Embark boss predicts 'low' disruption for advisers


The chief executive of Embark has said advisers using the platforms his company recently bought will see "low" disruption over the next year or so.

Phil Smith said the recent acquisitions by Embark of Zurich's platform and the Alliance Trust Savings advised platform would lead to "positive and material change" in terms of the proposition available to advisers but "relatively small change" from a "service point of view".

He also explained how Embark would make sure his company would avoid some of the technology problems seen by other platforms - such as Aegon and Aviva - as part of the acquisition process.

Mr Smith said: "Where platform migrations, upgrades and change tends to fail is not in the technology. Where they tend to fail is in the data preparation, the staging and the communications phases. The well-marketed failures we have seen over the last couple of years, their root cause is in those dimensions so that's where we focus our efforts before change."

Addressing whether Embark would be involved in any more acquisitions during 2020, Mr Smith said: "I hope not, quite honestly. The ambition we have is to be a very large business over time and we want to get there quickly but safely.

"Should we want to participate we definitely have the capacity to do that, but one has to be a little bit measured. You never say never with these things. If the right opportunity at a killer price, with the right risk profile and the right dynamics were to fall into our lap then we've shown that we move and act quickly, but I don't see it coming - certainly not in the next 18 or 24 months."

Mr Smith added that there would continue to be consolidation in the platform market over the coming year or so.

He said: "I don't have a crystal ball but the reality is we will see two or three more platforms change ownership over the next 18 months, that would be my rough finger in the wind.

"But I think that's driven more by businesses who have a different strategic impetus than a solely platform-based organisation who may change their strategy and decide to come out of what is an intensely technology-based area.

"The interesting question, and this is quite analogous to the Sipp market two or three years ago, is you start to question where the buyers are going to come from. It is a very hard market to enter organically. I think we were the last scaled, organic entrant. I don't think we will see private equity money coming flushing in to buy a position in the sector, albeit we did see that with the James Hay/IFG transaction.

"So if you look around the existing participants and run the rule over who may be a buyer, I don't think the list is very long."