And so it ends, folks, as indeed all things must. 2019 is a year that’s been, not a year to come, and in what is your last Update of the year, it behoves any self-respecting Updater to take stock and look to the year to come. I’ll let you into a wee secret – you might imagine that writing reviews of the year would be a pure skoosh – the easiest column of the year to write – but that’s not true. Normally (fourth wall break! Fourth wall break!) you can pick a topic and riff around it for a while, but in these ones you actually have to go and do some research.
Anyway, I think I’ll get round that by not doing a review of the year – you can get loads of those elsewhere. I will, however, pick my Ones To Watch for companies I think will do well next year. And I might have a wee moment of reflection, but you can skip that bit.
HEADING FOR THE EXIT
But before I do any of that, I must make mention of the last regulatory development of the year. Policy Statement 19/29 emerged, blinking, from the tunnel last Friday with the intriguing title of ‘making transfers simpler’. Ah ha! we thought. Bet we’re getting some exit fee action here! All sorts of fun on a ring-and-run sorry-we’re-off-till-January basis! Top trolling from the regulator!
All of this proved to be false hope, as a pretty lacklustre PS really only dealt with share class conversions, which is all good and everything but not all that big of a deal compared to the exit fee stuff. Meanwhile the industry, stifling a giggle, made noises about how that would be challenging in itself, had a quick fist bump and hit the Baileys. Providers who charge exit fees – including one or two who really should know better – made a series of pretty disappointing statements, largely about ‘we’re not taking ours away until everyone else does’, which is a bit like saying ‘but my sister’s room is really messy too and you haven’t made her tidy hers up.’ Must. Do. Better.
NOT QUITE HEADING FOR THE EXIT
News also reaches me this morning that Transact has made its 4,596th annual charge reduction – another basis point comes off and the buy commission threshold drops to £400k from £500k. Much more interestingly, Jonathan Gunby is taking over the CEO role at Integrafin, Alex Scott steps up to be Group Chief Exec, and Ian Taylor is stepping down, though remaining on the board. He does so as Integrafin trades at 33x, AUA is up 14%, and profits are £49m on revenues of £100m. Remarkable.
What do you say about Ian? An innovator, a powerhouse in so many ways, a man willing to say **** off to business he doesn’t like the look of, a contributor to the financial wellbeing of so many curry houses in London…this is the guy who pretty much came up with the platform market and to whom we all owe a debt. Slàinte Ian. We shall raise a Guinness to you from the Port of Leith.
STILL NOT AT THE EXIT
So here are my Ones To Watch for 2020. These are firms I think will do well, or maybe do exciting things.
- ADVISERS – I reckon advisers pretty much won 2019. I expect exactly the same to be true in 2020. There are bumps in the road in terms of PROD and admin and all that, but that’s all just business. The truth is people desperately need someone in their corner, and advisers are where it’s at.
- AVIVA – coming right back onto a game after difficult times. Watch York for some pretty zesty figures in 2020.
- NUCLEUS – we haven’t had much really exciting on the proposition front for a while from Nucleus. Its new investment proposition, IMX, will change all that, coming Q1.
- ADALPHA – a new, mobile-first platform for advisers designed by (some of) the team that originally built Parmenion. Excited for this one.
- THE NEW BREED – platforms which don’t look like the usual ones will start to generate some numbers. I’ll be watching Hubwise, Seccl/Octopus, Multrees and Praemium in particular.
- THE LANG CAT – a bunch of plucky Leith upstarts will launch a new platform comparison, insight hub and due diligence tool in January called Platform Analyser, which looks like something you will most likely want to engage with at length.
I’m sure there will be more, but those aren’t bad ones to start with.
ONE LAST THING
I want to thank all of you who’ve read the Update this year, got in touch to agree, or disagree, or to say it made you smile on a Wednesday lunch. When I kicked this off in January I had no idea if it would work, but I’ve loved writing it and judging by the open rates, many of you like reading it. The Update now goes to over 5,500 people each week and in 2019 we’ve had over 90,000 unique opens. Shooting for 100,000 in 2020.
I also want to thank everyone that’s got themselves some cat this year, and my amazing team of 17 souls plus me (letting the side down as usual) who have moved mountains in what’s sometimes been a challenging year. I’m incredibly proud of what they’ve achieved – we’ve published over 30 guides, white papers and other things which have been downloaded over 16,000 times from our site this year, raised £17,000 for the Samaritans (thank you again to everyone who sponsored the 20 Mile CatWalk), run 2 great events, served about 50 clients, written something like 300,000 words and done all that while keeping true to what it is the lang cat is meant to be about. Astonishing stuff. Let’s go again. Next year is our 10th birthday. We might have a party. You might come along.
OK, THIS IS ACTUALLY THE LAST THING
We’ve talked a lot about mental health this year, particularly thanks to Steve Nelson who has done pioneering work with Ollie Smith at Citywire in raising the issue in financial services. These guys are amazing. Anyway, Christmas will be a fun time for most of you reading this, but it won’t be for everyone. As we have a number of times this year, I’d like to remind you that the number for the Samaritans is 116 123, and it will be available right through Christmas, staffed by people who put those of us over-indulging and thinking only of ourselves to shame. Maybe someone you know or meet might need that number.
HAVEN’T YOU FORGOTTEN SOMETHING, MARK?
Oh yeah, the music choice. Well, this week there isn’t a song. There is instead ALL THE SONGS. I’ve created a 45-strong playlist of everything we’ve featured in the Update, from folk to black metal to Paddington. You can find it on YouTube here and on Spotify here. The Spotify one lacks a couple of the more esoteric choices.
Thanks once again, have a wonderful break and see you in 2020. Hope it’s a great one for you all.