For the past eight weeks, 1825 has been a firm in the spotlight. Since mid-March the Standard Life-owned unit has been at the centre of a maelstrom of acquisitions as it seeks a rapid boost to its adviser numbers.
Just over a month ago the firm completed a deal with East Anglia’s Almary Green, which was quickly followed by deals for Scotland’s Munro Partnership and London’s Baigrie Davies.
Sitting down with Money Marketing just days after the Baigrie Davies deal, 1825 chief executive Steve Murray says the firm is now engaged in evaluating where to go next, with major population centres an obvious start.
“We will certainly be looking at some of the big cities as a natural place, but we are not saying that we must have an office in ‘X’ location immediately,” he says. “We are trying to create that broader national presence and will look at regions where we aren’t present at the moment.”
When Standard Life first acquired Pearson Jones in February 2015 the firm openly targeted a total of 150 advisers for its new national IFA.Now sitting close to 70, Murray says the next 80 will come through a combination of further acquisitions, recruitment and training of its own recruits through the 1825 Academy.
However, he avoids getting specific on his expectations for how many will come from each stream or indeed whether acquisition will remain the firm’s dominant mode of growth in future.
“I don’t think there has to be a dominant part. We’ll look at the right opportunities at the right time,” he says. “If for whatever reason there weren’t the right opportunities on the acquisition side, then we don’t need to do that and we won’t be forced to do that. In which case we might do more with the academy and more on the recruitment side. This is a long-term strategy that we have here; we’re not racing to have 150 advisers in by next Tuesday.”
In the aftermath of the firm’s acquisition spree, advisers have been vocal in their responses to the deals, with both Almary Green managing director Carl Lamb and Baigrie Davies’ co-founder Tom Baigrie defending their decisions to move to a restricted offering.
You’ll see further consolidation in the market, but you’ll still see the sector flourishes, particularly where firms are putting client needs first
At the same time, Money Marketing revealed figures from EY predicting at least half of the market will be restricted by 2020/21, with a loss of between 300 and 400 firms expected over the next five years.
For his part, Murray is less apocalyptic, and while he admits mergers and purchases are likely, he refutes the idea that restricted is necessarily the future of advice.
“I think you will see a broad mix. You will certainly see some consolidation, and we have seen that already, but there are fantastic firms out in the market that I think will survive and flourish in the longer term.
“There are some challenges in the marketplace, and a number of people have called out issues like the FSCS levy and what have you, but there seems to be a commitment from the Government and the regulator to look more formally at some of those things.
“You’ll certainly see further consolidation in the market. But I think you’ll still see that the sector flourishes, particularly where they’re putting client needs first.”
A former EY consultant, Murray joined Standard Life in 2004 out of a desire to return to his former home of Edinburgh. Since then, he says he has accidentally become one of a select group of “Standard Lifers” and admits he is surprised he has been with the business so long.
Recruited to help in the formative stages of the firm’s initial public offering, Murray spent much of his time with the business offering support on tactical moves such as acquisitions. When 1825 was launched he moved to it to change tack and stretch his abilities.
2014-present: Chief executive, 1825
2011- 2014: Group strategy & corporate finance director, Standard Life
2010-2011: Head of group corporate finance, Standard Life
2007-2010: Corporate finance manager, Standard Life
2006-2007: Corporate finance executive, Standard Life
2004-2005: Manager- internal audit – international, Standard Life
2000-2004: Consultant, Ernst & Young
“It felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something that was really client focused, that was interesting, and to build something from scratch,” he says.
And while Murray says he is confident a lack of background in financial advice will not hinder him, he admits he has enrolled in the firm’s academy – currently focused on offering traineeships in financial planning and paraplanning.
“I will be doing some of the modules around how we’re interfacing with clients and client management, and I will do some of the technical stuff as well. But it’s a balance of day-to-day and how much time I’m going to invest in doing that.
“There may well be elements that either myself or parts of the team decide are relevant to do and participate in. But it is a great way for me to test the quality of the academy as well.”
So it is back to the books for the chemistry graduate but, most importantly, not back to the lab.
“Chemistry taught me about process, how to follow things with rigour and, I suppose, a different understanding of how the world works fundamentally. There were also quite heavy mathematical elements and a good grounding with lots of skills to use elsewhere.
“I certainly didn’t want to be in a lab for the next 10 years. I realised that I liked the theory. We did stuff like cosmo-chemistry, which is chemistry in space and how life might start on another planet, and that was fantastic. But what I didn’t like doing was learning 25 organic equations front to back.
“I remember looking around the class at one point and saying: ‘I think I’m in the wrong place’.”
What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?
A football coach advised me to make one brave decision a day; something that puts butterflies in your stomach.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
Pension freedoms and the lowering of the lifetime allowance has meant there is a gap between the unprecedented demand for financial advice and the support available to individuals taking major decisions.
What keeps you awake at night?
I have three kids, aged five, four and one, so it is often them!
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day, I would…
Ensure we follow through on some key recommendations from the FAMR, particularly clarifying rules around personal recommendations and guidance.
Any advice for new advisers?
Focus on long-term relationships, not short-term gain.