Business First Online meets with Jonathan Cunningham, Managing Partner at Belfast-based Cunningham Coates as the firm celebrates its 175th Anniversary.
With 175 years of business experience at his fingertips, Jonathan Cunningham knows exactly how to account for Cunningham Coates’ success and longevity.
“It’s all to do with our culture and our ethos of partnership with our clients,” Jonathan explained when we met at a coffee shop in Belfast’s City Centre.
“The culture we have developed over the 175 year history of the firm is based on our commitment to putting our client first, our colleagues second and profit third. It’s a simple formula which ensures that we remain client focused and develop all of our policies and procedures around their requirements.”
Formed in 1991, Cunningham Coates is the creation of an amalgamation of Belfast based stockbrokers Josias Cunningham & Co Limited and William F Coates & Co. Both these firms have a record of over 100 years of service to the Northern Ireland investing public. Cunninghams & Co Limited was founded by the first Josias Cunningham in 1843.
“The amalgamation was the fusion of experience and a mirrored culture of owner management which abhors short-termism and recognises the value of long-term vision – both in client investments and company development.
“We have striven to retain a balance between the benefits of our history and our vision for the future and as a result, are constantly finding new ways to serve our existing and potential clients, keeping their long-term investment plans to the fore.”
In 2002, Cunningham Coates joined with UK-based Smith and Williamson, a leading, independently owned, financial and professional services group, who has been looking after the financial affairs of individuals, families and businesses.
“We were pleased to represent Smith and Williamson in Belfast as they reflect very much the same culture and ethos as us – and have over 100 years of experience in doing so. With offices throughout the UK – many of which have expertise upon which we can draw for our clients – the affiliation is proving of great value for us all.
“As part of our partnership, we regularly commentate on market trends within the ‘Investment Outlook’ publications developed by our affiliated offices within Smith and Williamson. We understand the markets. By forecasting risk and building well-diversified, bespoke investment portfolios, we deliver a strategic approach to investment management. ”
The Original partners, 1975
No conversation around investment at the moment can ignore the two issues of Brexit and Stormont, but Jonathan is particularly sanguine about both from an investment point of view.
How Brexit plays out will clearly have an inpact on the UK economy, but most companies listed on the London market are international and increasingly investment portfolios are spread across global markets anyway. The impact will be felt through foreign exchange rates and UK interest rates – these could be in for a volatile time.
“These two issues are of great importance to our clients and many of them are considering their plans to react to the potential outcomes of both.
“However, from a long-term investment perspective, neither are particularly important as we operate in a global marketplace. We advocate a long-term approach to investment management and work with our clients to support their long-term investment strategy. So while the outcomes of the Stormont and Brexit issues will affect day-to-day business decisions, the long term outlook remains positive – as do our clients.”
Reflecting on the growth of entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland, Jonathan expressed a concern that local businesses do not have a culture of coming to market. The experience of First Derivatives and Kainos Group have been positive and should be used to encourage others to consider the same route.
“There is a growing confidence amongst local entrepreneurs and more support for growth than might have been the case in the past. However, the ultimate step to take local success global is to list on one of the various Exchanges.
“I know many owner-managers fear the requirement to give up some control of their companies, but we need to find a way to educate our most successful businesses on the positive potentials this step provides. As a growing economy, it’s the next logical and important step in our economic development.”
The future for Cunningham Coates
With a bedrock of 175 years in business, I was keen to know how Jonathan plans to continue the firms’ success in a fast-changing environment.
“There is no question that ours is a fast-moving industry,” Jonathan confirmed. “Recent changes in regulation that require more transparency in the presentation of fees will make it easier for clients to compare advisors on a like-for-like basis, and that will be to our benefit.
“Likewise, the development of software that allows us to model future cashflows for our clients will help them recognise the various financial planning options available to them.
“We will continue to work to our proven model of clients first, followed by colleagues and then profit which has served us so well in the past.
“And we will use this combination of historical perspective and vision for the future to work with Northern Ireland’s growing number of successful owner-managers to help them secure their wealth not only for their future, but for the futures of generations to come.”