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Jonathan Polin

After the launch of the Argonaut boutique proved such a success for Britannic Asset Management last year, it has now started a second venture, Cartesian, and has plans for more boutiques in 2006. But its director of sales and marketing tells Matt Davies that he is anxious to re-energise in-house performance.

From a tank to a boutique, Britannic Asset Management’s director of sales and marketing Jonathan Polin has had an eventful career. He spent12 years as a tank commander and nine years at Aberdeen Asset Management, where he rose to managing director of retail sales for the UK and Europe. He then spent a year running HSBC’s asset management business but fell out with the firm and left, eventually taking on his role at Britannic in October 2004.

“Everybody knows I was in the army so I do not want to talk about it. I would not say I was a typical army officer but 12 years of that is bound to mould you in a certain way and the experience gives you confidence, determination and a sense of the reward that comes from making something successful.”

It is not clear if the army engendered Polin’s directness but this certainly comes into play when discussing his brief sojourn at HSBC. He wanted to take the business one way and HSBC wanted to take it another. HSBC won.

Britannic almost tripled its IFA sales to 260m in 2005 from 91m in 2004. The 110m Argonaut European alpha fund under Barry Norris was up by 28.4 per cent last year, more than 7 per cent ahead of the IMA’s European index.

In December, the Argonaut boutique launched an equity income fund run by Oliver Russ. Seeded with 20m, the fund has already grown by 3m with the support of fund of fund managers.

Polin is enthusiastic about the boutique concept. He says fund management success can be achieved by manufacturing it in house or setting up “satellites of excellence” where the goals of managers are aligned, through a business stake, with those of end investors.

Britannic has just completed a survey asking fund of fund managers, distributors and IFAs what they think of its progress so far.

“On the whole, the boutique concept has been well received. Our investors and distributors say it is an imaginative, bold move. People seem to have picked up the fact that we have changed as an organisation.”

Britannic has just launched its second boutique, Cartesian, run by former SVM managers David Stevenson and Andrew Kelly. Their 20m UK opportunities fund is to be followed in the spring by a $20m offshore long/short fund. Polin says he hopes to set up two more boutiques this year.

It is clear that Polin enjoys the deal-making, an enthusiasm which was nurtured when working under Martin Gilbert, chief executive at Aberdeen. But how does he reconcile launching hedge funds and going after top boutique talent with being responsible for closed life funds for Britannic’s owner Resolution?

“I do not find it a juggling act but there is only so much that one can achieve in 12 months. Some fund managers are more suited to an entrepreneurial culture and others do not have that driver of needing their own business. One advantage we have at Britannic is being able to slot people into the environments they are best suited to.” One way that Polin is going to do this is to move a manager to the Far East. Last year saw Britannic’s in-house Pacific growth unit trust increase by 39 per cent – 5 per cent ahead of its IMA sector. With the aim of building on this performance, Polin says manager Diamond Lee is now to be based “in theatre” for three or four months at a time.

In the boutique world, performance is key, but Britannic’s in-house fund performance has some way to go before it shoots the lights out. Over the past year, Polin has tried to reinvigorate this part of the business, hiring a dozen people into the property, fixed-income and UK teams. Britannic Asset Management is due to change its name to Resolution Asset Management in May, underlining the link between the businesses.

The past 12 months have seen its in-house global growth, American growth, balanced growth and UK general funds move up the rankings in most cases from fourth quartile to third and second. Despite what remains mediocre performance, Polin is clear that the funds are in competition with his boutiques.

“My view is that our in-house teams are in competition with the boutiques, just as we are with Artemis, Fidelity and other firms. It is that competition that generates performance. When a company goes through a period of bad performance, you effectively go off people’s radar screens. While I would agree that our in-house funds are not there yet, they are going in the right direction.”

Spending much of his time commuting around the country from Glasgow, Polin’s main frustration in life is delayed flights. His New Year’s resolution is to stop flying Easyjet.

He likes a social glass of wine although he does not get much time off at the moment, spending most of the Christmas period launching the Cartesian boutique as well as an offshore Sicav with eight in-house sub-funds aimed at the European market.

It took two years for Polin to help build up European sales at Aberdeen and he foresees a similar timeframe for Britannic to do the same.

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