I f Fidelity was looking for an enthusiastic proponent to head UK distribution, it has not gone far wrong with Michael Jones.
Jones hails from the institutional side of the fund management business at Merrill Lynch although his last position there was in third-party retail. But there is little to suggest he will not be able to adapt to the cut and thrust of selling Fidelity to IFAs.
He says: “I am immensely proud to be responsible for Fidelity International's jewel in the crown – the intermediary business in the UK.”
Jones says he did not have to think twice when he was offered the post as Fidelity was top of the list of places he wanted to work. But he admits he was fascinated to see what Fidelity was like from the inside.
He enthuses about the robustness of Fidelity's investment engine and the fact that its success is repeatable, adding that he had to satisfy himself that this was the case before he would have accepted any asset management job.
Jones says almost all IFA firms in the UK have dealt with Fidelity in some form in the last 12 months and also notes that the group has very strong franchises, working with insurance companies and banks.
But he does concede that the group may have been punching below its weight when it comes to wealth management – IFA discretionary managers, multi-manager and fund of funds.
While this may mean more focus on communication with this part of the market, it will not lead to any increase in disclosure of portfolio information, something for which the group is often criticised. On this there is no give. Jones says: “It might seem frustrating to some people in the marketplace but it is there to protect our underlying investors. Actually, the industry is moving more to our stance and we would not be surprised to see a lot of other groups moving to the Fidelity model.”
Where the group is open is in how it plans to take advantage of depolarisation. As with any fund group, Fidelity is not going to turn down new sources of distribution.
Jones says: “We are keen to work with the newer entrants like the retail banks, for they will be a force. But our traditional franchise – the IFA – is strong.”
The group is in discussions with many IFAs about participating in future multi-tie panels. “If you are on, that is great. If you are outside, you get zero. We would never take our position and brand strength for granted. If our performance or service do not stack up, we have no God-given right to be on a panel. But we want to be taking part in those conversations.”
In terms of FundsNetwork, Jones does not seem keen to enter into a war of words with Cofunds, with which there have been recent spats over pricing and which Fidelity has challenged aggressively. Jones says the US experience shows that fund supermarkets will grow as increasingly sophisticated tools are deployed to complement the supermarket structure.
“I think all the transaction platforms have the opportunity to grow. The end game is about growing the overall market opportunity. This does not have to be the final battle. You do not want too many entrants but there is room for two or three competitors.”
One thorny issue which Jones may one day have to deal with is the retirement of star fund manager Anthony Bolton from the UK special situations fund. This is a key question that IFAs want put to Fidelity. When asked, Jones's response is well prepared.
He stresses that Bolton has undertaken to review the situation year on year and will effectively be giving 18 months' notice. He also suggests that Bolton's tenure should be viewed in the context of the huge number of fund manager moves across the market – something Fidelity is rarely affected by. He also points out that Bolton still seems to love his job and is still doing three to four company interviews each day.
“To worry about whether someone might retire in two or three years' time when so many managers move every two years, I think it is a non-discussion.”
But in the event of Bolton's retirement, he is also adamant that Fidelity “will not drop the ball on this” and points to the performance of the European funds where Bolton has already relinquished control. He also has faith in the rest of the stable.
“There are lots of very good fund managers like Sanjeev Shah and John Stavis, who are already stepping up to the plate. They are sometimes viewed as young guns and young pretenders. Actually, they are people in their mid-30s and they are dyed-in-the-wool Fidelity people,” he says.
Jones clearly finds the job fascinating but says he switches off instantly when he gets home, with tennis and supporting Bath rugby club featuring among his passions.
He says he switches on again only when in the shower on Monday morning but when he is there he is clearly focused on the job.
Born: April 1960
Education: Emanuel School, London; Westminster University
Career: 1985-96 managing director, IPS Capital Management; 1997-2004 managing director, Merrill Lynch Investment Managers; 1997-99 head of institutional pooled funds; 1999-2001 head of institutional client management;
2001-04 head of UK third-party retail; 2004-present head of UK distribution, Fidelity Investments Career ambition: “I have never really planned my career – it has happened as it has happened – so I would like to stay at the heart of a successful investment management business.”
Life ambition: “I like my home life and I want to retire young and poor if needs be and enjoy an active life.”
Heroes: Mervyn Davies, Welsh international rugby player and a teacher at my school. Ian Botham, for telling it like it is. Richard Branson, for sheer nerve.
My ideal job: “As a teenager, I always wanted to run Heathrow Airport as I always thought it was one of the most dynamic and fast-changing places on the planet.”