The Herald

The Herald

'Genius' Linlithgow businessman sadly loses Covid battle

Alan Steel, investment advisor known for his straight-talking about the financial industry

Born: February 22, 1947;

Died: September 15, 2021

Alan Steel, who has died aged 74, was an investment advisor known for his straight-talking about the financial industry. He was the first person in the industry to expose the Equitable Life scandal and was also highly critical of any products he considered poor value for money, including endowment mortgages and with-profits bonds.

For most of his career, he ran his own company Alan Steel Asset Management, which he set up in his hometown of Linlithgow in 1975. Three times voted the best investment IFA in UK-wide industry polling, the firm today employs 41 staff managing more than £1.5 billion of client assets.

Born in Bo’ness, West Lothian, to Alan Steel, a bricklayer, and Laura, a bookkeeper in a solicitor’s office, the family moved to Linlithgow when Alan was six. He attended primary school there followed by Linlithgow Academy.

After leaving school, he studied geography at Edinburgh University before training as an actuary with Scottish Widows but it was not for him. In his own words “he discovered that he had a personality”. And so he launched his asset management business at a time when practically no one else did.

The UK stock market at the time had reached an all-time low that it has never seen since and it was a period when new investors were very few and far between. Undaunted, he moved into an office space given to him by his old Linlithgow Academy school friend and former Hearts and Scotland footballer, Donald Ford. Donald had an accountancy practice in Linlithgow High Street at the time.

Alan set about building a personal bank of industry and investment technical knowledge by immersing himself in business books to give himself a competitive edge. This thirst for knowledge never left him and inspired many of the articles that he wrote regularly for the financial press. This increased knowledge, allied to his original actuarial training, ensured that he better understood and identified the flaws in the technicalities behind some of the financial scandals of the 80s and 90s long before they reached the attention of the media.

Alan was also driven to expose these scandals to a much wider audience, one which was way beyond his own customer base. He was the first person in the industry to expose the huge Equitable Life scandal and the first to shout down the poor value represented by endowment mortgages.

He went on to expose the smoke and mirrors that would eventually lead to the poor performance of one of the industry’s then bestselling investment products, the with-profits bond. And his affinity for maths enabled him to publicly challenge the workings of the split capital investment trust, workings that subsequently proved to be totally flawed

The financial scandals now recognised as amongst the biggest of all time. It is therefore to Alan’s enormous credit that he challenged them all in public before anyone else.

Alan’s media crusades often created dangerous enemies for him amongst the big financial institutions but despite threatened court action against him Alan’s constant pursuit of customer protection remained undaunted.

He became a regular commentator in all the UK financial press and broadcast media where he always put his points across in a language all readers, viewers and listeners could understand.

Those who were privileged to receive copies of his regular “Letter from Linlithgow” each month would laugh out loud at his writing, especially when he often referenced his Grannie McKay’s sayings to make an important point.

He was very much in demand as an after-dinner speaker and proudly claimed to be the only individual ever to give the main speech in the same year at the two significant historical events that were local and always very dear to him, the Linlithgow Marches and the Bo’ness Fair.

When asked what his life was like outside financial services, he would simply say “family, music, my moothie , Ibiza , red wine and Oliphants pies”. Oliphants was his local Linlithgow baker.

His longstanding friend and fellow Linlithgow financial services stalwart John Allison said of Alan that he was successful and innovative in business but still humble. “He was kind, loyal, generous, honest and a thoroughly decent man,” said John.

“Alan always remained totally true to his working-class upbringing. But, unknown to most, he was also a significant financial benefactor and quietly, behind the scenes, he gave great financial support to many local institutions and events.”

Steve Forbes, who has been managing director of ASAM since 2005, said he and his colleagues were always impressed by his vast technical knowledge, the camaraderie of his staff and, his sense of humour.

“Together we wanted to help him try to make his dream of retirement financial independence for Alan Steel Asset Management clients come true,” said Steve, “He was a one off and a genius, of that there is certainly no doubt, but he was also a great visionary. Several years ago, he deliberately stood back from the day to day running of the business and assumed the role of company chairman. He couldn’t keep away from the office, of course, and each visit was always a breath of fresh air.

“His sudden passing has certainly hit us all very hard, but we take great comfort from the fact that his corporate vision and DNA are forever installed in all of us here in Linlithgow. Upholding these ideals now and well into the future will be our lasting tribute to a truly unique individual.”

Alan Steel is survived by his wife Fran, son Malcolm and daughter Catherine together with son in law Dylan and daughter in law Helen and his five grandchildren, Hannah, Cameron, Jackson, Frankton and Daisy.