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An independent view of the trust industry

13 December 2023

A Q&A with the Fort Group’s managing director, Jos Ensink, and chief executive officer, Graham McCormack, as they look back over 2023 and consider what’s on the horizon.

What has happened in the trust industry in 2023?

JOS – In 2023, the trust industry has witnessed ongoing consolidation, but there has been a notable surge in the demand for independent trustees who can provide a consistent and personalised service. Many private wealth structures have switched service providers due to dissatisfaction with service quality and rising fees. Additionally, Fort has seized a significant opportunity as staff from these structures, who have valuable client relationships, have chosen to join us.

We hear about skills shortages across most industries in Guernsey – is this the same for trust?

JOS – While the trust industry in Guernsey is experiencing growth, it is not immune to the skills shortage that is affecting many industries. The high cost of living, limited availability of properties, and challenges in attracting talent to the island pose difficulties in addressing this shortage. However, our business model, which prioritises our people, has allowed us to avoid staff turnover challenges and attract the right talent when needed. Additionally, we are continuously investing in improving our operating systems to ensure staff efficiency and effectiveness.

There has been plenty of consolidation in trust companies – what are the advantages of an owner-managed business like Fort Group?

JOS – Firstly, being fully owner-managed means that we have a clear alignment of management and shareholders objectives. This eliminates any potential conflicts of interest and allows us to make decisions quickly and efficiently. Our clients can trust that our decisions are made with their best interests in mind.

Secondly, our experience in acquiring companies and fully integrating them with our operations allows us to expand our capabilities and offer a wider range of services to our clients. This consolidation strategy ensures that we can provide seamless and comprehensive services to our clients.

Furthermore, our focus on our people and culture sets us apart. We prioritise the well-being and professional development of our team, which results in a high level of employee satisfaction and low staff turnover. This stability and continuity of our team allows us to build strong client relationships and deliver exceptional service consistently.

What impact has technology had on the industry? And AI?

GRAHAM – The private client space is picking up pace with technological advancements as businesses recognise the importance of going on a digital transformation journey.  Cyber security continues to be a major focus that continually needs to be invested in and developed.  Similar to the private client industry itself, there has been consolidation in the technology sector as businesses recognise that strength in skills and numbers will deliver better software and infrastructure platforms to our industry. AI is getting a lot of press and we are looking at this with interest.  Elon Musk has said AI will mean no job is needed, but I would not go that far, the private client industry is built on relationships and personalised service, people will very much still be needed. I think the opportunity with AI for us is with procedures and processes and this will undoubtedly deliver huge efficiency to our service model.

What’s on the horizon for 2024?

GRAHAM – 2024 will see us officially launch a new three year strategy, with lots of initiatives taking off. With Fort being 50 years old this year, we are focusing on our brand profile and developing our client and intermediary network.  Our independence is proving to be our strongest selling point and is opening up many new avenues of work. Operationally we have mapped out a lot of inward investment in to our operational model, which will focus on technology, our premises and our people. We will be launching our shared ownership model in 2024 and this is a further commitment to our people first ethos.

There has been plenty of geo-political uncertainty in 2023 – what impact has this had on your industry?

GRAHAM – Despite the devastating effects of a pandemic, military invasion, terrorist attacks and cost of living crisis on a global scale, there continues to be opportunity in the private client industry. Wealth is still being created and the protection Guernsey offers, and access to professional services, is very much in demand. The cost of doing business has risen significantly and that in turn has moved the threshold of client size that is suitable for offshore structuring. The trend we see is the smaller structures are no longer cost viable, but the larger structures are increasing. We are seeing significant growth and that in turn is a great story for Guernsey.

This article first appeared in the December 2023 issue of Business Brief and The Guernsey Press (article published 13.12.2023).

Photo Credits: Guernsey Press


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