This week we met with Chris Benarr, a switched on, sophisticated, savvy and highly connected individual.
A Royal Naval Officer turned Wealth Manager and Investment Fund owner, Chris moved over to the finance world after a stint serving on the high seas. Chris now owns Berkeley Square Wealth Group amongst other companies, managing portfolios across several asset classes, providing advice and finance for companies from start up to mid cap size.
We talk to Chris about the truth behind why men in uniform tend to opt for city careers in finance. How networking has helped define his career, what he thinks of BREXIT and where he believes our members should be looking to invest.
Chris you have had quite a remarkable career to date. Before we kick off tell us what was your scariest moment serving in the Royal Navy?
CB: I am sure my Army friends would insist it’s something to do with running out of cheese in the Wardroom but it was probably sinking in the back of a Korean Amphibious Vehicle and having to wait your turn to escape whilst swiftly disappearing underwater.
What do you miss most about the Armed Forces?
CB: Whilst I love the variety of what I do now and the people that I work with there is a lot to be said for the some of the routines we had in the military, especially where they might involve being paid to play sport 3 times a day. Try that now!
Some say that serving in the forces helps you with character building. Is this true with you and how has helped you to build your career path in finance?
CB: I was very lucky and owe a great deal to the MD I had when I left the Royal Navy. He was an ex-Para and told me to treat my first year like an Op Tour and get stuck in. I knew my capacity for hard work was extreme given what the Forces can sometimes demand of you so I brought that level of effort into my year of transition and really accelerated into civilian life.
What is your opinion of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union? Is it going to lead to high levels of inflation, property prices decreasing and a potential depression? Is this all hype and should we instead be optimistic?
CB: I don’t think you’ll give me 45minutes to answer this one. We have to get on with BREXIT and make sure it works and I mean that in terms of it not creating too much instability and uncertainty. We’ve had a steady period of pretty low inflation and monetary policy will not be able to suppress that indefinitely but inflation is also a bell weather of growth and the UK is doing pretty well relative to the other G7 countries. I can’t see that changing drastically and am certain that a ‘passport’ deal for financial services, which is so important to our economy, will be achieved. It is likely to largely come from the leadership teams of our banks and insurers who should start to speak up more about the stark reality that they will not be able to move all their expertise to Europe and the families that would go with those people; so, a solution needs to be found. Not having access to our incredible insurance markets would be very damaging to the rest of the EU because without it, they would struggle to attract inward investment for their own projects.
“…The UK offers a stable and honest place to do business where the rule of law and transparency of reporting and accounting is sacrosanct.”
How do you think the UK European leaving Europe is going to impact on the investments made in UK business and have you seen any changes already with Europeans or international high net worth individuals?
CB: The UK offers a stable and honest place to do business where the rule of law and transparency of reporting and accounting is sacrosanct. It’s why I hope that a jury of laymen can understand the complexities of what the Tesco executives, who have now been charged by the SFO, were doing. I work with some of the oldest foreign law firms in the world and they love doing business here because we are so honest. Unshackled from the EU we can start to re-engage with some much faster growing and dynamic economies with our best services, technology and media sectors and anyone we are dealing with knows what they are buying and how the money they invest will be used.
How do you think the World of private finance is moving in the next few years? What are people investing in and what is their risk appetite?
CB: There’s no seismic shift if you stand back and look at any type of cycle and I listen to VCs and PE guys all week trying to sell completely normal, sometimes really boring, ideas as if they have found the new paradigm. There are probably too many kids with MBAs, all jargon and case studies under their belts, but no real experience. Companies are led by people, not a spreadsheet and so I think the most successful investments in the coming years are going to be made by those people, investment teams or companies that properly understand that. We have deployed investor money across tech, media, medical tech, film and made money every time by looking at the leadership team of the business, the idea of the business itself and the timing of that idea in the market.
“Companies are led by people, not a spreadsheet and so I think the most successful investments in the coming years are going to be made by those people, investment teams or companies that properly understand that. “
You have just joined ALFIES, a private network for City Professionals. Give our fellow members who may be considering investing your opinion on where they might consider investing in the next few years, without referring to any of your projects of course?
CB: As I said, just look at what you are investing in and take a view on where that fits in the world around you. Don’t be afraid to go defensive and hold cash if you feel it’s right. There is a lot of volatility to ride out over the next 18months and it won’t just be around BREXIT. French elections in April might change the direction of Europe quickly and that could be compounded in September where if the trend continues and those numbers translate from the Bundesrat to the Bundestag we could see a whole new coalition in Germany looking for the EU fire escape.
“…look at what you are investing in and take a view on where that fits in the world around you. Don’t be afraid to go defensive and hold cash if you feel it’s right.”
What in your opinion is a better night out, a meet up with fellow officers in the mess, or a night out connecting with city colleagues in a club? Is it true what they say about men in uniform or can we not handle the truth?
CB: I’d have to tell you a lot about those nights to answer those questions properly and… you can’t handle the truth.
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