Interview: Towry Law's Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher, chief executive of Towry Law, makes me think of the old Financial Times billboard featuring Richard Branson as Che Guevara against a scarlet background, with the tagline: “Business revolutionaries - past, present and future”.
Mr Fisher talks big - very big. His ambition is to “move what is one of the most important industries in the UK – managing the wealth of Britain – from a very difficult position where it wasn’t doing its job very well and had a poor reputation to doing a really good job based on professionalism and working in the interests of the clients”.
He wants to do this by “revolution, not evolution”. Riding the white horse of Towry Law and clad in the shining armour of a fee-based model, he plans to purge the land of “horrid” commission bias. Although Towry Law already has £2.5bn in discretionary assets under management, Mr Fisher says it is “tiny” relative to its potential.
“We’d expect to have £10bn under management in five years and £100bn in the future, and we’d expect to be a FTSE 100 company. Outstanding advice to targeted clients in a market that even after the ravages is worth £1trn – that’s a lot to go for,” he says.
This is not the kind of thing the self-deprecating British usually say – not even to journalists. It is also not the kind of thing people tend to say about the industry in which they work. But unlike the heads of many major IFA firms, Mr Fisher has not grown up in the industry. He started his career marketing fast-moving consumer goods at Unilever, then was a partner at Coopers & Lybrand, the management consultancy that eventually turned into PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has since headed a number of financial services firms, including the Coutts private banking group, Cox Insurance Holdings and the fee-earning business of Standard Chartered in Hong Kong. He even founded a fund of hedge funds boutique called Rangeley.
Mr Fisher therefore positions himself as an outsider, bringing a fresh perspective to what he refers to as “IFA land”. He has gained a reputation in the industry above all for his contempt of the commission model. He says he agreed to lead John Scott & Partners, the company that took over Towry Law in 2006, because of its long-standing belief in fees.
“JS&P decided 15 years ago that wouldn’t it be a good idea to give advice to people that was in their interests – a pretty novel breakthrough in IFA land. The problem was paying for it. So they sold their insurance brokering business and used the money to fund the time lag between upfront commission and ongoing revenue – quite a big lag – and to build a discretionary management team,” he explains.
Each IFA firm that JS&P has since acquired - including Towry Law, whose brand it decided to maintain - has been converted to this model. The group now charges its clients directly for the discretionary management of their assets, typically a total of 170-180 basis points. It then pays the charges on the institutional funds it uses to manage those funds out of its own costs, refusing both trail income and commission from asset managers. The firm also charges clients an hourly rate for holistic financial planning.