Chief executive, Simon Rogerson says: “I went into fund management because I am very competitive. Being all about numbers, I thought it was the kind of job where, if you are extremely good at it, you will be recognised for it. Conversely, if you do not do very well then that is also plain for everyone to see. I thought, fine, that is not going to happen.”
Always with his sights firmly fixed on the Octopus dream, Rogerson aspires to revolutionise the fund management industry. He believes that fund providers need to take responsibility for their offerings.
“What have they sold masses of in the last 18 months? Commercial property. What is the opportunity there? It is probably the worst thing to be in. Fund management companies sail down the path of least resistance every time, motivated by short-term profit rather than long-term relationships. We want to get to know the customer and provide the right product for them rather than just sell them what is easiest, which is what the industry does in spades.”
Although some might be quick to argue that is the role of the IFA, Rogerson says: “IFAs should be taking responsibility to say this is the right time to be putting you into X, Y or Z but if the fund management companies are all screaming this is the right thing to do, then inevitably, some people will listen. Product manufacturers should not be saying ‘That is the IFA’s fault – they should not have sold you the property fund that we spent £7m advertising’. You have to take responsibility as a firm.”
After spending a gap year studying Italian in Florence, Rogerson chose to study French and German at St Andrews University.
“They only offered Italian for beginners but because I had been living there for a year I thought that would be lazy.”
He was offered a job at Schroders, resulting from four internships with the company but he says: “I decided I did not want to do corporate finance because it is fairly repetitive, certainly when you are at a junior level.”
Instead, he took a job with Mercury Asset Management and after three years he decided to get into the business game.
“I have not managed any money since I’ve been at Octopus. Building a fund management company and running the business is a hundred times more exciting for me than managing money. Two things made me leave Mercury – one was intellectual, in the way that capital is allocated and the second was service-related.”
Rogerson says the way the industry interacts with its customers is not up to scratch and Octopus is trying to change the way customers that are treated.
“Money matters – it changes the age you retire at, the school your kids go to, the holidays you take. If you ask yourself, do I enjoy interacting with my fund management company or my bank, the answer is almost certainly no. They cold-call you, they are inefficient, they get things wrong, you have to chase them constantly and they are generally irritating. There is a breakdown here and we saw a big opportunity to put that right.” Recently, Octopus has had a few obstacles put in its way. Changes in the Budget two years ago meant that venture capital trusts, a big part of the firm’s portfolio, no longer received such attractive tax relief.
“Take the last year of 40 per cent tax relief – we raised £60m, and since then we have raised around £40m-£45m a year, so the impact on fund-raising has been a direct consequence of the change in tax relief. I would not say it has made Aim VCTs non-viable but it has made them much smaller, so that part of the market has disappeared. From the customer perspective, having to hold an investment for five years at 30 per cent tax relief is obviously way less attractive than three years with 40 per cent relief.
“Other European economies that have tried to set up smaller companies markets – you have the Nuevo Marche in France and the Neue Markets in Germany – failed miserably. Aim is home to more companies than the main listed stock exchange. It has a combined market capital of probably £100bn and is growing quicker than Nasdaq ever grew. From a political standpoint, that is a real two fingers up to the rest of Europe.
“There has been around £3bn raised in VCTs since they were introduced in 1995. The tax that has been paid by VCT-backed companies is significantly more than the total held in VCTs. If you think about that from a government perspective it is self-financing and a good way to finance businesses that most people think of being too small.”
This year will see Octopus launch two more VCTs. One will be mezzanine debt structure and the other will be Titan 3.
Born: Doncaster, 1974
Lives: Sevenoaks, Kent
Education: St Andrews University, Modern Languages – first class honours
Career: 2000-present – founder and CEO, Octopus Investments; 1997-2000 – analyst, Mercury Asset Management;
Likes: Family, golf, tennis, triathlon, rugby any form of competition
Dislikes: Superiority, rudeness, dithering, timewasting
Drives: Volvo estate
Book: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Film: The Bourne Identity
Album: Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits
Career ambition: Build Octopus into a FTSE 250 company
Life ambition: Achieve something I am proud of and be happy
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Extremely upset