Paul Feeney has had a busy time of it since joining Old Mutual in early 2012. Taking over as chief executive of Old Mutual Wealth later that year, the former BNY Mellon distribution head has overseen a transformation of the business – and the changes are still coming thick and fast.
Early milestones such as the acquisitions of adviser network Intrinsic and wealth manager Quilter Cheviot have been followed by the thornier issues of upgrading the firm’s adviser platform and preparing to separate the business from its FTSE 100 parent.
Dealing with complexity is not unfamiliar territory for Mr Feeney, who had a preference for problem solving early on in life. Growing up in inner city Manchester, an affinity for maths led to him teaching financial economics at university, then saw him veer more and more towards investment and eventually prompted a career in the City.
“I was fascinated by the financial markets although they always seemed to be a world apart from where I was,” he says. “I guess everything’s a journey. Where I started out it was more and more about trying to look at how you connect real people with investment markets.”
He continues: “Even today I think the fund management industry is too disconnected from the end customer, from real people and their needs. They’re trying to get closer but people need solutions rather than just products. They want solutions most likely to keep their promises, they want good advice from people they can trust and they want to be treated like proper customers not just units in a fund.
“Old Mutual gave me the opportunity, with a lot of talented people, to set a vision to try and do that.”
Mr Feeney identified issues at the business that he sought to put right. His initial assessment of the firm’s adviser platform, formerly known as Skandia, was “a highly entrepreneurial business which had lost its way. It was the first pioneer of open architecture in this country 20-odd years ago, but then carried on without really changing”.
The opportunity to revamp the platform came as part of a wider goal, however.
“It set out to be the leading investment platform, [but] we’ve just changed one thing – we want to be the leading investment business. We changed one word and it changed everything. That’s because the leading investment business needs to have a leading investment platform but it’s an investment business with a platform, not an investment platform business.
“If you change your mindset that way, it makes you think from the customer’s perspective.”
This shift in mindset led to the most high-profile changes of Mr Feeney’s tenure: the acquisitions of Intrinsic and Quilter Cheviot, as well as bringing the insurer’s fund management arm – Old Mutual Global Investors (OMGI) – under the Wealth banner.
But the original issue, that of overhauling the platform, has proved a lengthier process than first expected. The most fundamental change to the service – an upgrade of its technology – is now over budget and behind schedule.