From the outside St James’s Place has always had the feel of a business with ideas above its station.
Since it was founded by Sir Mark Weinberg, Mark Wilson and Lord Rothschild in 1991 perhaps that is understandable – those are about the grandest names you can find in insurance.
The flash offices and immaculately besuited financial advisers added to the image – we are a class above, they signalled.
Recent investigations have painted a different picture. Of clients being overcharged, perhaps to pay for the lavish dinners and cruises enjoyed by the top salespeople (that’s what they are, really, with some tax advice thrown on top).
If those excesses have been curtailed under Andrew Croft, CEO since 2018, the feeling that these chaps might be a bit stately persists.
Activist investor Primestone certainly thinks so, complaining yesterday of a “bloated organisation” with “excessive pay” as it made fun of the 120 staff job tiles that begin “Head of”.
Croft didn’t try to defend that bit today, noting that flash job titles make people feel good. Fair enough, but they do also add to the idea that some things at SJP are about show not substance.
In fairness, most staff now work out of Cirencester which doesn’t suggest opulence. And there has always been an aspiration element to wealth management branding.
Complaining about the SJP share price is a soft gambit at the moment – everyone’s shares are down. If they bounce back in line with the money still flowing inwards, Primestone might struggle to gain traction.
If they don’t, there’s a case to answer here.