Avelo’s recent rebrand has attracted strong criticism but managing director Chris Noblet is positive about the debate it triggered. “What better publicity can you get? People may have criticised our rebrand but it kept people talking about Avelo.”
Noblet headed the technology provider’s rebrand, which saw its 1st The Exchange, N4 and Screen Business arms come together under the Avelo name last month and he is confident it will result in benefits for customers and staff. “I was going out to N4 or 1st The Exchange customers and they were not necessarily understanding the capabilities of the business as a whole,” he says.
“The name is not the critical point – it could have been anything – it is about pulling together as a single organisation. It will allow us to provide better solutions for our customers and more effective career paths for our employees. We have introduced new tools such as an internal social network to increase staff integration.”
Rebranding Avelo has been just one of Noblet’s tasks since joining last year. “I put things in place so we have a clear roadmap to follow. I am more of an implementer than someone who works on the products.”
He has held director roles at various IT businesses but he is not new to financial services, having joined Norwich Union after leaving Arthur Andersen following the Enron debacle in 2002.
“It was at the time of the Sandler report. Industry focus was on reducing cost, just as it is now.” This gave Noblet a taste for coming up with technical solutions to regulatory issues and when he was approached for the Avelo role, he jumped at the chance. “I knew about the retail distribution review and the drivers within the industry. I thought I would be going back at another challenging time where technology can be a key enabler in making these significant changes. It was a case of right place, right time.”
Although partly inspired by a desire to get his teeth into financial services again, Noblet’s key motivation for joining Avelo was its uniqueness. “We have some good competitors for distribution and portals but nobody else touches every aspect of the supply chain.” Over half of the UK’s top 50 IFAs use Avelo and one in four mortgages go through its channels. Noblet believes this is because it has harnessed consumer trends. “The industry needs electronic straight-through processing for managing transactions because consumers are becoming more IT-literate. Look at general insurance – the brokerage side is totally taken out today with people buying online.”
However, Noblet does not see that happening in financial services. “Car insurance only lasts a year but a pension lasts 40 years or more, with increasing longevity, so people still need advice. Avelo frees up adviser time to spend with clients. We have one customer who had 80 forms in the supply process and now has two.”
Noblet believes Avelo’s breadth of service will leave the company well placed once the RDR comes into force. “A lot of IFAs and networks see us as a safe place to be because our products cover an awful lot of the activities they have to do. It will also enhance our relationship with providers. One of the things the RDR will drive is more factory-gate pricing, which is an opportunity for them to take a significant amount of the cost out of the management of policies. This will lead to opportunities for us in terms of helping these providers bring products to market more quickly.”
“Anything that results in better advice for consumers is a good thing. Time will tell if it reinstates public trust in the industry but even without it we would be going through something of a revolution. More consumers want a web-based as well as a face-to-face offering. There is no doubt this industry will continue to evolve after the RDR,” he says.
Noblet sees opportunities in this evolution. “Technology allows advisers to control the client relationship”. Avelo will bring a product to market later this year to help them do just that. “We are working on our client portal offering, which is basically a customer-relation- ship management system for advisers and consumers, meaning clients can manage their own information and spend the time with their advisers discussing long-term financial planning. It is not up to us to define what the adviser-client relationship should be but to offer more choices.”
Avelo is working on a wealth optimiser product that will integrate with the firm’s adviser office product as “a one-stop wealth management shop”. “We have four or five more products to bring to market over the next two years,” says Noblet. This push comes as a result of feedback from customers. “We had not been fast enough in bringing new products to market but our challenge is to continue to develop, otherwise we will fall behind the market.”
Challenges are not only coming from competitors but also from the industry as a whole. “If I had the solutions to all the industry’s problems I would be a very rich man. However, I think the key is more simplified products. Consumers see financial services as difficult to understand. Change will come from providers developing simpler products and advisers offering long-term financial planning – and technology is an enabler in that process.”
Born: 1964 in Preston
Education: Postgraduate in management studies at Manchester Metropolitan University
Career: 2010-11: managing director, Avelo; 2009-10: managing director, Ramseys; 2008-9: acquisitions director, Capita; 2007-8: service delivery director, ComputerLand; 2003-07: customer services director, Digica; 2002-3 head of IT infrastructure, Norwich Union; 2001-02: global operations director, Andersen; 2000-01: EMEIA operations director, Andersen; 1998-2000: UK operations manager, Andersen; 1997-8: Nottingham IT manager, Andersen; 1993-97: head of IT, Bodfari Quarries; 1984-93: consultant and partner, Microsolutions
Likes: Football, my two dogs and my new granddaughter
Drives: A Range Rover Sport
Book: The Stand by Stephen King
Film: Groundhog Day
Album: Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits
Career ambition: To lead a company through a period of significant change
Life ambition: I always wanted to be a pilot. Now I hold a private pilot’s licence I hope to extend this as far as I can
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… orking for a children’s charity