Financial Times

By Alicia Clegg

In the eyes of his investment banking colleagues, John (name changed) is a high-flier. But in another aspect of his life, he feels he has not left the tarmac. In his early forties, he is still single.

Rather than allow matters to drift, he decided last month to engage The County Register, a UK-based personal introductions agency, to search for someone to share his life. “It’s another option to try. The problem with dating City people is that they are always calling off at the last minute,” he says.

His comment illustrates a growing problem for high-achieving singletons in the City: while the quest for a soulmate cannot be rushed, time is in short supply in a culture of high pressure and long hours.

The popularity of elite introductions agencies suggests there are plenty of outwardly assured professionals needing help to find a partner. The County Register, which charges £10,000 for 18 months membership of its top tier personal search service, is currently signing five new city-based clients a month – twice the joining rate for 2000.

Yet in an age of internet dating, why should successful businesspeople sign up for highly priced services that marry the arcane arts of matchmaking to executive headhunting?

Sophia Siddiqui, a former client service officer at Merrill Lynch and one-time public relations adviser for Drawing Down the Moon, an introductions agency, sees personal introductions as offering an escape route from the workplace. Ms Siddiqui originally approached Drawing Down the Moon with a view to becoming a potential client, after spotting its advertisement in the Merrill Lynch gym.

“At an institution like Merrill it’s possible, almost literally, to live at the office because everything is provided from the gym to dry cleaning. The last thing I wanted after work was to socialise with bankers or sit down at a computer,” she says.

The encroachment of work isn’t the only factor contributing to the rise in mid-life singletons. In the opinion of Mary Balfour, Drawing Down the Moon’s owner, overstretched professionals are both the authors and the victims of their supercharged lifestyles.

“Jobs today are so adrenalin-fuelled that social life can seem tame by comparison,” she says. “Many people, particularly if they travel a lot, stay single because they aren’t prepared to sacrifice the excitement of work for exploring a relationship more slowly.”

For career-focused women, reaching a landmark birthday is often the trigger for plunging into dating. But this is a time in their life when they feel under pressure to make things happen quickly.

“For many women, finding a partner is always the next thing they’re going to do,” says Paula Hall, a counsellor with Relate. “When they actually say ‘now is the time’, it creates massive anxiety.” Add to that the office politics of dating a colleague or, more problematically, someone whom you manage and the romantic dream of finding love at work looks more like a nightmare.

Personal search services, like the headhunters they model themselves on, do not promise to put everything right for their clients or even find their perfect match. They claim only to speed up the search, reduce the serendipity of dating and take away some of its awkwardness by sifting the potentially compatible from the rest.

Tamara Heber-Percy runs The County Register with her sister, Zara, and mother, Heather. When they sign a client, they spend at least half a day at their home getting to know them. They compose a profile that is matched against a database of eligible singles and advertised anonymously. Promising respondents are met and interviewed, so the client sees only people who seem genuinely suitable.

Helen (not her real name), a 36-year-old City professional in fund management, joined The County Register six months ago. She admits the membership fee, which guarantees two introductions a month, is “a lot of money”, but rationalises the expense as she might a long-term investment. “You could quite easily spend £3,000 on a holiday; but a relationship will hopefully last much longer,” she says.

Equally important is the reassurance of knowing that the men she meets have been vetted by someone whose judgment she trusts. “It feels less risky than meeting someone, randomly, online.”

The gold-plated price tag excludes all but the wealthy and most determined seekers. However, just as financial services offer products for a mix of tastes and wallets, so the personal introductions sector caters for various client profiles.

Classical Partners targets cultured professionals. For the relatively modest annual fee of £400, the agency organises social events involving music and the arts and facilitates one-to-one meetings. The focus on shared interests ensures that, when two people meet, if they don’t click, they at least have something to talk about. “If you both love music, it makes things easier,” says Simon Lane, a unit trust dealer. “It seemed a good way to make friends and, maybe, meet the right person.”

For City singletons not sated with computer screens, internet sites offer another route to find a partner. But, for mature professionals with firm views on what they are looking for, the openness of websites can turn the dating game into a lottery. Their advantage is that they can accommodate niche services, such as dating sites for graduates, to cater for different segments of the market.

David (not his real name), a hospital consultant, met his fiancée, a corporate lawyer at a City firm, through Blues Match, an online dating and networking forum for Oxford and Cambridge university graduates. David says that, in tight-knit professions, people form cliques around lowest-common-dominator interests such as work, holidays and cars. Social networks and introductions agencies act as filters, uniting like-minded people from different walks of life. “As a student, my best friends were [future] writers, politicians and lawyers, not medics.”

So, will love blossom for those who seize the initiative? Investment banker John, a veteran of introductions services, sounds a cautionary note. Many of the people who use personal introductions, he says, are work-obsessed over-achievers. This creates the problem of introducing people who can’t find time in their schedules to meet. “If the career still comes first, it ain’t going to happen.”

With a business downturn in prospect, now could be the moment for overstretched singletons to take time out and invest in their relationships.

Obstacles on the path to partnership

The buoyancy of elite introductions services reinforces the idea that high-achieving executives are struggling to find love. Industry specialists identify what stops successful people forming successful relationships.

* High expectations. A recent poll by Ivory Towers, an internet dating agency for graduates, suggests high expectations and lack of commitment get in the way of finding a partner. Mary Balfour, owner of Drawing Down the Moon, says: “Because marriage is no longer an economic and social necessity, people get used to hoping that the next relationship will be the right one.”

She adds: “We encourage clients to see relationships as something they build, not something ready-made.”

* Global lifestyles. Frequent travellers or those who are posted abroad often struggle to maintain relationships. The County Register introduces such clients to internationally-minded people, who are prepared to travel at weekends or live abroad.

* Forgetting to flirt. “Busy City people often find it hard to drop their work persona and sometimes grill dates as if they were interviewing them for a job,” says Tamara Heber-Percy, The County Register co-director.

Financial Times

By Alicia Clegg

In the eyes of his investment banking colleagues, John (name changed) is a high-flier. But in another aspect of his life, he feels he has not left the tarmac. In his early forties, he is still single.

Rather than allow matters to drift, he decided last month to engage The County Register, a UK-based personal introductions agency, to search for someone to share his life. “It’s another option to try. The problem with dating City people is that they are always calling off at the last minute,” he says.

His comment illustrates a growing problem for high-achieving singletons in the City: while the quest for a soulmate cannot be rushed, time is in short supply in a culture of high pressure and long hours.

The popularity of elite introductions agencies suggests there are plenty of outwardly assured professionals needing help to find a partner. The County Register, which charges £10,000 for 18 months membership of its top tier personal search service, is currently signing five new city-based clients a month – twice the joining rate for 2000.

Yet in an age of internet dating, why should successful businesspeople sign up for highly priced services that marry the arcane arts of matchmaking to executive headhunting?

Sophia Siddiqui, a former client service officer at Merrill Lynch and one-time public relations adviser for Drawing Down the Moon, an introductions agency, sees personal introductions as offering an escape route from the workplace. Ms Siddiqui originally approached Drawing Down the Moon with a view to becoming a potential client, after spotting its advertisement in the Merrill Lynch gym.

“At an institution like Merrill it’s possible, almost literally, to live at the office because everything is provided from the gym to dry cleaning. The last thing I wanted after work was to socialise with bankers or sit down at a computer,” she says.

The encroachment of work isn’t the only factor contributing to the rise in mid-life singletons. In the opinion of Mary Balfour, Drawing Down the Moon’s owner, overstretched professionals are both the authors and the victims of their supercharged lifestyles.

“Jobs today are so adrenalin-fuelled that social life can seem tame by comparison,” she says. “Many people, particularly if they travel a lot, stay single because they aren’t prepared to sacrifice the excitement of work for exploring a relationship more slowly.”

For career-focused women, reaching a landmark birthday is often the trigger for plunging into dating. But this is a time in their life when they feel under pressure to make things happen quickly.

“For many women, finding a partner is always the next thing they’re going to do,” says Paula Hall, a counsellor with Relate. “When they actually say ‘now is the time’, it creates massive anxiety.” Add to that the office politics of dating a colleague or, more problematically, someone whom you manage and the romantic dream of finding love at work looks more like a nightmare.

Personal search services, like the headhunters they model themselves on, do not promise to put everything right for their clients or even find their perfect match. They claim only to speed up the search, reduce the serendipity of dating and take away some of its awkwardness by sifting the potentially compatible from the rest.

Tamara Heber-Percy runs The County Register with her sister, Zara, and mother, Heather. When they sign a client, they spend at least half a day at their home getting to know them. They compose a profile that is matched against a database of eligible singles and advertised anonymously. Promising respondents are met and interviewed, so the client sees only people who seem genuinely suitable.

Helen (not her real name), a 36-year-old City professional in fund management, joined The County Register six months ago. She admits the membership fee, which guarantees two introductions a month, is “a lot of money”, but rationalises the expense as she might a long-term investment. “You could quite easily spend £3,000 on a holiday; but a relationship will hopefully last much longer,” she says.

Equally important is the reassurance of knowing that the men she meets have been vetted by someone whose judgment she trusts. “It feels less risky than meeting someone, randomly, online.”

The gold-plated price tag excludes all but the wealthy and most determined seekers. However, just as financial services offer products for a mix of tastes and wallets, so the personal introductions sector caters for various client profiles.

Classical Partners targets cultured professionals. For the relatively modest annual fee of £400, the agency organises social events involving music and the arts and facilitates one-to-one meetings. The focus on shared interests ensures that, when two people meet, if they don’t click, they at least have something to talk about. “If you both love music, it makes things easier,” says Simon Lane, a unit trust dealer. “It seemed a good way to make friends and, maybe, meet the right person.”

For City singletons not sated with computer screens, internet sites offer another route to find a partner. But, for mature professionals with firm views on what they are looking for, the openness of websites can turn the dating game into a lottery. Their advantage is that they can accommodate niche services, such as dating sites for graduates, to cater for different segments of the market.

David (not his real name), a hospital consultant, met his fiancée, a corporate lawyer at a City firm, through Blues Match, an online dating and networking forum for Oxford and Cambridge university graduates. David says that, in tight-knit professions, people form cliques around lowest-common-dominator interests such as work, holidays and cars. Social networks and introductions agencies act as filters, uniting like-minded people from different walks of life. “As a student, my best friends were [future] writers, politicians and lawyers, not medics.”

So, will love blossom for those who seize the initiative? Investment banker John, a veteran of introductions services, sounds a cautionary note. Many of the people who use personal introductions, he says, are work-obsessed over-achievers. This creates the problem of introducing people who can’t find time in their schedules to meet. “If the career still comes first, it ain’t going to happen.”

With a business downturn in prospect, now could be the moment for overstretched singletons to take time out and invest in their relationships.

Obstacles on the path to partnership

The buoyancy of elite introductions services reinforces the idea that high-achieving executives are struggling to find love. Industry specialists identify what stops successful people forming successful relationships.

* High expectations. A recent poll by Ivory Towers, an internet dating agency for graduates, suggests high expectations and lack of commitment get in the way of finding a partner. Mary Balfour, owner of Drawing Down the Moon, says: “Because marriage is no longer an economic and social necessity, people get used to hoping that the next relationship will be the right one.”

She adds: “We encourage clients to see relationships as something they build, not something ready-made.”

* Global lifestyles. Frequent travellers or those who are posted abroad often struggle to maintain relationships. The County Register introduces such clients to internationally-minded people, who are prepared to travel at weekends or live abroad.

* Forgetting to flirt. “Busy City people often find it hard to drop their work persona and sometimes grill dates as if they were interviewing them for a job,” says Tamara Heber-Percy, The County Register co-director.