High Profile Magazine
John Castle works with business owners to help them secure their business, profits and financial well-being through Shareholder Protection, Key Person Insurance and SME Benefit Plans. He's been a financial consultant for more than 20 years and has worked with SME business owners for most of this time.
What are the main challenges facing SME businesses today, and how can SME Succession help them to overcome those challenges?
COVID has clearly had a big impact on lots of small businesses and despite a healthy level of government assistance, many are still unfortunately struggling. Brexit has also had an impact on those that trade overseas, compounding matters for some. Of course, both of these factors have been beyond the control of business owners, meaning that all they can try to do is adapt and survive during this difficult period.
There are a variety of other challenges that business owners face, some of which thankfully are within their control. Business owners by their very nature are exposed to a number of risks, some of which they are able to mitigate through sound business planning and, where appropriate, taking out insurance. For example, many businesses insure themselves against the risk of being sued for malpractice (professional indemnity insurance), causing damage to third parties (employer and public liability insurance) and protecting their assets (general insurance).
However, something that many business owners often overlook is the risk of business disruption (or failure) due to long-term ill health or the premature death of someone who is key to the success of the business. This may seem strange when you consider that it’s people that are the greatest asset within any business. In particular, the loss of a business owner, co-shareholder or key employee will have serious financial consequences, not only for the business but also for the families of those affected.
Thankfully, with some careful planning, such financial risks can be mitigated. SME Succession Planning can help business owners by consulting with them, providing them with a report identifying the risks they’re exposed to, and by putting in place a ‘safety net’ to protect their business and profits as well as their personal financial wellbeing. To sum it up simply, succession planning is about risk management and putting the right money in the right hands at the right time.
What gave you the desire to work in the world of finance?
I started out working in international banking and it was in 1995 that I first became a financial adviser. There were two main reasons for doing so. Firstly, I wanted to be a success in my own right, rather than ‘just another number’ in a large organisation and secondly, I wanted to help people in some way and make a positive difference to their lives.
Clearly money itself is important to everyone. I could see that by working as a financial adviser, I could help people manage their finances in a variety of ways to support them in achieving their personal goals. Throughout my career I’ve worked with both companies and individuals, and I’ve provided advice to them in all areas of financial planning, such as investing for the future, protecting their health and income and planning for a comfortable retirement.
I started SME Succession Planning based on my previous experience of working with SMEs, and also because I could see an obvious need and a space where I could add real value to business owners and their families. As such, business succession planning has become my passion and the main focus of my work.
What differentiates SME Succession Planning from your competitors? Why should a customer choose to work with your business over others?
There are lots of good financial consultants in my industry as a result of increased qualifications and professionalism over the years, which is a good thing for consumers. Most financial advisers are what I would refer to as ‘General Practitioners’, meaning they cover a broad number of areas. Very few get involved with Business Succession planning as they are not necessarily familiar with the process and perhaps they feel that it’s a complex area that would only distract them from their other ‘core’ activities.
In contrast, I have chosen to specialise in this area exclusively, by becoming a dedicated expert in helping business owners secure their business, profits and financial well-being. I have over 15 years’ experience in working with SME business owners and have put in place a team of experts that support me in delivering the services that business owners need. Where appropriate, I also work closely with my client’s accountant and solicitor to ensure a fully robust solution is in place.
My approach is based on offering a professional and thorough consultancy service. It’s all about asking the right questions, digging deep and finding out what’s really important to each client. Whether that’s protecting their business against disruption and financial loss or making sure their family are financially secure (or both).
Throughout my career in financial services, I’ve always put the best interests of my clients first. By doing so, I’ve enjoyed strong working relationships based on mutual understanding and trust, which is vitally important. I work on the basis that if my clients are happy with my service and if the solutions we put in place help them to achieve their goals, then it’s a win-win situation. Basically, if it’s good for my client first and foremost, then it will be good for me too.
You are a socially responsible company, with ties to The Wilderness Foundation. Why do you think it’s important to be a socially responsible company, and what made you choose to support The Wilderness Foundation specifically?
I’ve always had a genuine interest in helping people in any way that I can. For me, there’s no better feeling than making a positive difference in somebody else’s life.
I think social responsibility is important in business as it’s an opportunity to give something back to society and particularly those who are in need. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that there’s inequality in society. Some of us are better off than others and to me, it’s important that if we’re in a position to do so, that we should do what we can to help others.
Having contacted several local charities, I chose to work with the Wilderness Foundation because I really liked what the charity stands for and the kind of work they do. They work with young people who have had a difficult start in life and are maybe struggling at home, socially or at school. The aim of the foundation is to help these young people to turn their lives around as they progress from childhood to adulthood. This is achieved in a number of ways including: learning about the benefits of spending time immersed in nature; going on camping trips; engaging them in group activities and social interaction; teaching them new information and skills; attending workshops on ‘wellbeing’; and working on a one-to-one basis with a mentor or therapist.
Working with the Wilderness Foundation appealed to me because those who join the programme are at an age where we can add real value to their lives and help them turn things around and work towards a better life than they would otherwise have.
Having trained as a coach, I provide mentoring support to some of the young people on a one-to-one basis. Just as in business, the secret here is to ask questions, listen, help them identify what they want to achieve, create a plan and provide ongoing guidance and support.
What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
I have been fortunate to have had a long and successful career, however, my greatest challenge came several years ago as a result of my own health problems. Having pushed myself too hard in my work, for too long, I began to suffer the effects of stress which affected my health and eventually I reached the point of ‘burn-out’, manifesting in symptoms of chronic back-pain and chronic fatigue. Unfortunately, this didn’t just affect my work, it had an impact on every aspect of my life.
Thankfully at that time, I had the benefit of an Income Protection policy which provided me with an ill-health replacement income. Looking back, this was a huge benefit for me as it helped me to continue to pay my mortgage, bills and living expenses at a time when I was unable to work.
Eventually, after receiving treatment and taking some time out to recover, recharge and re-think my life and career, I decided to leave the corporate world behind me and continue my career in financial services on a self-employed basis. This is what led me to establishing SME Succession.
Interestingly, having the financial security of a replacement income policy in place and also private medical insurance is what sparked the business concept for SME Succession. I knew that in most cases owners of small and medium sized businesses don’t have the luxury of benefitting from such protection and that there was an opportunity to help them to secure their business, profits and finances in such circumstances.
Why do you say that running your own business can be likened to walking a tightrope?
There are many wonderful benefits associated with running your own business. For example, being in control of your own destiny; having the freedom and flexibility to work on your own terms; creating wealth and achieving your personal goals by doing the work you want to do.
Unfortunately, being in business also inevitably goes hand-in-hand with taking on some considerable financial risks. For example, what if you or a key member of your team is unable to work due to long term ill-health? How will this affect the business and its profits? What impact would this have on you personally and those who are dependent on you? Similarly, the premature death of a shareholder can have serious financial consequences for all concerned.
Whilst most of us don’t really want to have to think about these things, particularly when things are going well, it makes good business sense to plan for every eventuality and to protect yourself financially.
The reason why I say that running your own business can be likened to walking a tightrope is because you need to set your sights on where you’re going, stay focused, maintain balance, and stay on track towards achieving your goal. However, in business, as in life, there are no guarantees. Things can go wrong and something unforeseen may happen that knocks you off course.
So being in business without having considered the risks you’re exposed to, and without having the appropriate protection in place, is like walking a high wire without a safety net!
How do you ensure that each client receives a tailored experience when working with SME Succession Planning?
To ensure my service is completely tailored to each individual business owner and their particular business, I always start off with an open mind and a blank sheet of paper.
It’s really important that I get to know them well and to have a thorough understanding of the things that are most important to them. I ask lots of searching questions to find out about the owner(s), the business itself and their team. Knowing things like the make-up of the ownership of the company, who is responsible for driving the business forward and which members of the team are key to the profitability of the business puts me in the best position to be able to help them.
Having gathered this information, I then produce a Risk Assessment Report that highlights the financial risks that the business owner is exposed to as well as the solutions that can be put in place to ensure their financial well-being.
Beyond this I provide regular reviews to take account of any changes in the circumstances of the business and the needs of the owner(s) and we make any necessary amendments to ensure the plans we put in place continue to meet their needs.
What do you want your lasting legacy to be?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who made a positive difference to the lives of others – both through my business and in my charity work.
In business, to be known as the person that was there to help business owners reduce the risks they’re exposed to, maintain their profits and secure their financial wellbeing.
As a human being, someone with a big heart who cared, took the time and invested it in making the world a better place.
Basically, someone who always did his best to help others.