5-minute interview: Helen Munns, Managing Director, STM Fiduciaire, Jersey

Date: 04 Oct 2013


What signature taxation, laws, trusts or investments do you think really work for uhnw clients and why?
There aren’t any, and it would be dangerous to try and look for one. Although similarities can be found between clients and their circumstances, there will always be differences, often subtle and unexpected, such as a client’s personal preference not based on any tax or legal requirements. However, there are some well-trodden paths known for efficient, robust well-tested structures as the Jersey-Cyprus structures for Russian clients.

Are there any private clients in the world you would really like to work with?
Anyone with zeal and enthusiasm for whatever they’re involved in, whether they have a passion for their business, philanthropy, investments, or simply providing for their family. Multi-generation families are always interesting as there are so many variables: requirements and personalities which must be taken into account. Entrepreneurs can be the most exciting people to work with; I get to be involved in the personal side of their financial planning, such as succession planning and the corporate structuring of their business, and without exception they always have strong ideas which keep me on my toes.
Are women really going to take over the world, if so how?
This question implies that we haven’t done so already! Like many equal rights issues, what is important is not what women have but what women have the choice of having; it’s all about having the same options available to men. We’ll get there by spotting, seizing and making the most of every opportunity that we can.

What size of client do you generally work with and how many do you have?
I work with a complete range of clients, from the UHNW such as Middle Eastern royalty, entrepreneurs behind well-known brands, high-profile families with multi-generational wealth, through to smaller clients with structures nearing the end of their life. The assets that we manage or hold range from investment portfolios, high profile commercial / industrial real estate / retail and commercial business. There really is no such thing as a typical STM client or typical asset – though of course there are similarities. We are not a boutique offering only one type of service, we provide the full range of corporate and private client services. The best thing about working with private clients is that I get to meet many different people living widely varying lives.
What is the most interesting or unusual private client deal you have ever been involved with (no names required)?
Many deals have interesting aspects, but the one that comes to mind for the sheer scale involved the restructuring of several diverse businesses which were held directly by four members of one generation, each living completely different lives in three different continents. It involved very different assets, from trading businesses to real estate, and had to take into account three generations. The time differences made it a logistical nightmare to coordinate the many advisors. The most difficult issue to factor in was actually the lowest value asset, farmland. It was this farm, originally bought by the recently deceased Grandfather, that the family’s wealth spawned from. All members of the family had a real emotional attachment to it, although it was losing money. It employed a high number of local people and the family felt an obligation to keep it going, part in respect of his memory and as giving back to the community they came from (although all of the surviving members had been born elsewhere and into great wealth they had not forgotten the family’s humble origins). It was a credit to the family that the over-riding factor was to ensure they provided for others less fortunate than themselves, and a challenge to ensure the continued funding of a loss making part of the structure.

What lessons have you learned that you could share with women starting out in the finance industry?
The subject area is vast and you have to choose between specialising in a niche area or becoming a generalist, each requires its own skills and offers different career paths.

Do you think the British government should legislate to bring women on boards as they did in Norway?
The answer to this isn’t clear to me. I don’t agree with women on boards for the sake of it. However, the problem is with perception, and unfortunately a woman on a board is still seen as unusual, and having two will certainly be commented on! We’re certainly still in the minority. What the legislation in Norway has done is make it the norm to have women, with the emphasis on the plural, on the board, this should make it easier for other women to come through naturally as they won’t have to fight prejudice. So, I suppose overall, my answer would be yes.

If you had to win a wealthy new client where would you take them to impress them?
My office, to meet the team – those that will be working on their matters.

What are your three USPs for working with uhnw clients?
Independence, efficiency and accessibility. We are not affiliated to a law firm or a bank and so are completely independent and able to consider what is best for each client. We have a high number of ex-lawyers and accountants at senior level, so we understand the pressures and needs of advisers and can act swiftly and efficiently to their requests This also means we ensure that we are accessible, mobile numbers, blackberries and not working 9 – 5 . We are happy to be contacted outside usual business hours as the advisers often work outside those hours as well and with clients being in many jurisdictions we have to be available at time to suit them.

What is the best thing that has ever been said about you or you have done or won?
That I get things done. I hope that I will continue to receive this compliment; if not, I’m doing something wrong.

What is your individual focus in terms of countries and uhnw clients?
As managing director I can’t have a particular focus ‚Äì all of our clients need to be my focus. At the moment, the Middle Eastern and Russian clients are keeping me the busiest but this could all change tomorrow!

How much do you travel on business and where do you tend to go?
I am based in Jersey and travel to London at least every 2 to 3 weeks, plus further travel to wherever my clients are. This year I am already due to go to Russia, Switzerland, Latin America and Australia. It is important to meet with clients in their own country and surroundings to really get to know them and what they require from us as a service provider, and I encourage all clients to visit the team in Jersey.

What is the next big thing in private wealth management?
Clients require more and more of a family office-type service, regardless of the type of structure that we administer from them. A structure which was only meant to be to hold the London residence of a family became a structure which looked after all the family’s requirements during their annual visits. From transport, entertainment, shopping, to sorting out their temperamental satellite TV service. This caused issues with their ‘real’ family office and we had to come up with a solution to fit with the client demands and their family office requirements. Also, retirement planning is increasing in popularity as such schemes tend to be looked at more favourably and can achieve some of the same goals as traditional trusts, albeit with some restrictions if full relief is required.

Will you still be successful as a woman if you don’t dress the part?
No, definitely not. I don’t think anyone can be successful in any industry without looking the part. First impressions count, and this applies to men as well as women.

What would you tell a divorcing woman in the UK, whether she was British or International, and why?
That she must take legal advice as soon as possible. More men than women take advice and if they do it can often be too late to be fully effective.

Is the glass ceiling still with us?
Yes, it has cracks in it but it is definitely there. It means that women have to work harder to find a way round it, it is an obstacle that men don’t have to face. Even though, of course, I look forward to the day that it is gone, the silver lining for women of my generation is that we become very strong and develop a useful thick skin.

What charities do you admire?
Children in Need.

What is the ‘Dummy’s Guide’ to making it to the top in finance or pwm?
Listen, work hard and don’t let anyone hold you back.

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