In the 16 months since Money Marketing first tipped the merger of advice firm consolidator Bellpenny and national IFA Ascot Lloyd, the now fully integrated and rebranded joint business has started to get comfortable in its new position.
The renamed Ascot Lloyd says it has ironed out any rough patches from the past year and is a different proposition to the business that ran before.
In results filed to Companies House two weeks ago, the IFA reported an operating loss of £1.5m for 2017, a decline on the £471,000 profit for 2016, with a slight dip in revenue from £18.4m to £18m as it changed its accounting practices to factor in the new group structure.
Speaking to Money Marketing last week, Ascot Lloyd chief executive Nigel Stockton said the advice firm is currently sitting on £6bn in funds under management after strong growth in 2018. A total of 30,000 clients are split between the firms’ 80 advisers. Stockton says: “We’ve now well and truly knitted the two businesses together and we are in extremely good shape for the future and looking at adding further growth opportunities within the next year.
“We have had a very good first year of growth and delivery; the renaming has gone really well, our commitment to independent financial advice remains undiminished and it’s really been a strong year all round.”
Following the official merger date last July, Stockton said integrating the previously restricted Bellpenny advisers into an independent firm was a time-consuming process.
While a majority of its restricted advisers had worked as independent financial planners before, Stockton tells Money Marketing significant effort has gone into retraining.
He says the efforts have started to pay off and advisers are positive about the firm’s future.
Stockton adds: “Particularly in the last two quarters, there’s a confidence and a sense of stability, and everyone can now see things are really moving in the right direction.
“We’ve had to make sure we’ve got the right training and competency procedures in place for those that have been restricted, but that has gone well, and our advisers are also more comfortable and confident as a result.”
The merger was touted as being at the behest of both advisers and clients last year, and Stockton told Money Marketing in July that the adjustment period for clients was still ongoing.
The firm has invested heavily in its new premises this year, including in new meeting facilities for clients.
Stockton says: “Our clients are taking it all very well, and moving the old Bellpenny restricted model to what we have now has given them a level of confidence. They like being advised by a fully independent adviser.”
Technology has been a particular focus in the past 12 months, with Stockton confirming that a full integration between Bellpenny and old Ascot Lloyd systems saw the combined business decide on Intelliflo’s Intelligent Office offering as its back-office system.
Stockton says new business for the IFA is currently coming through its relaunched website. The firm has also recently completed the launch of a new app, with plans to target a broader range of customers.
He says: “We’ve had good momentum and we’re really pleased with how the integration has gone. We have new premises in Glasgow, Harrogate, Leeds and Reading, all in the last 12 months, and we are trading well.” There is a potential downside to the increased technology focus, however.
Stockton says: “It’s all about looking to merge with businesses that really align with what Ascot Lloyd does and wants to achieve. We are on Intelligent Office, and we are independent and under the Ascot Lloyd name, and that’s never going to suit everybody.”
The IFA has been quiet on the acquisition front since buying Leeds-based Pantheon Financial in the week leading up to Christmas last year.
With fuller coffers after a strong year, Stockton says the emphasis is about to turn back towards consolidation: “We’ve had a lot of activity in the acquisition space and in the past six months, our pipeline is busier than it has ever been because people know performance is very strong, and the fact that we’ve moved to becoming independent has gone down very well too.”
Stockton says Ascot Lloyd is well placed to announce a “pretty significant acquisition” before the end of the year that will add at least another 20 advisers to its ranks.
He adds: “I see significant growth potential for the business and we’ve invested in a variety of areas. The business is both growing and profitable as we look to the future.”