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IFAs feel Insight lacks vision

The departure of two regional sales managers from fund firm Insight has triggered speculation about the direction the company is taking.

Insight’s logo is an open door. Since launch in October 2002, two key fund managers have chosen to walk out of it. In September 2004, the group lost UK dynamic fund manager Neil Pegrum to Cazenove. The fund has returned 13.5 per cent over the last year and is ranked 141st of 293 funds in its sector. Insight also lost fund of funds manager Bambos Hambi to Gartmore in August 2003Insight says it is looking to recruit a new head of IFA sales but will not confirm whether it plans to replace the two sales managers who left recently.

The firm was launched from a combination of the asset management businesses of Clerical Medical Investment Management and Halifax Fund Management. Shortly afterwards, it acquired Rothschild Asset Management which had brought it the services of HambiInsight manages 77.7bn of funds for institutional and retail clients across the full range of asset types.

Hargreaves Lansdown investment manager Ben Yearsley has been disappointed by the firm. He thinks the departure of its sales managers shows that Insight has no real future in the IFA market and is likely to concentrate on selling products through Halifax branches.

Yearsley says: “They fell apart after they bought Rothschild. I do not know why. They attracted Neil Pegrum but nobody else of note and eventually he left. I would imagine there was a lot of pressure on Pegrum’s shoulders, being the only star manager, and all the sales guys would have wanted to take him out around the country. They had Bambos Hambi on their fund of funds but he left in a short space of time too.”

Egg Design and Marketing managing director Martin Fox says Insight launched in a blaze of publicity with the intention of creating an investment house to provide all the investment products for the HBOS group. He says it started from a position of strength, with lots of clients, but something has clearly gone wrong.

Yearsley suggests that Insight has been troubled by its size and the level of bureaucracy that such scale inevitably brings while Fox wonders whether there has been a change of strategy at group level.

Fox says: “There has not been nearly as much activity on the marketing front over the last two years. They really have been very quiet. I wonder if they are struggling as to whether they want to be an investment house in their own right or whether they are merely part of the activities of a bigger group.”

Insight director of strategic relationships Gordon Phillips says marketing activity has reduced only because the com- pany wanted to make an impact at launch and claims its marketing spend in the IFA market is no less than ever.

Phillips adds that recruitment for a head of IFA sales is well advanced. He says depolarisation has brought massive changes to the distribution landscape and Insight’s future focus will be on partnerships with key intermediaries.

On the departure of Bambos Hambi, Philips says: “We took Hambi on from Rothschild in December 2002 and he left in August 2003. When you take a business on, you are always going to get significant fallout and we have rebuilt the multi-manager business over the last year. Patrick Armstrong and Anna Cukic Munroe have 89 per cent of their ass- ets ahead of the peer group.”

Blackadders director of investment services Keith Thomson has a strategic alliance with Insight. He says while he has had meetings with the firm at which it admitted to poor performance on certain funds, he is a firm believer in its multi- manager products. He says performance since November 2003 has been moving in the right direction.

Thomson says: “On the multi-manager side, they have got a very good investment team and analytical tools, with one of the most comprehensive fund manager questionnaires on the market. We do not necessarily want them to be top of the pile because that involves extra risk.”

Alan Steel Asset Management chairman Alan Steel is unconvinced. He says: “Insight appears to lack vision, which is ridiculous for a company with its name. It does not know where it is going, so it would not even know if it got there. It is big and cumbersome.

“One of its sales guys committed commercial suicide in our office when he admitted that the part he really got excited about was the multi-manager team but this does not invest in Insight funds. It is a damning endictment of our industry that it is still getting business.”

Plan Invest joint managing director Michael Owen says Insight is viewed with suspicion by IFAs because of its links to HBOS. He uses the monthly income bond fund, acquired from Rothschild and managed by Lucy Speake, but says performance across the board is uninspiring. He also says the departure of Pegrum gives him bad vibes.

Chelsea Financial Services managing director Darius McDermott says the key issue in the fund management business is always going to be performance, not marketing, and describes Insight as a wayward ship. Until Insight’s performance improves, he will not be recommending any of its funds.

When fund firms are being paid by investors to deliver performance, it is their duty to deliver on the bargain. Firms need to hold on to their management talent and create the feeling that they are winners. That is one insight that cannot be ignored.

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