Working with high-net-worth business owners can be daunting, but for Kerry McCaughan of Amber River NI, it only increases her determination to deliver the very best outcomes for her clients.

Amber River NI (formerly Johnston Campbell) joined Amber River in 2019. Based in Belfast, the team has been providing financial planning advice to clients since the 1980s.

Clients expect high standards, and can be very frank and direct, so you should always bring your ‘A’ game to the table

Every business is different, but all business owners will face similar life issues and financial business planning can help at any stage. That’s the mindset Kerry McCaughan, Director of Wealth Management at Amber River NI, brings to her clients. It has helped her build lasting relationships with a diverse range of generational business owners and entrepreneurs.

Kerry has been with the business, which used to be known as Johnston Campbell, for almost 14 years. And from the outset, she learned the importance of getting off on the right foot. “I started out working directly for Malcolm Johnston, the chairman of the company. It was my job to do the research for each case we worked on, running through every possible angle, to make sure we were always doing the right thing for the client.

Our clients get to know the investment team and the support staff. It’s a real team-based approach

“Malcolm was a great mentor – more a coach than a boss. He taught me the importance of attention to detail. Business owners are all successful for a reason. They expect high standards, and can be very frank and direct, so you should always bring your ‘A’ game and be prepared to go toe-to-toe.”

After three years, Malcolm left the company to pursue philanthropic interests, leaving Kerry in charge of his entire client bank. This would have proved daunting for some, but Kerry took it in her stride. “Once Malcolm decided to step away, I got more involved with the clients, so they soon got to know me. But the way things work at Amber River NI, our clients are always in touch with more than one person. They get to know the investment team and the support staff, so it’s a real team-based approach. The people around me helped make the transition much easier”.

That’s the kind of response you can expect from Kerry. She’s a born competitor who always plays to win, but she’s quick to pass credit onto others rather than keep it all for herself. As well as competing in ‘Ironman’ competitions and triathlons, Kerry once scored a hole-in-one at the world-renowned Valderrama golf club in Spain – but mentions it with such modesty you’d almost miss it.

"I love helping people through the journey of building a business, because the challenges they face change so much over time"

After just a few minutes with Kerry, it’s easy to see why she’s able to build strong relationships with the people around her, as well as with her clients. Plus, she knows how business owners think, and she talks their language. She will often use cashflow modelling as part of her planning meetings, because it helps clients to visualise the strategies she discusses with them.

Surely it’s harder to give wealth planning advice to multi-millionaires? How do you get them to listen to you? “Some people get a little bit intimidated or nervous when dealing with a really wealthy client. But you have to remember, you’re helping them in a professional capacity. Sometimes clients come into an initial meeting expecting to be sold to. But I’m not here to sell anything. I just want to take them on a journey, find out what’s important to them, and provide them with some options to consider. Once clients see we’re just filling in the gaps, they’re always more receptive.”

If this makes Kerry sound more like a life coach than a business adviser, she’d agree. “I love helping people through the journey of building a business, because the challenges they face change so much over time. In the early days, it’s all about helping the business owner directly. But as time goes by, and a business grows and becomes more successful, the planning becomes less about them, and more about the people around them – taking care of their employees and their family.

"The clients I talk to, especially the wealthier clients, are very conscious of not wanting to spoil their kids"

“Going even further, it then becomes more about leaving a legacy, both through their family and giving back – by cascading their wealth to others through charitable donations and philanthropy. So, it’s great to be able to play a part in helping people make that transition from one phase to the next.”

On the subject of legacy, do Kerry’s clients worry that inheriting large sums will end up ‘spoiling’ their children? It’s something Kerry encounters often. “The clients I talk to, especially the wealthier clients, are very conscious of not wanting to spoil their kids. We will talk through different wealth planning ideas designed to put the money out of reach for many years, such as putting money into trusts, Junior ISAs and even setting up pensions where they won’t be able to access the money until they are in their 50s.

“But the best thing that my clients do is they bring their children (mostly young adults) in to talk to me. And to be honest, all of these children seem quite sensible! They already appreciate the value of money, so we end up having conversations about what they themselves want to achieve in life. Wealth planning is a great way to keep children grounded and start having really important conversations much sooner.”

Has Kerry seen any changes in attitudes or behaviour from clients since the pandemic? “I think a lot of my clients are now much more comfortable with talking about life beyond the business. Before Covid, wealth planning was perhaps a bit of a chore, or distraction, for some business owners. But now people have had more time to think, and realise work isn’t everything. Spending quality time with your family, as well as having quality time for yourself, is essential.”

“For me, the best clients are those with a clear sense of where they’re going, and what they want to achieve, because they’re more invested in working with me to try and get there.”

You may be interested in Kerry’s expert insights about financial business planning: The 4 key stages of financial business planning

Life Landscaping® from Amber River

Kerry is one of our professional independent financial planners who can help you create a plan for your personal or business financial life landscape. We know an individual’s journey is unique and very personal; that’s why we start by understanding your dreams and aspirations. Then, together, we formulate a plan to give you the best chance of making them happen.

Amber River NI

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