The news that Exeter Fund Managers came 14th in Keydata's unofficial top of the Isa pops raised a few eyebrows across the fund management industry.
Despite being the UK's 80th-biggest retail fund manager, Exeter got more IFA recommendations in the survey than rivals such as Schroders, Merrill Lynch and Scottish Widows, all of which are more than 10 times its size.
Perhaps more surprising is the fact that Exeter's success follows a quiet Isa season for the group in terms of advertising as well as a relatively all-round low media profile in recent months.
However, Exeter is unsurprised by the news.
Director Ian Jolliffe attributes its success to word of mouth. He says: “Because markets are where they are at the moment, people are suspicious of the 'buy me, buy me' approach. Investors can see that we are performing well and I think we are building a reputation for having a safe pair of hands in a volatile market.”
Exeter is by no means a new player in the fund management industry. Founded in 1986 by Ian Henderson, it started as an investment trust admin firm, setting up its first unit trust – the Exeter managed growth fund – in July 1987. Today, the firm has nine funds, and some of the best performance figures on the market.
Recent group weighted performance figures from The Research Department show Exeter is consistently ranked among the top 10 providers over both the short and long term.
In the last 10 years, the group has returned an average of 275 per cent, making it 10th out of 93 UK fund managers. In the past year, it has returned an average of 6 per cent across its funds, making it one of only 15 firms to produce a positive average.
Exeter is looking to build on its success with two new Pep transfer products, capitalising on last week's relaxation of the Pep rules. With around £80bn still held in Peps, the company believes the transfer market is set to boom.
Marketing manager Philip Thitchener says: “There is a huge opportunity for IFAs to add value to Pep investments and the portfolios we are offering could be very useful tools for IFAs. We are continually looking for ways to increase the options available to IFAs.”
The international growth portfolio will incorporate Exeter's global opportunities and managed growth funds as well as its Pacific growth fund, which the company says reflects its current bullish view on Japan.
The UK balanced portfolio will combine its three biggest unit trusts – the equity income, zero preference and capital growth funds.
Exeter has been keen to build a name as a specialist in the zero-dividend preference share market, with its zero preference fund now its biggest fund. It is still one of the few providers to offer a fund of zeros although the market is starting to attract more interest. Jupiter has a similar fund launch planned for later this year.
Exeter's strategy is simply to continue growing organically. With between 80 and 90 per cent of its business coming through IFAs, it remains dedicated to the concept of independent advice.
Having seen such success without shouting too loud, the industry must be wondering what will happen when Exeter moves into top gear.