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New chief exec Chris Last on Cofunds’ value to L&G

OOC Mackay

New Cofunds chief executive Chris Last believes the business is more valuable to Legal & General than to any other firm in the market following its acquisition by the provider earlier in the year. 

The deal marked the end of one of the longest and most protracted financial services sales in recent times.

Last says L&G’s position in the market and its affinity with Cofunds meant the acquisition had a unique value to the insurer. He says: “Because L&G already had Cofunds within the business for a number of operations, it was of considerably more value to us than it would be to anyone else. We like the business and feel it will be a great driver of money for us in the future.”

Last adds that he has the extra security of being able to view Cofunds from a customer’s perspective as it is used to power L&G’s bancassurance operations.

He says: “We have had that perspective and we have been impressed with the scalability of the Cofunds operation and the different channels of business it brings in.”

Bancassurance business accounts for around £9bn of the assets held on the Cofunds platform and Last says it is important to keep that part of operations separate from the rest of Cofunds.

“It is absolutely intentional that we have kept it separate because we want to retain the things about Cofunds that the rest of the market likes and the branding surrounding that.”

The former L&G head of bank relations is an unusual beast in financial services, having spent his entire working life with one company. 

He joined in 1972 and says the business has continually thrown new challenges at him.

“At any stage where I might have looked to move to something different, the organisation managed to find something that was interesting to me.”

Last reels off a long list of different roles he has held within L&G and is excited at the thought of moving on to Cofunds. 

“I have worked for an estate agent, in property management and financial sales businesses – and now I am doing this,” he says.

He has been impressed by Cofunds’ preparation for the RDR, which he says has been extensive but also very costly. Cofunds saw its profits for 2012 fall to £6m, from £7.1m the previous year.

But Last says all businesses felt a similar strain, including L&G. “You have to appreciate what a large task it was for everyone in the industry,” he says. 

“If L&G’s RDR programme cost £105m, it gives you a bit of a clue as to how big a job it was.”

Cofunds has seen several high-profile departures in recent months, most recently head of fund group relations Michelle Woodburn.

Last says such departures are inevitable when a business such as Cofunds goes through ownership changes. 

He notes his surprise at the amount of attention paid to his departing colleagues.

“I would be surprised if anyone else was surprised at any changes that have occurred within the business since the acquisition. There have obviously been a few moves but I do not think any were specifically as a result of the acquisition. 

“Some people just chose to move on to pastures new and into other roles which were attractive to them.”

Cofunds is reviewing its proposition with a view to altering some of the pricing on the platform. Last says: “I think people would absolutely expect us to be looking at the proposition as a whole and price is one aspect of that. 

“We are currently carrying out a review of these aspects and we will expect to be announcing the results of that in a few weeks’ time.”

Last has also confirmed his intention to continue serving each of the market sectors Cofunds currently works in.

“We are going to continue to work with these businesses and offer them the service they require. We have made it clear to our customers that we want to continue to work with them. 

“We like the diversity of the business across the institutional, self-directed and advisory businesses and we are going to continue to focus on those.”

He adds that he expects Cofunds to achieve the target set by former chief executive Martin Davis of having £100bn-worth of assets by the end of 2015.

“The market is probably going to double and we expect Cofunds to get our share of that increase. 

“Most of the flow of new assets goes onto platform. If you do the maths, the market is going to continue to grow.”

Last also expects to be able to negotiate the lowest fund prices in the platform arena. He says: “Our core expectation is that we will be able to drive the best price for our customers based on our penetration of the market.”

Recent figures seem to show that wrap platforms are catching up with the traditional players.

Last says all firms endured a difficult first quarter of 2013.

“There are challenges but they are the same for all platform businesses and I think most had endured a difficult first quarter of the year following the RDR. 

“But we think we are doing things well and we think people like us.”

Born: London

Lives: Oxfordshire

Career: Legal & General – many and diverse roles

Likes: Music/positivity

Dislikes: Pomposity/hierarchy

Drives: Porsche Cayenne

Book: Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

Film: The English Patient

Album: Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder

If I wasn’t doing this I would be.. A ski instructor or music teacher


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There are 2 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I was very interested to read your profile on Chris Last. In particular the last sentence in the article. Perhaps it is only me, but I have to say I don’t think they are doing things well at all and I think they have stored up quite a bit of antipathy over the last year or so. I say this with regret as I was one of the earliest adopters of Cofunds, went through the early difficulties and traumas and then into what I think was their halcyon days where the service was second to none. Admittedly, in my opinion they still have perhaps what is the best website but service standards have disappeared and their preparation for the RDR was nothing short of a mess.

    They of course are not alone, but I wonder how long it will be before the Regulator suddenly twigs that the funds under management payments that are on offer from most of the platforms are really not in the customers best interests. Taking the fee from the largest fund is plainly absolute nonsense. Taking it from income is hardly any more sensible, particularly if clients have growth portfolios. If they have an income portfolio why reduce the income? The only sensible way to do it, if you are going to have the payment from the platform, is to have a pro-rata sell down across all the funds within the portfolio. That is the fairest and cleanest way to achieve this. Furthermore their proposition and their reliance on things such as Model Portfolios which is nothing less than ‘shoe-horning’, and a steer to IFA’s to do things that they feel are easier to administer, is again hardly in the customers best interests.

    This disjoint with what they now offer and what some IFA’s would prefer is of course entirely in line with Mr Last’s background. In my own experience L&G has never covered itself in glory with regard to service or administration and I can give armfuls of examples if called on to do so. The biggest giveaway of course is the fact that he has tried to concentrate on price. Although this is an important element it is by a long chalk not the only one. What do clients want? What is best for clients? And how can that be achieved?

    Unfortunately too many people in the platform arena forget what they are and that is merely a utility and they should really never lose sight of that. If the utility isn’t utilitarian and flexible it fails. They of course also lose sight of the fact of who they want as their customers. It started out that the customer was the adviser, now they have banking interests, institutional interests and before long no doubt direct to the public interests. These do not necessarily conform to the best interests of advisers and perhaps they need to understand that.

  2. I think Cofunds are not as bad as made out by Harry. They still do the core stuff very well indeed – and service is OK for a complex and large business. Yes, they don’t have all the functionality we want, but we think L&G ownership may deliver this in a way the previous management were clearly unable.

    They have also assured me that there are no plans to go direct and will concentrate on existing L&G channels for that.

    Unlike Harry, who from his many rants about Cofunds over the years fell out of love with them ages ago, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt

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