are often best met by a short and direct response?

My observation with many businesses looking to enter new markets is that they incorrectly presume that the “worth” of their brand and its’ differentiation, is wound up in an elaborate story about why they chose the market (geographic or product) and their “unique” methodology. Stories are only good if they are memorable. Motives don’t have to sophisticated or highly intellectual. The only story that matters is how the other party is better off or personally better supported (value and results).

© James Berkeley 2015. All Rights Reserved.