With the RDR firmly in place and wrap and platforms becoming increasingly important to advisers’ propositions, the focus on individual products has arguably become much less significant.
However, Axa Wealth managing director for specialist products Nick Elphick believes there is still strong demand for off-platform products.
“All the RDR has done is change the focus for the way the products are sold, whether that is platform or non-platform. It is all about coming up with the most appropriate solution for the client that the adviser has got sat in front of him,” says Elphick.
Elphick took on responsibility for off-platform products in 2012 and the role is the latest in a long career at the firm.
His start in the industry was straightforward. After studying economics at Warwick University, he joined a graduate trainee scheme at Equity & Law as an individual pensions clerk.
“I always thought I would go into financial services of some description, most likely within banking or insurance companies,” he says.
After a stint in marketing, Elphick moved to Winterthur Life where he initially worked in compliance and then sales development.
Elphick says the role of sales operating manager at Winterthur was a key one in his career as it taught him the importance of generating good sales relationships.
“Sales is about getting on with people, knowing what you’re talking about and being able to put that in whatever way you need to so the message gets home to the people you are talking to,” he says.
By 2007, Elphick had risen to the position of managing director of commercial operations at Axa and Winterthur Wealth Management. The following year he became Axa Wealth’s chief operating officer.
Elphick spent four years in the role, during which many changes took place at Axa Wealth affecting products and the development of RDR-ready propositions.
As well as ensuring Axa’s Elevate platform proposition was fully RDR compliant, focus was required on off-platform products to ensure they were compliant and available for advisers post-RDR. Elphick was offered the position of managing director of off-platform specialist products at the end of last year and jumped at the opportunity, he says.
“The role is almost pulling together all of the skillsets that I had built over the past few years by bringing the sales and marketing functions back as well as the operations and IT areas.
“It’s about being responsible for that person who sees the customer, all the way through to the person who then issues the policy. There was an opportunity to pull all of those bits together.”
Among Axa Wealth’s off-platform products are the Retirement Wealth Account – a consolidation vehicle offering retirement income flexibility – and Family Suntrust – a pension solution providing family groups or business partners with the opportunity to pool their pension assets and invest in a range of self-investment and flexible retirement options.
There is also an onshore investment bond and an offshore bond.
Axa finalised its RDR-compliant product range in October last year. While some products have been closed for new business, the provider has decided to keep its legacy products open for top-ups.
“There were some products we closed during last year, such as EPPs and Section 32s, but that was due to a decline in market and popularity rather than as a result of the RDR.”
Elphick is pleased that Axa Wealth is able to continue to facilitate adviser charging on its legacy products. “Even though [the closed products] are not open for new business, you can still top them up, so that becomes better advice for the client rather than writing out a brand-new policy,” he says.
While the RDR might have been predicted to cause off-platform products to become a sideshow to the main event, Elphick says it has in fact generated a new focus on building and maintaining off-platform products which has helped to grow this side of the business.
“We have almost given a new focus to a group of about 450 people within our organisation,” he says. “We haven’t really had any focus on this side of the business before.
“It’s really good to see the way they are all responding and what is starting to happen to our old business numbers, which are starting to increase and move in the right direction.”
Axa Wealth’s financial results for 2012 revealed that the pensions and onshore business grew its funds under management by 3 per cent while offshore funds under management grew by 7 per cent.
“We concentrate on our service,” says Elphick. “An adviser knows that if they buy a product through us, it is going to do what it says on the tin.”
Product development has also continued in this area of Axa’s business.
Elphick refuses to be drawn on what he is looking at in particular but says: “In terms of new products, there are one or two areas that we think there might be opportunities in and we are currently working to better understand the client needs.”
For Elphick, the future of off-platform products looks bright and he predicts there will always be demand in this area.
“There are still an awful lot of people who want to sit down with somebody and have a conversation about a pension who aren’t as digitally aware and aren’t as confident.
“They are the advisers we then do business with and service them with some real products that you can touch.”
Born: Tunbridge Wells, 1960
Lives: Sherborne St John
Education: Warwick University, BA Economics
Career: 2012 – Present: managing director of specialist products, Axa Wealth; 2008-12: chief operating officer, Axa Wealth; 2007-08: managing director of commercial operations, Axa and Winterthur Wealth Management; 2003-06: operations and IT director, Winterthur; 2000-03: sales operations manager, Winterthur; 1999-2000: business manager estate agency, Winterthur; 1997-1999: regional sales manager, Winterthur; 1990-93: senior account development manager, Winterthur; 1988-90: compliance officer, Winterthur; 1986-88: marketing team leader, Equity & Law; 1984-86: marketing assistant, Equity & Law; 1982-84, individual pensions clerk, Equity & Law
Likes: Cycling, watching rugby, food, reading from my Kindle
Dislikes: Queuing, rain, businesses who try to get one over on the customer
Drives: BMW 330
Book: World Without End by Ken Follett
Film: Lawrence of Arabia
Album: Frampton Comes Alive by Peter Frampton
Career ambition: To carry on doing what I’m doing for a long time to come
Life ambition: For my family to continue to be happy and to all enjoy my retirement when it arrives.
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…driving a camper van across Route 66 if money were no option.