Firing line  

'Private equity firms may get squeezed by higher interest rates'

In March 2022, the private equity company that bought Nucleus, Epiris, sold its holding on to a rival private equity owner, around the time a market consensus had developed that monetary policy would be much tighter in future than it is now.  

Reading the label 

Ferguson is trying the capture the next trend in platform fees at Seccl. He says that the innovation of white-labelling – a term he dislikes as jargon – is specifically the ability to be digital first and not rely on “legacy technology systems”, which means Seccl can charge “less than half” the current fee of many platforms for its service. 

Ferguson says advice businesses are missing a trick with their current digital offering: “If you go into the office of an advice firm, they tend to be very nice, not flash but maybe like that of a boutique hotel.

"But the digital interface is not like that at all, it often looks much less attractive, and I think a client who sees the nice office also expects to have a nice digital experience.”

He speaks with something of a missionary zeal about the issues the industry faces; something that is arguably unusual for an individual who trained to be an actuary, a profession of facts and figures.

Ferguson says his experience as a trainee actuary and subsequently in marketing roles within the insurance and investment industries meant he “realised the industry treated its customers terribly, it really didn’t care about them.

"It took me seven years to raise the finance to start Nucleus, but in the end we had some advice firms who came on board as shareholders and clients, about 30 of them still use the platform now, and we had backing from the South African firm Sanlam. The day we floated on the stock exchange, that was an electric feeling."

It was the decision of Sanlam to largely withdraw from the UK market that spurred the sale of the business.

Several of Ferguson’s peers also sold their businesses at around the same time, but it is Ferguson who continues in the UK market. 

He says part of the reason he continues to be active is: “I am at a different stage of life to some of the other guys. But I knew I had no interest in doing something that would not help solve the problems in the market.