As SG Asset Management carves itself out an increasingly strong name in the IFA market, managing director John Ions has a lot to celebrate.
With retail assets in excess of £500m as the fund management company reaches the end of its third year, it is also set to score a convincing victory this week in its £6,000 bet with Richard Branson.
With this year's Isa season well under way, Ions is keen not to miss out on the opportunity for free positive publicity which the bet – over the performance of SG's UK growth fund – has delivered. Certainly, Branson would not have kept quiet if he had won.
But Ions already has his eye on a number of bigger projects over the summer. When he joined SG from Aberdeen in 1998, his goal was to reach £500m in retail funds within the first five years. With this major landmark already in the bag after three years, he is busy drawing up the strategy for the next stage in the company's expansion.
Efforts for the Isa season are to be concentrated on the launch of SG's long-anticipated corporate bond fund, which it has had in the pipeline for several months. FSA approval is expected next week, with the fund due to hit the market the week after.
Having established a reputation as a fund manager which can deliver consistent performance above an index – notably with its UK growth fund – Ions believes SG has a winning formula which it intends to build on.
SG is set to launch a new range of high-octane funds later this year. The funds will be more concentrated than the existing range, with a view to achieving 4 or 5 per cent a year above the benchmark rather than 1 or 2 per cent.
Ions says SG will start with UK and European funds, with a view to extending the range later. The funds will be managed by the present teams but will be more compact portfolios of 30 or 40 stocks rather than 60 or 80.
SG's strategy is to provide a comprehensive range of funds to allow IFAs to build several strata of risk into a portfolio. Ions believes the fund management industry is seeing an increasing appetite for higher-risk products, as evidenced by the recent proliferation of hedge fund products.
He wants IFAs to be able to build the core of a client's portfolio with SG's existing funds, while adding a higher controlled-risk element through the new range.
The new launches provide a refreshing departure from this winter's endless barrage of theme and style funds. Ions says: “People have just not known what to market this Isa season and, whenever that happens, companies become much more marketing-driven. So we have seen all these theme funds coming out.”
The company intends to keep Alan Torry's technology fund separate from the strictly benchmarked range as part of an out-and-out growth range which is higher risk but potentially much higher returns. Torry will also head a new US retail fund, which will clone his existing US institutional product.
Ions hopes to see Torry's new fund launched in May.
Ions has a strong history of guiding fund managers through periods of extended growth and has relished the opportunity of operating in a smaller environment.
Having worked at Aberdeen for almost five years from 1993, he watched the company expand until its acquisition of Prolific in 1997. After guiding the Aberdeen through the amalgamation of the two companies, he then took responsibility for retail business.
But his passion has been for the smaller fund management scene. He left Aberdeen as it began to race towards the heights it has reached today, in favour of the challenge of building a business from scratch.
Having worked at GT founder Richard Thornton's boutique fund management house, Thornton, in the early 1990s, he is no stranger to the boutique environment. Furthermore, SG's commitment to grow organically as opposed to through acquisition enhanced the challenge.
Despite growing up in Newcastle and studying at North Staffordshire Polytechnic, Ions seems to have slipped comfortably into the Southern lifestyle. Now a member of the prestigious Wentworth golf club with a handicap of just six, he is also an avid Arsenal fan.
He is quick to defend his support for the London team, saying the decision was out of his hands.
He says: “Ninety nine point nine per cent of Newcastle was Toon Army so my father thought it would be really amusing when I was a child to put me in an Arsenal shirt and send me out to play. It certainly made me grow up quickly.”