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From the inside – Mearns & Company: a Non-Exec perspective

Posted: 28th January 2020

A year after being appointed Non-Executive Director at Mearns & Company, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on my experience.

Having worked in Financial Services for over 20 years and “thinking” that I know a fair bit about the industry, being asked to join Mearns & Company in a Non- Executive capacity seemed like a natural fit.

In my previous roles, I have experienced a number of different board dynamics and company cultures, been acquired by a PLC and helped build an IFA business. I’d been involved in Financial Planning and I have a lot of experience of the Employee Benefits sector. Sharing that knowledge with a business that wanted to evolve and grow was something that I was excited to get involved in.

Mearns & Company first appeared on my radar several years ago when I lost a tender process to them for a large employee benefit client. I didn’t like that, but one of my mantras in business is to learn from setbacks as well as from successes. How could this have happened?! My investigations revealed a family-run Edinburgh-based consultancy, with a huge focus on personal relationships and service delivery. They seemed to have a unique culture that was reflected in the way their clients, both personal and corporate, felt about them. I was impressed.

When I was appointed, I set about trying to understand how that culture had developed. Margaret Mearns, who founded the business, and is now Chairman, has some very defined principles about both how you treat people and how you develop them, and what service you give your clients. The business is committed to these principles and the current executive management team and board continue to develop them in an era of unprecedented change.

The people within Mearns & Company live and breathe this culture of development and service. Every phone call, every client request, and every financial plan or employee benefit scheme is crafted for that client. There is no cookie cutter approach, that many adopt in this industry, with little regard for actual goals and objectives. This culture of service is evidenced by the fact that Mearns & Company has a net promoter score that has never dipped below 70 (the industry average is 50 (anything over 0 is considered good, and anything above 70 is considered world class).

One of the changes that we have implemented over the last year is an alignment between each individual’s reward and that culture. We now have balanced scorecards and team objectives which are set with the wider company strategy in mind.

We have spent some time setting our strategy for the future. The company is 25 years old this year and as we have looked forward 5 years it seemed natural to call it Project 30. Catherine Bell, the Managing Director, and Malcolm Steel, Client Strategy Director, along with Graeme Brown, Client Services Director have then taken the time to explain Project 30 to the whole company, who have all bought into those short and long term goals. The strategy is discussed at company-wide team days twice a year, where everyone gets a chance to contribute. This means that the strategy is evolving all the time.

I think we understand our target markets better than we did, ensuring that we focus on the clients who we can best serve and ensuring that the resources of the firm are targeted in the right areas. We continue to look at developments:

  • we are about to embark upon a new management information system in 2020 which will improve our data collection for and about clients and our ability to monitor our Project 30 progress;
  • we have launched a cashflow tool for our financial planning clients; and
  • we have developed a new packaged proposition for growing employee benefit clients who have a need to recruit, retain, motivate and engage with their employees.

Mearns & Company have a unique culture, keeping that as you evolve and grow is never easy. I feel that everyone at Mearns is strongly committed to those founding principles, which can only make for a bright future.

When I took on my role as a Non-Exec, I hoped that it would be interesting and fun. It’s been just that. Happy 25th birthday everyone at Mearns & Company, I’m looking forward to working with you on Project 30. I’m sure that my experience with Mearns will continue to be as enjoyable as my first year has been.

Alan Fergusson
Non-Executive Director, Mearns & Company

Business Comment

Business Comment is the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce’s bi-monthly magazine. It provides insight on Edinburgh’s vibrant business community, with features on the city’s key sectors, interviews with leading figures and news on new business developments in the capital.
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