Andy Bell, co-founder and chief executive of AJ Bell, admits his life might have been quite different if he had stayed an actuary.
Mr Bell said: “I would have been working for Paddy Power and setting up the odds, rather than pricing insurance contracts. I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole.”
However, he added that training to be an actuary, and working as one in the early part of his career, had given him a boost.
He said: “Having the actuarial qualifications does open doors and gives you some respect. You’ve still got to earn it, but it’s a good starting point.”
AJ Bell began in 1995 as an actuarial consultancy, but quickly moved into self-invested personal pensons – the “full-fat” version, according to Mr Bell – a product he had been working on in his previous role.
Then in 2002 the company launched Sipp platform, Sippcentre as the product became more commoditised. Eventually this was broadened out to become an investment platform and renamed AJ Bell Investcentre.
The company has also bought a stockbroker, which it turned into a retail online stockbroker, and it owns a consumer investment magazine.
It has done well: last year it made £15.5m profits on revenues of £57m, and Neil Woodford took a stake in the company as an investment in unlisted shares for his new fund.
Mr Bell’s relationship with Mr Woodford began in the days when the latter was still at Invesco Perpetual.
Mr Bell said: “Neil Woodford and Mark Barnett bought unlisted shares for their funds, and we were quite attractive to them. We were in financial services and growing very quickly – we were profitable and paying a growing dividend. I don’t think there are too many companies that tick all tof those boxes.”
The Invesco fund took a stake in the business, and once Mr Woodford left to set up his own firm he again took another stake, paying £21m. Combined, the Invesco and Woodford stake amount to less than a controlling stake in the business, and although it is a significant slice Mr Woodford does not have a place on the board.
Mr Bell, who still owns nearly a third of the business, said the deals helped him out of a situation, whereby he could remunerate senior management and say no to more conventional options, such as a stock market listing or a sale to an institution.
He said: “I would like the ability to make my own decisions without having inexperienced analysts telling me how to do my job”
He said: “I just concluded that I was unemployable. I enjoy the industry and selling out would have felt I would have been in the truest sense selling out.”