Encouraging diversity of thought, featuring Helena Bakunowicz

Wary of decisions made based on a single perspective, Helena Bakunowicz created a wealth management practice that strives to include varied points of view.

Helena Bakunowicz In choosing to study politics, Helena Bakunowicz opted for a university degree in a subject she found interesting – international relations, to be specific – rather than one that led to a particular career. Her classmates with similar humanities degrees from Loughborough University in England are now in a range of roles from lobbyists pushing for change to sales directors and lawyers.

Bakunowicz is a wealth manager.

It might seem divergent, or even happenstance, that a newspaper ad spotted by a family friend set her on a course toward wealth management, a field that suits her combination of analytical and interpersonal skills. Yet, her approach to providing bespoke investment strategies for clients is clearly rooted in the self-reflective instincts that drew her to study the ways people interact.

“So much of politics is history,” she said, “but also the analysis that allows us to make better decisions going forward.”

The Investment Boutique, the business she founded with a partner in 2017 in Surrey, southwest of London, rejects mass-market scalability and groupthink in favor of individuality and cognitive diversity. Little about its workings is what someone might expect based on standards or norms – starting with the young woman at its helm.

An inflection point

After landing the job in the advertisement, Bakunowicz participated in a graduate trainee program with a large private-client investment manager in London, acquiring on-the-job training as well as the necessary certifications to be a wealth manager in the United Kingdom. She worked hard to earn the trust of clients who often were much older.

“Having a slightly refreshed face was a bit of a surprise for clients,” she said. “It was a change of concept for them.”

Within just six years, she rose to assistant director. Then, recognizing an industry trend toward standardization – a course she did not consider right for the complex needs of her high-net-worth clients – she made a bold move.

She became an entrepreneur. At 28.

Bakunowicz launched The Investment Boutique and, with a like-minded partner, chose to affiliate with Raymond James Investment Services (RJIS), a wholly owned subsidiary of Raymond James operating in the United Kingdom. Bakunowicz embraced the firm’s commitment to helping advisors run their businesses as they see fit.

“I took to running my own business relatively young for our industry, establishing the branch shortly before my 29th birthday,” she said. “I had been in an employed role for almost 10 years and didn’t consider myself a natural entrepreneur, but I loved the freedom the Raymond James model gave me and my clients.

“In an industry that at times looks to cost cutting-efficiencies, standardization and simplification of their service proposition, we chose to establish a business that remains committed to looking after our clients in a completely bespoke and individual way. It certainly requires more input from experienced staff, but I liken it to a more traditional, artisan approach.”

Many voices

The Investment Boutique has two partners: Bakunowicz and Richard Arris, each of whom brings a different perspective. Bakunowicz is in her early ‘30s, Arris his late ‘50s. They have different yet complementary skill sets that together, they hope, provide a comprehensive range of views and solutions to any problem.

Additional members of the team provide even more perspectives and life experiences.

“I want to be an ongoing advocate for cognitive diversity and I certainly bring that ethos to how I hire staff into my team,” Bakunowicz said. “I believe having individuals from a range of backgrounds and ages produces the best result for our clients and the team dynamic, with improved problem solving and creative ability.”

Four of her key staff members joined after taking breaks from the workforce. Bakunowicz recoils at the notion someone who might need a bit of help learning the newest technology would be considered a liability.

“Perhaps it’s the intrinsic optimist in me, but it’s my deep-seated belief that anyone has a contribution they could make,” she said. “The surface-level challenge of teaching someone how to use certain  software doesn’t negate the untapped potential of their experience. The ability for people to transfer skills is underrated.”

Going back to her university studies, Bakunowicz recalled an entire submodule on the ills of groupthink. She is aware of unconscious bias and purposefully surrounds herself with people unlike herself, including friends in their 80s. The Investment Boutique also has an investment advisory committee, designed to lend even greater diversity of thought to decision-making.

“It’s easy to have a goldfish-bowl approach,” she said. “I like bringing people into the mix that might not have the same opinions, people who are not digesting the same information as me. There are multiple examples across history where groupthink caused a detriment to policy or bad decision-making in a crisis.

“I’m quite a reflective person and I like to encourage that in other people. We are imperfect, and we learn more from our mistakes. I always want to hold up a mirror and ask, ‘Why did we make this decision as a collective?’”

Clients appreciate the multigenerational nature of The Investment Boutique, where the age difference between she and her partner means the relationship will have longevity.

“We are proud to say that for a handful of clients, we are looking after the fourth generation of the same family, proving that our strategies truly can evolve to suit a broad mix of objectives and personalities over many years,” Bakunowicz said. “We value the loyalty, but it also brings us great pleasure to see the benefit that good, consistent investment practices can have on the lives of the families we support.”

A new definition

Bakunowicz presented a virtual seminar at the 2021 Raymond James Professional Development Forum, a conference for wealth management professionals through the U.K., providing a fresh perspective on recognizing vulnerable clients.

She said that according to the Financial Conduct Authority, the U.K. regulator, 47% of the population could be cast as vulnerable at some stage in their life.

“It’s not just the obvious things that make someone vulnerable,” she said.

While there is increasing awareness of age-related cognitive decline, someone dealing with a high-stress situation such as divorce or bereavement could also be vulnerable. Someone who is 18 or 25 years old and comes into a large amount of wealth could be vulnerable because they have limited financial knowledge.

“This is an area my partner and I take a duty of care in, and we were honored to have the opportunity to empower other advisors to be more mindful of it,” Bakunowicz said. “In working with our clients, we are lucky enough to see the full life cycle – from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren – and we are categorical with them that what they want on day one is not what they’re going to want on the last day. We want to be able to be modern, proactive and adaptive, and hold true to traditional values of personalized service.”

A big goal

Bakunowicz is ambitious, motivated by a challenge and, ideally, would like The Investment Boutique to one day be RJIS’ largest branch in the U.K. – the firm’s assets under management put it in the top 10 now. Being the largest in all of Raymond James, she joked, might require recruiting the queen as a client, though that would mean sorting out Her Majesty’s tangle of land-ownership issues, trusts and estates.

“We help clients with that, but the queen is a whole other kettle of fish, as they say,” she said.

In support of her growth goals, Bakunowicz hires proactively – ahead of need – to assure The Investment Boutique maintains its high standards for client service and experience. She recently added a new team member and looks forward to adding two more this year: someone with experience and a relatively new college graduate who will add yet another perspective to The Investment Boutique’s collective.

“I’m interested in being exposed to a diverse group of people, across ages and nationalities,” Bakunowicz said.

“You don’t know what you don’t know – and the only way to counteract that is to introduce novelty and imagination through diversity.”

This piece was featured in Aspire Magazine, a biannual publication from the Women Financial Advisors Network. View the latest.

Follow along on social media with #RJWomen.