20 years ago Reg Bamford spotted an opportunity, or, as he likes to put it, paddled out for a surf and caught the most almighty roller.
Kiwis, Aussies and Saffas began flocking to the UK looking for advice on getting the basics – a bank account and beer vouchers. Bamford sensed an opportunity to have his own business lending these young travellers a helping hand.
“Let’s say I’m a surfer… and the surf conditions are crappy but you go for a surf anyway and you’re the only person out there,” explains Bamford. “You go way out there and the sea’s flat. Suddenly there’s one big wave that comes at just the right spot. You catch it and you surf it all the way to the beach and it’s like the best wave you’ve ever had. It was like that with 1st Contact. We were that surfer that got the big wave.”
And word spread quickly. If someone had a visa issue, a forex issue or any other issue, they knew where to go. If they didn’t, one of their Saffa, Aussie or Kiwi mates would say, “Go see Susan at 1st Contact”.
If you were to ask most Kiwis between the ages of 18 and 30 in the UK if they knew about 1st Contact, they would not only know of them, but they would have used them too. “They saw us as their sort of surrogate parents,” Bamford says chuckling.
The demographic of Aussies, Kiwis and South Africans coming over to the UK has changed dramatically over the last six or seven years. The Kiwis coming over are now looking to relocate. They are a lot more committed, bringing more money over and are slightly older with slightly different needs, he explains.
“It’s a slightly tougher business environment now with a slightly different, slightly more discerning clientele.”
While 1st Contact aims to help youngsters kickstart their lives in London, Sable is aimed at the older client. Qualified chartered accountants or wealth managers look after each individual client.
According to Bamford, the change in clientele has not affected the fundamentals of the business in the slightest.
“I’ve crystalised them into three things that are important to us as a business and me as an individual. You’ve got have fun doing this business. You’ve got to make money and you’ve got to help and influence people by changing their lives and saving them tons of money. As long as these three things happen, we will carry on doing what we do.”