It has been a turbulent two or three days for the UK wealth management market. On Friday, Nucleus made its move on Curtis Banks, the latter’s management appears to be leaving en masse, the much loved Dunstan Thomas appears to be loved no longer, what is loved is the inflation linked charging structure at Curtis Banks which protects those funding the acquisition ( an assembly of private equity firms) from attrition to its revenues.
On Sunday, Peter Hargreaves delivered both barrels to the management of the company he formed 50 years ago. He did so, very publicly in the FT, calling for his firm to cut its otiose payroll and get back to what it did best- selling investments.
I do not hold out much hope that either the newly enlarged Nucleus or the overgrown Hargreaves Lansdown, will ever again innovate in the market.
As Peter Hargreaves points out , the success of Hargreaves Lansdown was based on selling investments, David Ferguson built Nucleus through his personal charisma as a salesman. Both Hargreaves and Ferguson are business people whose entrepreneurial zeal was integral to the culture and development of their businesses. Both have left their businesses behind and though Hargreaves remains the largest investor in Hargreaves Lansdown, his influence over its direction is clearly waning.
I joined a similarly innovative outfit in 1985 – just as it was turning from an entrepreneurial to a corporately led business. Hambro Life gave way to Allied Dunbar and it is now all but lost – save to policyholders who may be enjoying what’s left of their savings.
What happened at Allied Dunbar was that the focus of the business moved from personal relationships to corporate programmes. This is what Hargreaves is moaning about when he complains that Hargreaves is trying to reinvent itself as a robo-adviser. I notice the same kind of thing in the statements being made by Nucleus/Curtis Banks.
There is a place for robo -advice – it is the way to get consumers sufficiently interested in what is going on for them to want to ask real questions of real human beings. But only a small proportion of people want to ask these questions and robo-advice will remain a by-water in financial services, not the mainstream activity Hargreaves Lansdown want it to be. Peter Hargreaves is right.
Where robotics can work is in the delivery of solutions much more efficiently and safely than where pen and paper or even manual keying into spreadsheets is involved.
The next Hargreaves Lansdown or Nucleus is much more likely to be sitting on this kind of technology than re-purposing the massive machines built at Hargreaves Lansdown.
Pension Bee have bypassed the platform industry and built a business on Salesforce, we have yet to see a pension business run its database entirely on the block chain but it only a matter of time.
In truth, it is hard to see the next generation of genius innovation arising from any of the established players, though the likes of Peter Hargreaves and David Ferguson will continue to teach us how it’s done.
And now might be a good time to remind ourselves of one genius from this world that we have lost.