"We are very aware of the importance of tackling climate change for the future of our children and our children's children."
East Anglian-based Atkinson Bolton Consulting has seriously green credentials.
Since March, Gibson has been the lead fund manager of IM Thoroughbred Core Alpha, a sub-fund of Atkinson Bolton’s IM Thoroughbred Funds OEIC, with funds invested to date in excess of £17m.
This is in addition to his main role leading Atkinson Bolton’s financial planning and wealth management service Thoroughbred Wealth Management. He has also been a key player in taking Atkinson Bolton ‘green’, which led to it being named Investment Week’s Climate Change Portfolio Managers of the Year, in November 2009.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Gibson also spent some weeks in Brazil helping to build a new school with the charity The Bobby Moore Fund.
We asked him what was behind the com-pany’s interest in environmental issues.
“As a company, we have been carbon neutral since 2007. We believe we may have been the first to do so in the IFA community. We are very aware of the importance in tackling climate change for the future of our children and our children’s children. Sometimes it can seem that a company of our size can’t make much of a difference, but sustainability applies at every level, from turning off our computers at night to working with clients on sustainable/ethical investments,” says Gibson.
“We have invested using ethical, socially responsible, climate change and sustainability investments for many years, and our ‘whites of their eyes’ research allows us to make solid judgments on fund managers and their processes in managing assets,” he adds.
“As regards non-specific climate change/ sustainability portfolios around 4% to 6% are currently invested in such funds.”
The policy has the full support of the company’s clients.
“Clients are very happy for us to invest, with discretion, as we see fit in delivering their aims and objectives. When they also understand our own sustainability credentials, it tends to add to their feeling of security – it has certainly never been a negative!”
In line with its green credentials, the company uses recycled paper wherever possible and encourages employees to recycle. Senior executives and other staff take the train rather than drive, and the company has a cycle to work policy.
Gibson says the company would like to do more, but plans for a wind turbine for the roof of its Newmarket head quarters had to be scrapped after the local authority objected. Likewise, the search for a ‘green’ electricity supplier was dropped when it proved prohibitively expensive.
“Sustainability is important not just for the environment but for us as a business. Our clients need to know that we are going to be around not just this year but in the future,” Gibson says.
“We decided 12 months ago that 2009 should be a year where we built a platform for growth, as we anticipated a tough year – recession, recovery from near-financial meltdown in 2008, and continuing headwinds – and we now intend to build from that platform in 2010.”
Atkinson Bolton made a significant number of changes in 2009. The firm gained chartered status and following on from the development of its discretionary service, Thoroughbred Wealth Management in 2007, it established an OEIC, IM Thoroughbred Funds in 2009. The company also expanded its management team, bringing in a human resources manager and public relations manager to allow the directors to concentrate on the core business.
Gibson hints the company’s marketing plan for 2010 contains proposals to expand its ethical policies, although he’s keeping the details to himself for now.
What he will say is that the firm intends to make more and more use of its fund management skills, while continuing to develop the company’s employee benefits service Real Benefits for corporate clients.
The company’s business is currently evenly split between private client and corporate. Atkinson Bolton relies heavily on word of mouth from its satisfied clients for its marketing.
“We provide regular seminars and meetings on various subjects, including our very successful ‘Meet the Managers’ event annually in July. We also have strong relationships with professional connections. We make good use of local media in many forms, and encourage all clients to refer us,” says Gibson.
“Our clients put their trust in us to effect the best possible outcome with their investments and to provide financial planning solutions tailored to them. When we receive notes, postcards from holidays and telephone calls about the outcome of something we’ve helped a client plan over many months or even years, it is extremely satisfying. Being 100% honest and right as often as possible is a guiding principle.”
Gibson himself specialises in managing and advising on investments for individuals and trust funds, but also provides advice and planning on Self Invested Personal Pensions (SIPPs) and inheritance tax mitigation.
He has run model portfolios using asset allocation techniques since 2000, and says this has proved extremely successful, both as a way of helping clients to understand risk and potential returns over differing timescales. Incorporating tactics and strategy with an asset allocated model portfolio is the bedrock of the service he and his team provide.
Understanding the pitfalls
In his personal life, however, Gibson is not adverse to a little risk. Unsurprisingly for a native of the horse racing capital of Newmarket he runs his own syndicate, which owns several horses, currently being trained by James Eustace.
“I believe we can all tailor our risk-taking to different circumstances. As an investor, personally, I am high risk. As a businessman, I believe I take appropriate risk. As a father I am probably a little cautious, protective, and when it comes to horses, coming from a racing family, I understand the pitfalls. Sometimes I can be found having a bet, sometimes not.
“Horse racing is not for the fainthearted, nor is it usually profitable, but it is an exciting, addictive sport, something I have discovered as an owner to a much greater extent than as a punter!”
The same could be said for his enjoyment of stand-up comedy. During a business trip to the US, he found himself entertaining American audiences at the Crackers Comedy Store in Indianapolis.
“I was looking for places to go out in the evening on the internet and I saw that the local comedy club was having an open mike session, so I got in touch with them and asked if I could have a go.
“It was the first time I’d done anything like this, but they like the English sense of humour over there and it went pretty well. There were about 12 of us on that night and me and one other probably got the best responses.”
In addition to the US comedy stage, last year saw Gibson using his wit and repartee as a speaker and professional chairman at meetings in the UK and internationally. His pet subject is the early financial education of children, a subject close to his heart as he has three youngsters of his own. His firm’s green practices will help ensure a good environment for their future.
Helen Keating is a freelance journalist.