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Busy bees over at AWD

Speculation is mounting around the future of AWD Chase de Vere’s UK business as the acquisition of the parent group by Swiss Life goes through this week.

While chief executive Mike Kirsch has maintained that as far as he is aware, the UK business is not for sale, Swiss Life’s strategy has very clearly excluded the UK as a priority area for its distribution since its takeover bid in December.

Several names have been suggested as possibly keen on the adviser firm, and its 450-strong distribution force, from a range of backgrounds. The deep pockets and land-grab approach to distribution of Axa is one contender. Axa declined to comment on market speculation, but has demonstrated its penchant for growing by acquisition as well as through organic expansion with the purchase of Thinc and its underlying acquisitions by Thinc Group itself.

Another name in the frame is Towry Law, with chief executive Andrew Fisher being very clear about his interest in the organisation.

He feels the quality of the business and the advisers are very attractive, but would insist on evolving the company into a totally fee-based outfit, in line with his staunch anti-commission stance.

But Fisher says he cannot estimate the potential price tag on the business without first conducting any analysis and due diligence as to the level of risk that lies within the organisation.

Others have suggested private equity firms like JC Flowers might be garnering more interest in IFA distribution in the UK, while someone else has suggested the latest US entrant – Focus Financial Partners – might be a contender.

So it was all in all a busy week for AWD Chase de Vere last week, as the group also announced its decision to outsource its PR function to an external agency, rendering head of PR and investments manager Anna Bowes and PR manager Susan Hannums redundant. But I’m pretty certain the pair will both crop up elsewere in the industry before too long.

Selestia Investment Solutions has set its stake in the ground to gain another £20bn of assets on the platform within the next five years.

The combined figure for the former Skandia and Selestia platforms is currently £30bn, with UK business unit chief executive Brett Williams laying out his ambitious growth plans and highlights once again the huge expenditure required not only to build a wrap in the first place but also to ensure its continued maintenance, updating its technology and ensuring sufficient scale is achieved.

Hailing back to the delights of the retail distribution review (well, it had been at least a couple of weeks…), Money Marketing pulled together the chiefs of three leading networks and support service organisations for a Valentine’s Day soiree to thrash out the continued issues and voice their concerns over the progress of the RDR and its potential outcomes.

Bankhall’s Peter Mann, Sesame’s Ivan Martin and Tenet’s Simon Hudson were in agreement that customer agreed remuneration is not the Holy Grail that perhaps is needed to sort out the supposed issues around retail distribution, saying it will not ‘fix’ commission bias.

Mann said he was nervous about the ‘gold, silver and bronze’ tagging that seemed to emerge from the RDR proposed three tiers, alienating those that might be perfectly happy with selling products, calling for the ‘stigma’ to be removed from the term selling. He and Ivan Martin agreed that if the bar was set too high it would only serve to discourage new blood coming into the industry, rather than draw it in.

Martin also said the advice process was only a mere inkling of the far bigger problem of the enormous lack of a savings culture and credit-addiction in this country, and threw down the gauntlet to the Government to address the real issues.

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