Sam Sloma: The CV
2017–present: Engage Financial Services, managing director
2013–2017: First Wealth, financial planner
2010–2013: London and Capital, associate director (sports division)
2006–2010: Professional footballer (Dagenham & Redbridge and Woking)
Leading the line
In the past decade, Sam Sloma has gone from leading the line for Dagenham & Redbridge in League Two to leading the charge for the next generation of financial planners with Engage Financial Services.
Sloma, who scored the Daggers’ first ever Football League goal, on 18 August 2007, retired from professional football in 2010 to pursue a career in financial services. He recently celebrated his first anniversary at the helm of London-based Engage.
‘Financially, playing in League Two and conference level just wasn’t sustainable. So it was time for me to kick on with the next part of my life,’ Sloma says.
‘I had been looking at different professions and working out where I was going to go. Then a friend phoned me; he was recruiting for a discretionary fund manager [DFM] in town.’
That DFM was London and Capital, which was looking to set up a sports division. Sloma’s contacts and knowledge of professional football secured him a key role in developing that business.
After three years at London and Capital, building relationships between the business and various agents and sporting professionals, Sloma spent four years as a financial planner at First Wealth. In April last year, he took the leap to set up Engage.
Sloma’s client bank is unique. Around 90% are either professional sportspeople or successful young entrepreneurs. He started with a client bank of sportspeople, predominantly footballers of Premier League and Championship level.
‘Having empathy and understanding of what clients go through is a big thing,’ he says. ‘From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a very easy lifestyle: you get lots of money, some fame and status.
‘But inside, it is a super competitive industry, and it doesn’t wait for you. You could suffer injuries and mental strains; there’s a lot more to it that people on the outside don’t necessarily understand,’ he says.
Soon Sloma was approached by members of his social network who were young entrepreneurs with substantial sums of money to manage.
‘We are going through similar things: having children, buying houses, looking at insurance or mortgage rates. So it’s a similar situation across a number of different clients,’ he says.
‘I am a chartered financial planner by trade. But, for those guys, I help with business decisions, property purchases, and other life decisions. It is far reaching. We are looking to do more on the psychological aspect as well.’
Owing to the firm’s level of involvement with its clients, Sloma intends to keep a more limited client base with plenty of longevity. He also wants to keep the business ‘small and nimble’ to provide value in those relationships.
‘We’re not a “see you once a year and touch base” kind of company. We are involved in people’s day-to-day lives, and I’m happy with that,’ he says.
Because of the nature of the service, Engage charges flat fees based on time. It discloses its charges in their entirety on its website.
Sloma explains: ‘I didn’t want to have fees based on assets, because subconsciously you’re then thinking about what assets a client has that you can manage. Having looked at my client bank objectively prior to starting the business, I could see how much time clients took.
‘A fixed annual fee based on what we do for the client and how much time we spend is fair for both parties.’
Sloma became a father for the third time in January. He now has girls aged six, three and six months to attend to.
Fittingly, Engage is somewhat unique in that the firm has no set hours or holiday allocations. Sloma places a significant emphasis on granting his colleagues the same freedom he requires to juggle his own work and family life.
‘We designed the business around us and around our lifestyles,’ he explains. ‘I drop the kids off at school. Because their school is about 600 yards from our North London office, I’m in at 8.20am, but I’m home relatively early.’
He helps his wife out if one of the kids is ill and needs picking up. ‘I’m generally home for bath and bedtime, and then I’ll go back to work if I need to.
‘Our working hours are really flexible, and we make it flexible for clients so they can see us and speak to us whenever they want.’
Sloma and his colleagues, including operations director Stevie Uddin and office manager Michelle Frost, attend classes at the PureGym, around the corner. They make sure to maintain a working lifestyle that does not hinder their health.
‘Life is for living,’ says Sloma. ‘Something could happen tomorrow that changes everything, so we should enjoy the time we’ve got.
‘Although what we do is important, it is not life or death. This is reflected in our working life.’
The firm’s goal is to grow a business that allows its staff to build financial freedom for themselves as well as their clients. Sloma hopes to build an employee shareholder structure into the business eventually, ensuring staff become truly invested in the firm’s goals as a unit.
‘We’re not greedy; we don’t want millions,’ said Sloma. ‘We want to be stable and sustainable, and do the same things we advise our clients to do.
He says he is not looking to build the biggest company in the world. ‘We want to be a small, happy, professional entity that allows the owners to live the lives they want, as well as continuing to provide value to clients.’
This is not necessarily financial value. Rather, given the youthful nature of the firm’s clientele, it is that clients think of the relationship with Engage as valuable to their lives and hopes for the future.
Looking back at Engage’s first year in business, Sloma says the complexity and costs of setting up came as a surprise. The pace of regulatory change in the firm’s inaugural term has also been unprecedented. But the firm’s small size meant it could adapt fairly nimbly.
The most challenging aspect of running his own firm so far, Sloma says, was accepting quiet periods.
‘We want to be sustainable and strategic in who we take on,’ he says. ‘Being comfortable with not chasing has taken some getting used to, because sometimes you’re just not that busy.
‘You have to use those periods to reassess your business processes, policies and one-pagers, and build on those.’
One of the products from this quest for procedural improvement is a streamlining of the way documents are presented to clients. Engage has tried to condense its documentation to one or two pages where possible, to keep information readable.
‘The clients we work with like that. I find too much information dispensed in the profession simply doesn’t get read,’ says Sloma.
‘I’d rather give them less and know they’re reading it, than bombard them with paper they’ll never read. It’s a case of “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.’
Engage is currently looking after 40 client families, with the average age of the primary earner sitting at 38. Average client income is £450,000 and average investable assets is £900,000 per client. Average net worth is currently £4 million, with the average fee paid to Engage at £7,000.
Sloma’s ultimate aim is to manage 100 client families with an average annual fee of £10,000, meaning a £1 million annual turnover.
Engage has prioritised working with strategic partners whose philosophies and personalities the firm can relate to. For instance, Sloma works with Abraham Okusanya of FinalytiQ and Steve Martin at the FP Training Academy, both of whom offer useful insights for the business.
Change in the air
Sloma has also benefited from early involvement in the NextGen Planners movement, having come across the group on Twitter during his time at First Wealth.
‘Being a young adviser in a growing firm at First Wealth, NextGen fits me perfectly,’ he says. ‘I like the sharing economy, I like to learn, and I like to see what other people are doing so we can collectively establish best practices.
‘Younger people are more ingrained in the sharing economy. The world is changing and there’s no secrecy or fear of telling people what we’re doing.’
Sloma hopes through this collaborative endeavour, professional standards can be driven up over time across the board. He says NextGen is ‘a feeling rather than an age thing’.
‘Even movements such as NextGen and Back2Y are still a small subset of the UK. So we need to focus on continuing our good work, and hope it builds confidence in the market.
‘Rather than infighting, it should be a case of lifting each other up to create a wider recognition of the good work people are doing.’
The Fee Bit
After a free no-obligation consultation, if the client decides to go ahead, the creative planning fee is agreed for the next stage of the process. It costs between £1,995 and £3,995, depending on the complexity of client circumstances.
This stage encompasses three elements: the fact-find meeting, the creation of a financial plan, and the review and recommendations meeting.
From here, the client can choose to take it away and try to follow it themselves, or proceed as an ongoing client of Engage.
The ongoing service is tiered. Clients with ‘straightforward requirements’, such as starting to accumulate or winding down in retirement, pay £333 a month, or £4,000 a year. Tier two clients pay £667 a month or £8,000 a year, while those in tier three, with multiple and complex needs, pay £1,250 a month, or £15,000 a year.
An additional tier for sophisticated family affairs with multiple assets, where clients need help with all aspects of their personal and business finances, starts from £25,000 a year.
The investment bit...
Simplicity is the name of the game for Sloma when it comes to investment. Engage’s investment portfolios consist of six funds only (see table).
‘The reality with most of our clients in the accumulation phase is they should be in equities mainly,’ he says. ‘They should also have low costs, because the implications of adding in extra costs over the long term is really significant. I wanted to blend those two ideas and build something around that.’
Although he originally considered just running Vanguard LifeStrategy funds, he sought something a little more sophisticated. This was where Dimensional came in.
‘Having some evidence-based investing backed up by data is an approach I really like,’ he adds. ‘Also, the back-office systems and the other stuff you get alongside Dimensional as an adviser are really cool.
‘We built a suite that optimised between Vanguard and Dimensional, and we are really happy with it.’
The Fund Files
Active funds: 5%
Passive funds: 95%
Dimensional Global Short Dated Bonds: 16.7%
Vanguard Global Bond Index: 16.7%
Dimensional Sterling Inflation Linked Intermediate Duration Fixed Income: 16.7%
Dimensional Global Targeted Value: 17%
Vanguard FTSE Global All Cap Index: 25.5%
Vanguard Emerging Markets Stock Index: 7.5%.
The tech bit...
Back office: Intelliflo
Cashflow analysis: Voyant
Attitude to risk: Oxford Risk
Fund Analysis: FE Trustnet (using Finalytiq)
Fund platforms: Transact
Client portal: Personal Finance Portal
Other significant technology: DocuSign
Sam's 12-month goal is to:
Keep growing, but without diluting the work we do.
You can follow Sam on Twitter with the handle @samsloma1. Engage Financial Services Twitter handle is @engage_fs.
Here are some highlights from Engage's social media:
‘It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you worry about money you’re not wealthy’. Nick Murray.— Sam Sloma (@samsloma1) May 23, 2018
Hope everyone had a great long weekend. Here is our latest video on managing clients behaviour and how important this is to us. https://t.co/f4CedF6kcJ— engage fs (@engage_fs) April 3, 2018