Private Wealth Interview Series: Philip Carlton, Client Director at Highvern
What made you want to become a trustee?
Having moved into what was a bank-owned Trustee and Executor department back in the 1980s, I quickly developed a keen interest in understanding the role of a fiduciary, and over the last 30+ years, I have gained both technical and life experience in helping and supporting families all around the world with their fiduciary needs. For me, the role of a trusted adviser is something that I feel very privileged to be able to carry out more often than not, there are no right answers, simply a number of options, which you have to fully consider before making a decision. However, balancing the interests of a number of beneficiaries and being part of a team of professionals who are all working toward the same goal is immensely rewarding, both personally and professionally.
What is your proudest professional achievement to date?
“That’s hard to say. I really enjoy helping international families resolve their complex, sometimes conflicting needs.”
A Trust client of mine when I was working in the UK, required an offshore Trustee for a family Trust and after many years of supporting her when I was in the UK, she remembered that I had moved to Jersey and called me to see whether we were able to take over the Trusteeship. We agreed and the Trust was migrated to Jersey where I continue to look after her many years later and all of the years of knowledge and understanding of her family’s situation has certainly helped us in the quite complex fiduciary decisions we now have to make.
Just as satisfying is the difference you can make in small ways to the lives of others. I previously sat on the board of Trustees of a number of charitable trusts, and each month, we used to consider general charitable requests received from all over the world. Our role was to consider these in relation to the charitable Trusts we looked after and then decide whether we would support the application and if so, how much and over what period of time.
I recall one such Trust which was set up to support young children who had lost one or both parents and through the work that we supported, we helped children attend weekend retreats where trained counsellors were on hand to help support the children in creating such things as memory boxes where the child would put items that reminded them of their mum or dad who were sadly no longer alive. I was therefore very proud to be invited to an awards ceremony and collect an award where our work with the various charities that we had supported was recognised.
What attributes do you feel are important for a trustee to have?
“Honesty, impartiality, and responsibility are the three words that immediately spring to mind as important attributes as a Trustee.”
To always remember that you are entrusted with the responsibility of looking after assets which, most of the time, have derived from many years of hard work by the Settlor (s), is fundamental. In life, you protect your own assets with honesty and integrity but to be called upon to look after someone else’s assets is a very privileged position and to be called upon to stand in the shoes of a settlor who may have passed away, and make decisions affecting their family many years later, is a huge responsibility. Considering the needs of all of the beneficiaries and remaining honest and impartial is something that the technical books will support you with, but real expertise is really only truly gained by experience.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone thinking about becoming a trustee what would it be?
Remain loyal – This can mean loyalty to your clients, the business you work for, or the other professionals that you work with on a daily basis.
Over my career, in whatever role I’ve performed, my clients sit at the heart of what I do and the biggest criticism I have seen from them is a lack of continuity in the professionals in whom they place their trust. As a Trustee, clients often share with you quite personal stories about their life or family values, and to find that every couple of years they need to repeat this to someone new must be frustrating to say the least.
Life can often take you down a different path, and who knows what this will be, but if you are entrusted with an important role such as a Trustee, remain loyal to those people with whom you work and see it as more than a job that just pays the bills as it certainly is far more than that.
What is the most challenging aspect of your role?
Someone once made an analogy that my job could be likened to those performers on stage with a number of poles and keeping plates spinning on top of them. If they forget about one and focus too much on the others, then a plate would fall and smash. There are days where I feel like this and my own measurement of success is to end the day with all my plates still spinning. This can often be my greatest challenge as a Client Director as I work to do the best job I can for my clients, for the Highvern business, and the team of people in Jersey with whom I work closely. Having the required knowledge in the legal, taxation, investment, compliance and regulatory aspects of my role is almost a given but, often having to deal with a personal client or staff matter when just a phone call, and listening, is all I’m doing can be the greatest challenge in one respect but, in another, give you the greatest reward of all.
What is the most enjoyable part of your role?
“People – My job is about people – the clients I speak to, my colleagues at Highvern, the legal, tax, investment, and other professionals that I work with on a day-to-day basis.”
Some ask, ‘what makes you get out of bed in the morning?’ and my answer would be the chance to work with people. Through my interactions with them, colleagues or intermediaries, and learning more from each of them to help me do what I do better. The restrictions that we have all faced during the pandemic have made me value the relationships I have with people more than ever.