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's 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' 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's 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's wealth management operations.
Although First State's 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's 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's 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's 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's 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's 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.