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Rob adams

When Australian Rob Adams first set foot on English shores in 1990, the

only weight on his shoulders was his backpack. With no job, no ties and no

more responsibility than to drink in as many Earls Court bars as possible,

London did not seem a bad place to be.

But on UK soil for the second time, after an eight-year stint back Down

Under, things are a little different. Now chief executive of the newly

branded First State Investments, Adams is charged not just with bringing

Australia&#39s second-biggest investment brand to the UK market but also with

turning it into a top-10 player within five years.

Backed by the deep pockets of its parent, Commonwealth Bank of Australia,

Adams is confident First State has a lot to offer the IFA market. Highly

critical of the UK fund management industry, both in terms of its use of

technology and its levels of service, Adams believes IFAs will quickly

notice the difference in the Aussie proposition.

He says: “I like the look of what I see in the UK and, more important, I

like the look of what we can do here. I think the UK fund management market

is a very fractured marketplace and it is a market that does not use

technology wisely. It is a marketplace that does not have the right level

of business partnering with IFAs, from the fund providers&#39 perspective. And

it is a marketplace that I think does not look after its investors as well

as it should.

“We think that here in the UK, we can do things in each of those four

categories which will make us a logical choice for the underlying investor.”

Although Adams was brought over to the UK last July, it is only now that

he is gearing up for the firm&#39s full assault on the IFA market. Last week,

the 100-year-old Colonial name was ditched, turning Colonial First State Investments into First State Investments.

Adams believes it is a crucial move.

“The Colonial brand is not suited to this marketplace. Colonial conjures up

thoughts of something 200 years ago and not the here and now. When people

see First State Investments for the first time, we want them to be thinking

about the right things.”

First State Investments took its first hold in the UK market in March 2000

when it bought Stewart Ivory for £76m. However, the Stewart Ivory

brand will be disbanded for all but the firm&#39s wealth management operations.

Although First State&#39s UK relaunch does not include any immediate plans to

offer new funds, Adams says he is looking to roll out a range of offshore

funds to spearhead its entrance into continental Europe, where Germany and

Austria will be his main targets.

In the UK, as in Europe, Adams says First State&#39s business model will

focus exclusively on IFAs. “When we talk about our business over here, we

talk a lot about IFAs because IFAs are our business.

“We do not desire to have any consumer pull. What we do desire is to be

very close partners with IFAs. That has been the cornerstone for our

success over the last decade in Australia and it will be the cornerstone to

our success here in the UK.”

Adams says one of the firm&#39s first moves may be to launch an online

portfolio management platform for IFAs. With the Australian investment and

pension market further advanced in terms of technology than the UK, he

believes that First State has the capability to launch a system well ahead

of anything on offer in Britain.

“What you will not see from us is what is currently happening in the UK,

which is a bland fund-only supermarket. What you might see from us in the

future is a multi-product, portfolio services hypermarket.”

With the backing of one of Australia&#39s biggest banks, Adams is

understandably confident. Starting at the same time as New Star, he

believes his firm has the capability to compete in terms of growth with

John Duffield&#39s latest venture. As a relatively small UK player, Adams

thinks First State can offer the nimbleness of a boutique, with the backing

of a giant.

“There is a lot of talk about fund managers like New Star and that is well

deserved talk. The team has a great history, they are now in a new business

environment and they are driving that business forward. But I think we have

exactly those kind of qualities. We have people with great business

histories and we have been put into an environment where we can control our

business but we have the benefit of a very well resourced parent.”

Adams admits that building the First State brand in the UK has left him

with a strange feeling of deja-vu. After a brief spell at Providence

Capitol and Midland Bank in London between 1990 and 1992, he returned to

Australia to join Colonial First State&#39s sales team. With CFSI still a

relatively new name in the Australian market, he became a key player in

building the firm up to the number two status that it has today. Now he is

back to do it all over again.

At 35, he is one of the youngest investment house chief executives and is

proud to boast an executive committee with an average age of 37. As

passionate in his work as he is about golf, cricket and rugby, his staff

say Adams creates an ideal environment and atmosphere to work in. Fresh,

hungry and with nothing to lose – watch out Mr Duffield.

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