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On the money

I think I was always destined for a life working in financial services. After all, coming from a background where both my parents had given years of dedicated service to those two monoliths of Scottish finance Standard Life and RBS meant there was little doubt that I would follow in their footsteps, especially when they could get me a foot in the door when it came to picking up temping jobs in the summertime when I was a student.

After graduating from university in 2002, I found myself making my first foray into the world of the Scottish life company (small l in life) with a support centre role at the newly “Abbeyed” Scottish Provident.

At the time, the company had a loyal and hard-working staff base but lacked firm managerial direction and strategy. I quickly learned how to make the most of having a good brand proposition to sell and service without a strong company line on how I should do it. The seeds of adaptability were sewn and have stayed with me ever since.

It was about this time that I first encountered David Ferguson, now CEO of Nucleus. Running the Abacus Consultancy at the time, Dave struck me as the kind of guy who really knew where he wanted to go in his career and in life in general.

His entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of the market were exemplary and he really encouraged me to understand the business I was in and how I could make the most of it and my own talents.

More than anything to Dave, it was about keeping things simple and believing in yourself. In any case, having met him on the football field, I knew him to be a man I could rely on when the going got tough.

After a brief but educational tenure with ScotProv and against the advice of many, I moved to Standard Life Investments in early 2003.

Initially in an operational role, then as project analyst under the indefatigable Christine Rowley, my four-year stint at SLI gave me excellent exposure to what was a rapidly evolving distribution model within the industry.

Standard’s shift towards fund supermarkets and platforms, initially through Sigma and latterly through the Standard Life wrap, gave me ample opportunity to see how a product provider would cope with the challenges of open architecture and increased competition.

My experience at Standard was instrumental in shaping my thoughts on distribution and how the industry would react and develop.

It seemed clear to me that adding additional layers of cost and administration was not ideal. Better to strip things down to provide maximum transparency and clarity for the adviser and the client.

It was a combination of good timing and luck at this point that my beliefs were not only shared but widely and actively espoused by the forward thinking and ground-breaking business plan which had been put into place by Dave Ferguson and his business partner Philip Martin.

Their idea was so simple yet so totally on the money that I was genuinely excited. A wrap platform started with a blank sheet of paper, no vested interests, full transparency and unbundling of costs, commoditisation of tax wrappers, unbeatable levels of client service, no legacy technology issues, closer proximity to distribution and a desire to remove the client ownership barrier in order to create superior client propositions.

This plan was, of course, the blueprint for what has to become Nucleus. I was delighted when Dave and Philip asked me to join the business. Working closely with Philip has given me significant motivation to help drive the business forward. The last couple of months have seen us attract an extraordinary level of interest from both potential participants and also commercial opinion formers.

We have accomplished a great deal in a short space of time and this has served to reinforce our unflinching belief that we are heading in the right direction.

Do I think that Nucleus will effect major changes for the benefit of both clients and intermediaries in UK financial services? Absolutely and with total conviction.

Chris Macdonald is IFA account manager at Nucleus Financial Services.


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