Profile: From washing cars to SimplyBiz

You could argue that Matt Timmins and Neil Stevens were business partners even before they were old enough to get a job. The joint managing directors of support service provider SimplyBiz Group have known each other since the age of nine and first worked together as children, washing cars and doing other odd jobs to earn a bit of cash.

They subsequently followed different career paths: Timmins got into financial services via a marketing degree and jobs with GE Capital and DBS Financial Management (now Sesame), while Stevens built a career in engineering and aerospace. But they have been working together at SimplyBiz pretty much since the firm was founded in 2002. Timmins joined at inception and it was not long before Stevens was on board too.

“Six months after SimplyBiz started, I got a call from Matt asking if I wanted to consider a new company and I joined in 2003 as a consultant,” says Stevens. ”I took to it like a duck to water. It was innovative and much more fast paced than aerospace, where it takes 10 years to complete anything. I loved the dynamics of it.”

The fast pace of the financial services industry is something advisers have to get to grips with whether they like it or not. And there are three main issues SimplyBiz members are currently preoccupied with: the forthcoming pension freedoms, the sunset clause and auto-enrolment.

“With the pension freedoms, the biggest issue for advisers is how to give advice that is compliant today and that will be considered compliant advice in the future,” says Timmins. “The position we don’t want is where advisers are so concerned about it they end up not advising the client properly.” He believes it is up to the regulator and organisations like SimplyBiz to help here, so advisers do not delay giving pensions advice as a result of these concerns.

The sunset clause means platform charges must be agreed directly with clients, fund manager rebates must be passed on to clients as taxable unit rebates or clients must be moved into rebate-free clean share classes by April 2016. It effectively stops trail commission for advisers as the revenue from rebates will not be able to fund it.

For Stevens, it gives advisers the opportunity to show their clients they add value through expertise such as tax planning and making sure investment strategies are clear in terms of risk and return. “Advisers will need to go back to clients they have not seen since the RDR, or that predate the RDR, and bring them into the modern world. We have done ourselves no favours in handing all the glory to fund managers who edge a percentage here and there. I’ve got nothing against fund managers but we have got things back to front,” he says.

According to Timmins, auto-enrolment is also an opportunity for advisers. “Most advisers have directors of SMEs in their client base who will experience, between now and 2018, the challenges around auto-enrolment such as making sure they have the right system for communication and the right scheme. They need help and advisers are the best people to offer that. The advantage for advisers is not just the auto-enrolment scheme but the potential to deal with the employees as clients. We think advisers will want to do more group business. It doesn’t have to be auto-enrolment, it can be group risk,” he says.

Timmins and Stevens were appointed joint managing directors of SimplyBiz in 2010 when their predecessor Ian Thorneyfield sadly lost his battle with cancer. By 2012, they were partly through expansion plans laid down when they took over but the RDR put the breaks on this to some degree. “We had to help member firms through the RDR,” says Timmins. “We had plans to expand the business but the customers must come first.”

To this end, SimplyBiz spent a seven-figure sum on creating its New Model Business Academy in order to help advisers through their exams and the march towards the RDR. “We lost around 2 per cent of our member firms as a result of the regulatory change,” says Timmins. “In 2013 we still had to go through the process anyway. The RDR wasn’t a cliff edge that just stopped; we still had a lot of firms to help.”

Timmins says SimplyBiz is now more stable and profitable than in 2010. “We employ 370 staff, up from 60 or 70 in 2010. In an interview with Money Marketing back then we said we wanted to grow our business support services around compliance. Since then we have focused on growth and investing in other areas that help advisers. We have introduced the allocation of free technology, created more discounted deals and have acquired businesses in the mortgage sector, the legal sector and the auto-enrolment market. But we still retain that focus on compliance.”

Stevens and Timmins both have industry commitments outside SimplyBiz. Timmins joined the board of the Association of Professional Financial Advisers in January 2014, while Stevens is a member of the executive committee at The Savings & Investments Policy project launched by the Tax Incentivised Savings Association.

“Tisa is important to me personally and to SimplyBiz,” says Stevens. “Never before has there been such a wide representation of the industry, under Tisa, to address fundamental issues at the heart of the nation: things like indebtedness, people’s poor ability to manage their income and expenditure, their poor propensity to save and decreasing home ownership. The whole industry agrees with one voice on the possible solutions and barriers that need to be overcome – that’s never been done before. I was delighted to be asked to be involved and the feedback from the Treasury has been extraordinary.”

Timmins wanted to join the Apfa board to find out whether rumours about a bias towards big networks that favoured restricted advice firms were true and to represent small and medium directly authorised firms.

“I was pleased that I didn’t see a bias towards restricted over independent advice. And despite a number of network heads I didn’t see a bias towards appointed representatives. Apfa does a lot under the radar to support the profession – it does fight your corner when dealing with the regulator or the Government. But unless it is well funded, we will not have a single representative voice to support the profession and that will be a shame. I am trying to do my bit to ensure Apfa continues.”

CV- Matt Timmins

2010-present: Joint group managing director, SimplyBiz

2002-2010: Marketing director, SimplyBiz

2001-2002: Marketing coordinator, DBS Financial Management

1999-2001: Marketing designer, GE Capital

CV- Neil Stevens

2010–present: Joint group managing director, SimplyBiz

2004–2010: Group operations director, SimplyBiz

2003-2004: Consultant, SimplyBiz

2001–2004:  Consulting and aerospace at Airbus Industries UK & Europe, consultant at SimplyBiz

1996–2001: Consulting and automotive at Land Rover, Jaguar, BMW Germany and Ford UK

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