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Top tipple: How this IFA helped two gin lovers open a distillery

30 September 2019

John and Nicola Smith’s passion for premium quality gin - and Martin Waistell’s for giving clients options - has distilled financial flexibility from pension assets, allowing the creation of a small batch distillery of note...

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Adviser Martin Waistell (left) with client John Smith

When Somerset couple John Smith, a 55-year-old oil worker, and his wife Nicola, a 50-year-old part-time fitness instructor, sought financial advice three years ago it was with an eye on fulfilling a long-held ambition to set up an artisan gin distillery...

John Smith says...

I had a final salary pension scheme with the Civil Aviation Authority, who I worked for years ago, which I wanted to transfer into my SIPP. I didn’t know Martin at all. I did a Google search for financial advisers in my area and he was one of several who came up.

I initially spoke to four of them over the phone and arranged to meet with them. I preferred Martin for his open approach – my wife Nicola had the same impression of him. He comes across, as one would hope of a financial adviser, as a very honest, conscientious guy. I felt most comfortable with him.

I’ve had contact with financial advisers in the past when I’ve taken out a mortgage or re-mortgage. My first mortgage was investment-linked and that ended up being a mistake – I’m one of many people who could say that. The work Martin has done for us is the most significant in terms of asset values. I don’t take a cynical view [of financial advisers] but I’m quite careful about who I do business with.

I’ve worked offshore in the oil and gas sector for 25 years. Opening a distillery has been a plan of mine for years. I never just wanted to play with it; I wanted to do it right. To do so, I knew I’d need time – and lots of it.

I tell people that my wife drinks so much gin I had no choice! But she’s just as invested in the business as I am – she’s busy getting ready for our next event. We’ve travelled extensively and both enjoy a social drink. Gin has always been one of our favourite tipples. I have a keen interest in the whole process of spirit production – distillation became a bit of an obsession of mine.

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We set up Exmoor Distillery with savings in January 2018 – we had cash earmarked for it. I’ve held quite senior positions during my career, but I’ve never run a business before. It’s been an eye-opener. It’s one thing to make a product, but another thing to get it to market.

It’s gone really well – it’s been very much a success. We have hired a part-time marketing manager and have engaged a local PR company and social media specialist. I’m reducing my commitment to the offshore world.

We wanted to upscale the distillery with new equipment to increase our capacity and expand into rum production at the end of this year. We’ll be one of few distilleries in the UK to make rum from scratch using molasses. As I was approaching 55 Martin suggested considering accessing some of my pension tax-free cash. He’s been the key facilitator in our expansion.

Martin has done what he said he would do in a very efficient manner. The lines of communication have always been open and clear. He’s someone we can depend upon.

If it keeps going as it has been, we’ll require further financial advice as we go forward – not least what to do with the money we’ll be making!

For self-employed adviser Martin Waistell, who flies the Strategic Solutions flag in Exeter, Devon, job satisfaction comes from giving clients opportunities they might otherwise not have...

Adviser Martin Waistell says...

John came to me looking for advice on making a transfer from a preserved defined benefit (DB) scheme. He wanted flexibility and to be able to retire earlier than the scheme’s retirement age allowed.

At the time, John worked offshore (still does) and in their spare time he and his wife, Nicola, made their own gin – samples for themselves and other people. What was a hobby developed into a cottage industry.

I remember going to their house after we’d completed the DB transfer and marvelling at all the different gins in their kitchen. I’ve sampled a few since!

John is very driven and focused and shortly afterwards the couple ploughed their savings and investments into setting up their own distillery. They don’t buy gin and add flavours – they make it properly from scratch. It’s a fantastic product.

At our next review they told me they wanted to expand into dark rum. I’m a rum drinker so I’m looking forward to that! I knew John was approaching his 55th birthday so instead of taking on a massive bank loan, I suggested he consider making a partial transfer from his DC pension to boost the assets in his SIPP and release some tax-free cash while retaining employer contributions.

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John initially approached a number of firms and felt most comfortable with me. I treat every client as a novice – I assume no knowledge and look to build their understanding of their options from the ground up.

The initial meeting is at my expense – at a client’s home or workplace, which helps to put them at ease. I send them a thorough confirmation email, so they know what to expect and have the relevant information to hand. That way they don’t feel put on the spot.

I am on Unbiased and Vouchedfor but get most of my business through personal recommendation. The process I use is interactive and supportive – I like to hold clients’ hands. I go to see the client a couple of times before I produce a report. I invest a lot initially, but nine out of 10 prospects become clients, so it pays off.

I joined the Halifax 24 years ago, when I was 22, and was made redundant seven years ago due to RDR. I started my own business with nothing and have built a good-sized client bank under the Strategic Solutions banner. We’re all relatively young advisers working within an open and honest culture that promotes sharing best practice.

The work I’ve done for John and Nicola is mainly fee-based. I manage the ongoing investment in John’s SIPP with the use of a DFM so receive some ongoing fees from that. There is scope for other business further down the line – they might want a workplace pension set up as they take on more people, for example.

The key thing for now is ensuring they have the flexibility they want over their future. I want to make sure existing clients are well looked after before looking for new business. Empowering people and giving them opportunities in life they might not otherwise have had – that’s what good financial advice is all about.

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