Davy chief targets London push after Belfast expansion
Opening a new office of a stockbroking firm in 2007 might seem like a kamikaze move. But Stephen Felle of Davy Private Clients thinks that if they hadn't taken the plunge to open in Belfast then - unaware of the tumult to come - it might never have happened.
Felle is CEO of Davy Private Clients UK. The Meath-born father-of-three has led the Belfast office through four acquisitions and overseen the opening of a London office for Davy.
In Northern Ireland, Davy's most recent acquisition was the wealth management business of Danske Bank - made up of 1,100 portfolios - for close to £10m.
Davy has also bought over PFC, Graham Corry Cheevers and Square Seven Financial Planning in Northern Ireland in recent years, with its four deals making it roughly the third-biggest wealth manager in the North.
"We first started negotiations with Dankse in March or April and reached agreement on a deal in early July," he said.
"There were tough elements to it. We're trying to get the best deal for Davy while they naturally wanted the best deal for Danske. But they are very fair people to deal with."
Danske Bank brings around £500m of assets under management into Davy. "It also gives us a partnership with one of the most, if not the most, prominent names in banking in Northern Ireland," he added.
"We opened in 2007 with the same view which went with the global economic outlook and the Celtic Tiger outlook at that time."
Four years later, the world looked very different. "But the tougher and braver decision was to sit it out through the downturn. And in 2013 we had to look at the business we had built up.
"It was small and sub-scale in both the Davy context and the Northern Ireland context and we knew that if we wanted to have a meaningful presence we would have to invest quite significantly."
And the attitude to investment among clients - who are high net-worth individuals - tended to differ in Northern Ireland compared to the Republic when it first opened.
"Ten years ago we noticed that there was a much higher risk/debt appetite in the Republic of Ireland versus Northern Ireland," says Stephen.
These days however, attitudes on both sides of the Border are similar, he says.
Growth in its London office will be next.
"To date that's been organic growth but to gain a meaningful footprint in wealth in London it will have to be by acquisition - Belfast as our UK experiment, if you will," he says.
"And if we buy something in London in 2019, Belfast will remain the operation hub for finance and legal compliance."