James Coney  

SJP has moved on from its cult meetings

James Coney

James Coney

The St James’s Place annual company meeting has become a thing of legend. 

Held in the past at the Royal Albert Hall and, most recently, the O2, it is renowned for being a celebration of sales, where the advisers who have flogged the most pensions and investments are hauled up on stage and lauded.

In the past, partners were treated as celebrities and shared the stage with guests such as Bill Clinton and David Beckham. 

Previous attendees have described it to me as a cult meeting – where staff are told over and over again how brilliant they are, that they are doing important work, that they are the best.

This year’s ACM, held on the last Friday in January, was a very different affair.

Gone was the celebration of individual sales. Out of the window went excess. 

The talk from chief executive Andrew Croft and the managing director was of change and how to prepare the business for the future.

And when SJP changes, everyone else in the industry should sit up and take note.

It is overhauling the way advisers are paid, it has made efforts to make charges more transparent, and a very expensive rebrand is in the offing.

I would be surprised to see winged lions and country houses for much longer.

Regular readers of this column and of The Sunday Times newspaper section I edit will know I have been the loudest critic of SJP.

But it is changing, and for the better.

There is much more to be done, particularly on charges.

I wish in particular that it would stop levying upfront charges on monthly savers, which seems like a particular penalty on prudence.

I wish its early withdrawal charge of up to 6 per cent was explained far better (there are, I understand, particular regulatory reasons why this has not been possible).

And I wish that if it really does charge 2.99 per cent upfront on average instead of the advertised 5 per cent, that it would just say so.

Changing adviser pay structures is a particularly important move in that it incentivises the right kind of behaviour.

And although SJP will not have liked the timing of the comments made by Dame Helena Morrissey, its new non-executive director, about charges, they do at least mark a moment of independence from a board member.

Yes, things are changing.

Because of its scale, SJP has the power to shift the market.

The debate over whether you should publish your charges goes on, but when SJP makes this move towards transparency, it is effectively setting a standard that everyone else should watch.

Particularly if it uses its influence to push for change at the regulator.

What SJP is really after though is shifting wealth. Its changes reflect a future where intergenerational transfers of money start to have an effect.