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Ian McKenna: The growth of Nucleus

Of all the businesses I have interviewed to date in this RDR series, Nucleus is probably the organisation for whom moving to the brave new world has involved the least disruption.

From its outset as a start-up just five years ago, the company has effectively run as an RDR-friendly business, benefiting from having been established after the principles of the RDR were in the public domain.

Although like everybody else they are still in need of further clarification around the small print, some of which it now appears will not be in place until the end of 2013, overall, life at Nucleus has been substantially business as usual.

The growth of the organisation in the intervening period has been nothing short of spectacular, especially when set against the background of the worst economic conditions for half a century.

As anybody who has visited its offices will know, the whole place buzzes with passion, energy and commitment, and it can feel more like an advertising agency than a financial services company. There is something hugely positive about the culture of this company.

When the business has looked at what steps it needs to take to help its IFA partners prepare for the RDR, the transfer is being made far easier by the fact that the advisers it deals with are almost exclusively firms that have embraced an RDR-style culture from the earliest days of their dealings with Nucleus. Indeed, if a firm was not looking to operate in an RDR-friendly manner, Nucleus would not have been the right business partner for them.

This is validated by the fact that a survey of Nucleus IFA partners at the beginning of the year identified that 97 per cent see the RDR as a major opportunity. I am told these meetings were very much a collaboration, with the various adviser firms sharing their insight and experience. The role of Nucleus in these meetings was as facilitator, bringing the various parties together. I get the impression that working with Nucleus is rather like being part of a club where the members really help each other.

A recent series of workshops run with the advisers were all about looking at the small print in the detail of firms’ RDR propositions and documentation. These were as much adviser self-help groups as for some time the whole Nucleus process for signing up new partner firms has been structured in an RDR-friendly fashion.

Nucleus is still keen to recruit further adviser partners and has already signed up 60 per cent more firms during 2012 than it did in the whole of last year. The business now has about 140 partner firms and is looking to increase this number to between 250 and 300.

Chief executive David Ferguson says the RDR is growing the pool of advisers that fit the Nucleus mould.

Since its inception, the business has allowed advisers to operate on an adviser-charging basis and provided transparency to its customers.

Ferguson clearly states his concerns about the planned regulatory approach to cash rebates and consumer documentation but he is quick to stress that Nucleus can accommodate whatever solutions the FSA finally chooses to enforce.

Looking ahead, Ferguson says it is difficult to predict final numbers but he is adamant that good IFAs providing quality advice efficiently will thrive in the new environment and that there will be more such firms by the end of 2013.

He is far more pessimistic about the prospects for the wider adviser market, suggesting we may see only 50 per cent of the current IFA community survive, with the growth at the quality end balanced by traditional, transactional advisers that will really struggle.

He says that while these firms may succeed in passing the necessary exams, many will have left it far too late to evolve their business model. He sees some such individuals migrating towards more strictly run corporate structures in order to survive although they will have to work in more disciplined styles to fit the profile required by such firms.

It is clear Ferguson has a passionate desire to help successful advisers go where they want to go and while he is emphatic that Nucleus must not lose its focus, if such firms wish to enter the direct to consumer or corporate market, Nucleus is interested in powering them

Nucleus sees its focus as working with a number of smart highly evolved businesses giving them what they need to achieve critical mass and economies of scale. Its partner selection process is more focused on the people rather than the assets they may bring with them. The objective is to work with well-run, profitable adviser firms delivering great customer outcomes. Rarely in the last few years have I heard such consumer-focused objectives outlined so articulately from what is, essentially, a 21st century manufacturer business.

Built with the post-RDR world in mind, it is clear that Nucleus is not going to be the right business partner for all adviser firms. This is not a mass-market solution and it might not be suitable for some companies wanting to go down the restricted route. Indeed, many firms simply will not yet have evolved to the right level to work with them.

However, for those who have and where the cultures are closely aligned, Nucleus clearly represents a dynamic business partner and a committed team of people who are passionate about what they do.

Ian McKenna is director of the Finance & Technology Research Centre

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There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Is Ian still going?

  2. @exasperatedme, a bit confused by what you mean about am I still going? If you mean am I still working in the industry, right now I am busier than ever.

    I continue to contribute an RDR column (example above) & 2 x technology columns per month to Money Marketing and a month column to sister publication Corporate Adviser as I have done for many years.

    As well as helping major providers and advisers with implementing their strategies for RDR and beyond presently the F&TRC team are busy building a range of new services to help advisers & employers select the Workplace and group pensions options that best suit there needs for Auto Enrolment and a range of other tools to help advisers in a post RDR world.

    Last month I presented at two major conferences on the on the radical changes in the way consumers will access advice and a range of other services in the next few years, which I believe will have a dramatic impact on the market. Presently I am in America as part of a fact finding trip looking at leading edge personal finance technologies which have the potential to transform the way consumers take control of their financial lives and plan their investments. So I think you could say I am still “going”.

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