Victoria Groves – EQ Investors
6 February 2017
Coming from a financial services family, EQ Investors’ Victoria Groves was always likely to end up in the City
With her father the principal of a financial planning firm and her uncle and her cousin financial planners, the assumption might be that on leaving school, Victoria Groves, senior technical consultant at EQ Investors, would follow in the family footsteps and also find a role in financial planning. Although she had worked part-time in her father’s firm during summer holidays “to earn a bit of pocket money” in fact, she did nothing of the sort. After A-Levels she started working in and then running a restaurant and set up her own business at the age of 20, a shop selling gifts and homeware.
She ran the shop for five-and-a-half years, based in a small seaside town just outside of Southend-on-Sea.
“It was hard work and long hours but because the whole town is full of independent shops, footfall was very high. So it was very successful,” she explains. “The best days of the year, surprisingly, were the days immediately after Christmas when I used to have a sale. There would be people queuing up to get in the door.” It was on days like that she “roped in the family to help”, she says.
During that time she put herself through Open University, gaining a degree in social sciences with psychological studies. “And because I was working and the business was doing well I came out of university debt free, which has been a major benefit,” she says.
However, there came a point where she decided that despite the success of the business, she was finding the extremely long hours and working on her own all day no longer enjoyable. It was then that she took the step into financial planning and joined her father’s firm – Cheesman and Groves, based in Benfleet in Essex.
She started in an administration role and then moved into paraplanning, staying for close to two years learning the ropes of financial planning and gaining her first qualifications. At that point her father suggested that if she were serious about a career in financial planning, she should look to gain more experience and that was best done by finding a role in the City of London.
Her first job in London was as a paraplanner for Towergate Financial (now Wren Sterling after a management buyout) before moving to EQ Investors in August 2014.
“Although it wasn’t EQ Investors at the time,” Victoria says. “The job was with Truestone but on my first day my manager took me to one side and told me that the company had been sold to John Spiers. It was all under wraps still as the sale was in the process of completing but she assured me that my job was safe. It was an interesting conversation for my first day in the job.
“Since then, of course, the company has just grown and grown and it’s been interesting to see the transition from Truestone to EQ Investors and how the company has developed in the intervening two years.”
She is now training to be a consultant (financial planner) with the firm. To this end, from the beginning of the year she has been working one-on-one as a paraplanner for one of the directors of the company, receiving training from him as well as attending client meetings.
“That’s unusual for a paraplanner because normally the technical team works as a pooled unit and doesn’t get to see clients on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.
“I think it’s a win-win for both of us, as he can call on my technician side when we are out with clients and I get to learn the client-facing side. I haven’t attended many client meetings since I left my father’s firm and it’s good to get back into it.”
She hopes that by the end of the year she will have sufficient training and experience to start working as a consultant. That means gaining more qualifications too. Alongside her degree, Victoria holds the Diploma in Regulated Financial Services and Certificates in Long Term Care Assurance and in Mortgages and she is currently working towards Chartered Status. She is aiming to achieve chartered status by the end of the year, so that she will have the designation around the same time she moves into a consultant role.
Pooled team advantages
While Victoria says she is enjoying the one-to-one work, she is still part of the pooled team of technical consultants (paraplanners) that operates at EQ Investors. The team consists of five technical consultants headed up by and including Dan Atkinson*. They provide paraplanning for 14 consultants, serving over 2,000 clients.
“We work as a central resource for the whole company, so, apart from my training role, there is no one-to-one work with consultants. The advantages are that we get the exposure to everything that everyone is doing, which helps expand and develop our knowledge as individuals and as a team, particularly as we can bounce ideas and questions off one another, which enables us to learn a lot more in a short space of time. It also means that the consultants can come to anyone on the team with a query. We also have specialists on the team, my specialism being long term care.”
Moving into the consultant role Victoria says offers her a new challenge. “I’m a people person – you have to be if you’re running a shop – and I think you have to be as a consultant, because you need to be able to get from people what they want if you are going to properly give them the solution they need. I’ve been an administrator and a paraplanner, so it’s the next logical step for me in terms of my progression.
“In fact, I think all advisers should spend time as administrators and follow that kind of route, so they can understand the processes from start to finish. Especially the importance of filling in factfinds properly. Until you’ve had the frustration of trying to write a report from someone else’s perspective without all the information, you don’t know what they are going through. You have to work well with the team as well as the clients.”
Working at EQ Investors
Becoming a part of the team at EQ Investors has been “a really enjoyable experience”, Victoria says. “It has done what I wanted which is given me a lot of good experience and knowledge that I know I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t come to London.
“And there are not many work places where you have a cow in the office and a beach on which to have meetings and socialise after work,” she points out.
It’s an office environment that reflects the progressive firm’s appreciation that people spend a lot of their time within the four walls of the office and some down time or a change of scene, can make the working day both more enjoyable and productive.
The cow is a large art installation John Spiers bought at auction and the office has several large paintings on the office walls – not tucked away in board rooms but out in the open so everyone can enjoy them.
All staff have access also to a driving simulator and a cycling machine in a space away from the main banks of desks where people can come and take some time out during the working day. “There’s a competitive element to it as well,” Victoria explains, pointing to a whiteboard on the wall recording the times of teams taking part in a cycling challenge.
The office environment is further enhanced by the view from the City of London office over the river Thames, with the Shard clearly seen towering above the old dock buildings, the Belfast destroyer moored across the river and the Tower of London and Tower Bridge a stone’s throw away.
“It’s very sociable here. We have Friday drinks ‘on the beach’, hosted by a different person every time, which is a great way to talk to other people in the company, especially those that you might not talk to on a day-to-day basis. John Spiers is very big on socialising and team building, and one of the rules of the beach is that you have to talk to someone you haven’t spoken to that week.”
The technical team also socialises outside of work, she adds. “We go out to lunch together every month or so, or we’ll go out to dinner or for drinks together. We make the effort to socialise as a team. You spend so much time with people at work, they become your work family and it’s important to have some time with them that’s not work related. It all helps to make the job enjoyable.”
* Dan Atkinson was the Professional Paraplanner cover star in our November 2014 issue. He is also a regular contributor to this magazine.
What’s a typical day for Victoria?
“All reports and any queries come into our centralised queuing system. One of my first jobs, alongside Lindsay my colleague, is to allocate the jobs out to everyone in the team. Then it’s a matter of monitoring workload so that everyone has about the right amount of work and work that is suited to their capabilities and specialisms.
During the day there will be a lot of queries and emails to deal with as well as the general research and report writing.
Now, in addition to that, I have the preparation needed for when I go out with the consultant to client meetings, as well as answering emails from the clients.
I’m enjoying the client contact side of things. As part of the team you’re dealing with individual clients and you may go into meetings to help deliver cashflow planning information or where there’s a complex case for the more technical aspects but we have so many clients as a company that when you’re writing reports you’re never going to remember everyone. So it’s nice to begin building more of a relationship with clients again.”