N ews of Skandia's £210m takeover bid for Lynx, the parent company of IFA support services group Bankhall, surprised the industry and sparked more speculation over the introduction of multi-ties.
But Bankhall operations director Tony Murrell, celebrating his 25th year in financial services, is adamant that he, his employer and Skandia are firmly committed to independent financial advice and claims the deal will ensure that Bankhall IFAs hold on to their independent status.
Without the benefit of a crystal ball, Murrell is reluctant to discuss the impact of the FSA's review of polarisation, with the proposals now announced on Monday, and what it will mean for Bankhall and the future of financial advice.
He says: “We look after over 2,000 IFA firms around the country, representing more than 4,500 IFAs generating in excess of £350m of annual commission income. Our industry continues to change at a phenomenal pace and our new deal with Skandia will provide us with the further resource and expertise to continue developing our business for the benefit of our members.”
Murrell claims never to have been more optimistic about the prospect for IFAs and is keen to emphasise Bankhall's commitment to the sector and to quash any worries that it may be putting its future in the hands of a product provider. He says: “These are exciting times for the IFA sector, which now controls an overwhelming share of the life, pension and investment markets – about 75 per cent. The future looks increasingly to favour truly independent financial advice and we will be there to help support it in every way.”
He says Bankhall is confident it can adapt to any changes that may come its way, claiming to be more flexible in its approach than traditional networks and without the baggage of pension, FSAVC or endowment reviews.
“If multi-ties do come in, we will be able to add another dimension to our services. We still believe in absolute independence but are not limited or restricted,” says Murrell.
He says Skandia does a relatively small amount of business with Bankhall and the deal will not see its share of business markedly increase as Bankhall IFAs will not have product or provider panels imposed on them.
Murrell's reassurances appear to have been received well by Bankhall IFAs. One member says the overwhelming feeling is one of relief that Bankhall will not fall into the hands of mega-network and arch-rival Misys, which controls 25 per cent of IFA distribution, ahead of Bankhall's 22 per cent.
The deal is conditional and will be decided by shareholders at an extraordinary general meeting this month. Murrell is confident the deal will go ahead, that Lynx's software arm will be bought out by its management team for £60m and that Bankhall will concentrate on what it does best – providing support services to IFAs. He says the deal means Bankhall can hope to dwarf Misys when Skandia's market capitalisation of £5bn is compared with Misys' £1.8bn.
Bankhall continues to capitalise by recruiting disgruntled IFAs from other networks. DBS is a prime target at the moment, with hundreds of members up in arms about the recent fees hike.
Murrell waxes lyrical about Bankhall and will not hear a bad word said about it or the culture created by its founders, Simon Hudson and Paul Hogarth. “In my fifth year at Bankhall, my work rate is increasing rather than diminishing and the adrenaline is not running dry,” he says.
He seems to have decided on a career in financial services from as early as his teens – an enthusiasm which has not diminished with time. He says: “I was always interested in finance but did not want to be a number cruncher. I thought about law and would have been interested in becoming a barrister. I always wanted to be involved in selling, which I am doing.”
Since he started his career in 1976, Murrell says he has always been keen on the concept of consumers having access to independent advice. “Even before the term IFA was invented, I had always intended to be able to offer clients a full range of products and services,” he says.
Having experienced financial services from the adviser perspective, he thought it important to view the sector as a provider, which is why he joined Tep market-maker Beale Dobie in the mid-1990s. “This was the first time I had seen our industry from the side of a product provider. It was a fascinating insight dealing with IFAs on a daily basis and a chance to see how networks operate.” The move to Bankhall followed two years later.
But it is not all work for Murrell. A lifelong Spurs supporter, he has played football with his alma mater, Chigwell Public School, for the last 20 years. He is also a qualified Lawn Tennis Association coach.
Having been in financial services throughout the heady days of the 1980s, Murrell has been left with a liking for the luxuries of life, such as champagne, vintage port and good food, which he enjoys as the spoils of his commitment to a career in financial service.
Although feeling relaxed from a recent family break with his wife Michelle and two daughters in Scotland's five-star Gleneagles Hotel, his favourite topic of conversation remains Bankhall. It seems the future is bright for him and its IFAs.
Lives: Chigwell, Essex, with wife Michelle and two daughters.
Born: August 28, 1957, Essex.
Education: Chigwell Public School.
Career: 1976 – position in direct sales with Imperial Life of Canada (now Lincoln). 1980 – joined C Howard & Partners. 1986 – set up IFA Fraser Marr with offices around the country. It then became part of travel group First Choice Holiday. 1989 – acquired C Howard & Partners from parent company Hogg Robinson. 1994 – following a hostile take-over by rival travel group Airtours, a new board of management was introduced at First Choice which decided to discontinue interest in financial services. Fraser Marr was sold. 1995 – joined Beale Dobie as national development manager. 1997 – joined Bankhall as operations director.
Career ambition: “I have fulfilled it – to enjoy working with people you have got to enjoy what you are doing.”
Life ambition: To get another table at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant.
Car: S-type Jaguar.
Peers say: “The times I have met him he has come across as a professional person.”