Dennis Hall Founder of Yellowtail

In this interview, discover more about our Founder, Dennis Hall, his background before becoming a Chartered Financial Planner and why he founded Yellowtail.

Dennis, before we talk about Yellowtail and financial planning, can you tell us about your career journey towards Chartered Financial Planner?

I grew up in north Lincolnshire, in a tiny village near Market Rasen and then a small industrial town on the Humber estuary, which I found limiting when taking my first career step.

Your life was mapped out for you as a young man in Lincolnshire in those times. I would see people occupy the same space in the same pub every night of the week and people who had always been at the same company, ageing rapidly.

Itching to escape, I enlisted with the Royal Marines. A friend had joined sometime earlier and came back looking as hard as nails. He’d grown up significantly and I thought, I want some of that.

Was life as a Royal Marine what you imagined it to be?

As a Marine I was posted to Norway every winter for seven years, which I enjoyed, not least because I excelled at cross-country skiing, and was selected for the regimental cross-country ski team.

I would ski in the winter and do cross-country running and orienteering in the summer. I was being paid to keep fit, and I had a great time.

It was during an expedition skiing across a glacier in the middle of Norway with the SAS and fellow marines when the Falklands war erupted.

When we got to the next ski hut there was a message for the Marines to get back home as quickly as possible as the Argentinians had invaded the Falklands. After a hell-for-leather ski back we found the main taskforce had already gone, but we were picked up by HMS Intrepid and joined them at the Ascension Islands.

Landing in Ajax Bay, we spent half the night digging trenches. We were constantly bombed. You have certain defining moments in your life that you reflect on. One of these was after a bombing raid where I’d taken shelter in part of the old fish cannery. An end wall was hit and I fell to the ground to shelter from falling debris. When I got up, I saw the parachute of a small bomb lodged in the wall above me.

The Argentinians had been flying low to avoid the ship’s radar, which meant the bomb hadn’t fallen far enough to become armed, and didn’t detonate. I was lucky.

How has your time in the Falklands influenced you?

Every so often memories come back to me. I hadn’t been traumatised, but sometimes when I worked for employers, I’d think, it can’t get as bad as that. These guys can’t kill me. If they don’t like me, they can sack me, what’s the real harm? We can all get wrapped up in the day-to-day minutiae, but it can never be that bad.

What happened when you left the military?

That’s when I joined the financial services world, after encountering a stream of people trying to sell me policies while I was living in married quarters. I thought, I know your product better than you do.

I joined Sun Life which I found a lot harder than I thought. I was soon the most technical guy in the office, but I was struggling to make the money I earnt in the Marines because that ability to go out and find clients didn’t come naturally to me.

Five years later I joined a firm in Cornwall but left after a year to move to London and joined the IFA division of NatWest Insurance Services.

How did you find working in the City of London?

My colleagues were from salaried banking backgrounds, and they couldn’t see the value of all these clients being delivered to them on a plate. Having come from a commission-only sales background I did see the value and worked from 8am to 10 at night, becoming their top adviser in the first year.

I rose through the ranks to take on area and regional management roles and latterly national development manager.

I’ll admit, I had a kind of “I don’t care what I say” attitude from my Marines experience. They had this fantastic brand, but I realised they were missing something; to the senior management it was all about making commission and meeting targets.

That didn’t sit well with me, and I was craving adventure, so in November 1997 I joined a Bristol-based firm who were establishing a permanent IFA practice in Moscow. But I soon uncovered a lot of fraud and left the company. I remained in Moscow for several months working independently with clients to help them recover losses and unfair charges.

Working in Moscow must have been fascinating?

Yes, it was. But the subsequent rouble crisis forced me back to London, where I was headhunted by St James’s Place. My role as its London manager, however, proved short-lived, as it differed from my own perception of management.

I joined Investment Strategies, a Bankhall-owned network in early 1999 to establish a fee-based practice. After trying unsuccessfully to buy established IFA practices to grow my business I was offered a position at CBW Financial Services, an IFA owned by a firm of chartered accountants in May 2003.

During the next three years I took the changes I wanted to introduce as far as I could, but not as far as I would have wished so I founded Yellowtail Financial Planning, which started trading on 3 April 2006.

How did the launch go?

A small number of clients came across with me, representing about £8 million in funds under management. I’d been thinking about it seriously for a while and so I started working with business coaches about six months before the official launch.

I think a lot of people get into this business as good financial advisers but they’re not necessarily good business people so I wanted to get a business structure in place.

A big influence on my thinking was an early decision to receive my own personal life coaching. It helped me identify where I wanted to be. It is like financial planning but without the financial bit.

This must have been a busy time for you?

It was, but being my own boss gave me the freedom to pursue other activities within the profession. I was asked to chair the London Region of the Institute of Financial Planning, which I did for four years. I followed this with a stint as the Chair of the London Region of the Personal Finance Society. And this was alongside a longstanding commitment as an examiner for the Chartered Insurance Institute.

Yellowtail is an unusual name for a Financial Planning firm. Where did it come from?

On New Year’s Day, 2006 I was eating Yellowtail sushi – Hamachi in Japanese – at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. I was discussing my New Year’s resolutions, one of which was to start my own financial planning practice.

I was sat there thinking about the name “Yellowtail” – could I call the firm Yellowtail? Was I brave enough? I wanted to avoid all the predictable choices, anything to do with money, or my name, and this felt like it would work. It stands out and it’s memorable.

So, the name stands out. But how does Yellowtail stand out from other financial planning firms?

Other wealth managers mainly concern themselves with managing the investments you have today. Our way of working looks at how your assets need to support you and your lifestyle now and into the future and uses that knowledge to inform the financial decisions you make today.

We focus on the person rather than the money. And we focus on the planning, not the plan. The process of planning allows us to go deep into what’s important to you about money and your life. Whereas a plan is merely a snapshot in time.

Our client journey isn’t hurried. We recognise these are big decisions and making the right choices can take time.

Traditionally advisers link their fees to the size of an investment being made, or a product being sold. We believe the planning is the area we add the most value and is what we should be paid for.

Some of my clients have been with me for over 25 years. This isn’t a series of one-off transactions; this is a continuous relationship that deepens over time. Money is incredibly personal and evokes strong emotions. And often it takes time for people to trust enough to share those feelings.

When you’re not looking after your clients’ financial plans what do you do to look after yourself?

I’m a keen cook and wannabe MasterChef contestant, which has its drawbacks, therefore I spend a lot of time running as well!

But I like to challenge myself by competing in races like the Marathon Des Sables and other ultra distances. I’m planning a 3rd attempt in next year’s Marathon Des Sables and hoping to inspire the team to do some training with me!

Who or what has shaped you most in your financial career?

Funnily enough it’s not been the technical courses I’ve attended. I was fortunate that my very first boss was not a technician and more a people-person. He taught me how important it was to deal with the person rather than their money. But I’ve always been fascinated by communication and psychology, and I’ve stumbled upon a couple of people in my career who have allowed me to explore these areas. George Kinder and Dr Maria Nemeth, for instance, provided me with the tools to see things through the other persons eyes. I’m very much aware I’m dealing with people’s future security and well-being. The work I do carries a huge responsibility.

Dennis Hall in the Marathon des Sables.