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Nick Kelly

Sesame Network & Sesame Direct managing director Nick Kelly says that building businesses gives him a buzz: “I think it does give entrepreneurs a buzz to turn a profit and create and build something.”

Kelly comes from an entrepreneurial background as his father ran and owned businesses and hence the family moved around quite a bit when he was younger. This early exposure to business piqued his interest and he subsequently went on to complete a degree in business and IT.

His original plan was stockbroking and while doing his degree he got a job at James Capel which was part of HSBC. When he finished his degree he got a job with insurance broker Willis and he was relocated to the North of England. Following a restructure of the business, he jumped ship and moved to IFA Network and Financial Options as sales and marketing director.

That business was then bought by Misys and once again he moved, this time to Tenet in 2002, where he stayed for four years as managing director of the networks and support services business.

Latterly, he worked for Bluefin, formerly known as Thinc, as group director before moving to Sesame to head up the business in May 2008.

On working at Bluefin, he says: “That national exposure brings a different perspective to running a network and a support services company because it puts you very much in the frontline of the day-to-day challenges of dealing with customers. It was an interesting exercise, not least because we were buying IFA and wealth management firms and integrating them.”

A keen rugby fan, Kelly says moving to Sesame was an offer too tempting to refuse and he likens it to “the best rugby team in the country tapping you on the shoulder and asking if you would like to captain their team”.

Bluefin recently transferred its remaining Thinc networks across to Sesame and it received 200 Thinc-branded advisers in the move.

Kelly’s main responsibility is to grow the business and help those in both the network and those directly authorised to grow their businesses too.

Making sure Sesame delivers on its services is also a key part of his role and Kelly stresses that having a relationship of trust with the advisers is important.

As you would expect, Kelly spends a lot of time travelling around the country visiting firms and speaking at events.

“You’ve got to be engaged, you’ve got to keep your finger on the pulse because ultimately you are making decisions all the time about where we invest, where we decide to focus resources.

“We have always got to balance up what our members are looking for along with what the regulator is looking for and what our longer-term plans are as Sesame.”

The group currently has 7,800 advisers across both divisions. There are around 3,000 in the network and 4,500 individuals who are directly authorised.

In May 2007, Friends Provident bought the firm from Misys for £75m. Kelly says Friends Provident is good at “letting them get on with it” and does not interfere with the daily running of the business.

On the RDR, Kelly says the network has a “moral responsibility” to feed back members’ views to the FSA in order to influence the future shape of regulation.

He says the labelling of independent advice, restricted advice and non-advised sales is a boon for consumers.

He is not surprised that provider factoring has been prohibited and says it will lead to a lot of work for everyone.

“Providers are going to have to change their systems and there is going to be a lot of work at their end as well in getting their technology in line with the requirements of the RDR.”

Kelly welcomes the introduction of work-based assessments for advisers who do not want to take exams and says these will be particularly attractive to more experienced advisers. However, he would have liked to see the introduction of a long stop and says this would have been a “shot in the arm” for the industry.

The RDR has already had an impact for Sesame as a number of directly authorised members have rejoined the network.

Kelly says there used to be a perception that if you left a network and were directly regulated you wouldn’t necessarily appear on the FSA’s radar. But this has switched as the FSA has become far more proactive.

“Firms recognise that in the current climate of the RDR in particular, the benefit of being in a network in terms of giving them additional resources, support and security far outweigh what might look like the cheaper option of being directly authorised.”

Key elements when deciding which network or support services provider to join are profitability, the quality of compliance and scale, in Kelly’s view.

“We have seen a number of firms fail recently and when those failures happen, they have a direct correlation with the success or failure of the advisers and the firms associated with them.

Kelly says the impact on an adviser is significant when their network fails. Not only is there a financial impact on adviser firms if their network stops paying out commission, but when a firm then wants to join another business they often run into difficulties.

“They haven’t had the income coming in and that affects their fitness and properness. They can’t get a reference necessarily because the employed person that used to do referencing isn’t there. They may not have been getting all of the compliance. Therefore the ability to swap after something bad happens to that host is hugely compromised.”

Kelly believes Sesame has the capacity to keep growing, saying the business is “a long way from saturation point”.

The firm has just rolled out its mortgage technology called Key to AR and DA members free of charge. It has also just completed arrangements with 1st and The Exchange to integrate with its Evolution system which is for IFA businesses.

As the biggest player in the network industry in terms of members, Kelly says he is positive about the future of Sesame and thinks the demand for good quality professional advice is only going to grow.

“I think confidence is coming back after a challenging nine months. It might not be that everything is going to be very rosy again but at least we understand the world we are now operating in and it is not getting any worse.”

Born: Essex, 1970

Lives: Yorkshire with his wife and son, 10

Education: Joint business & IT degree, Kingston University Business School

Career: May 2008-present: managing director Network & Direct, Sesame; 2006-08: group director, Thinc (National & Networks); 2002-06: managing director, Tenet Networks; 1999-2002, sales & marketing director, IFA Network, Financial Options (part of Misys); 1993-99: insurance broker, Willis [Faber/Corroon] ultimately appointed executive director of marketing in the UK corporate division; previously various roles in stockbroker James Capel & Co and other short-term positions.

Likes: Rugby, red wine and people with energy

Dislikes: Complacency, negativity and traffic jams

Drives: BMW X6

Book: Kane & Abel by Jeffrey Archer

Film: Aliens 2: the director’s cut

Album: The Joshua Tree, U2

Career ambition: Contribute to the achievement of our industry gaining professional recognition

Life ambition: For my son to be happy and healthy

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Running my own business on a beach in Malibu


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There is one comment at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. I’m sorry, am I missing something? When Kelly states that building businesses gives him a buzz, which businesses is he claiming to set up? Because unless I’m mistaken, he manages businesses than an entrepreneur has set up for him to help manage. Perhaps that’s what he meant? That indirectly, through the founders of the companies of he’s worked for over the years, he has found a buzz? Yes, that must be it.

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