After Mike’s Update of a couple of weeks ago, it’s a total joy and a welcome break from industry stuff and wider nonsense to welcome a new lang kitten to the world. Steve Nelson, who many of you will know as @langcatsteve, is the proud dad of Eva Nelson-Lebov who turned up yesterday. Eva and her mum Korin are doing great, and, well, it’s the CIRRRRCLE OF LIIIIFE *holds lion cub up to the sky*. Let us place our hope in Eva and her compadres, that they will do a better job of things than us lot have managed.

Anyway, nice to start with some good news for a change.

Much less importantly, this has been a week of news about acquisitions in our own little corner of this wilderness of mirrors. We’ve seen Embark finally confirm that it’s scarfing up the advised and partnership book of Alliance Trust Savings, while Bravura is inhaling the financial toolset provider FinoComp.

It does seem that it’s corporate activity season at the moment; there is plenty of money washing around for the right stuff. Conversations we’ve had with some of the private equity guys over the traditional can of strong lager on the local Water of Leith park bench suggest that retail advice / long-term savings and investment remains very attractive as a sort-of asset class – but firms are now looking for proxies for that rather than buying advisory firms directly.

Which is all very interesting, but has nothing much to do with this pair of transactions. I’ll concentrate on the Embark one, as that’s going to have more immediate impact on more people.

First up, I think it’s good news – not least for the good folk of Fundee, sorry, Dundee, who have some real certainty as to their futures. ATS was a big employer in that town; a place which isn’t over-burdened with white-collar jobs and this will make Christmas a jollier time for those who ply their trade in the famous smoked-glass mini-skyscraper on the Marketgait. As part of the deal, FNZ will also take some space in the building (FNZ is a shareholder in Embark).

The big question is what pricing shape Embark will offer for new clients – it’s already confirmed it will end the fixed fee approach. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’ve never met anyone from Embark who was daft, so they’ll know that if the price is too high then the advisory support ATS had built up will run for the hills very quickly in terms of new business.

That’s fair enough. But I do hope the fixed fee thing stays around somewhere – it’s good to have variety and there’s no doubt that the model works very well for more affluent clients. Embark has confirmed that existing clients can keep their deal.

Fixed fee has been conflated with the problems ATS faced through replatforming and service difficulties after its takeover of Stocktrade. I don’t think that’s right – there is nothing miraculous about one form of charging over another. Plenty of direct platforms and stockbroking providers work quite happily on fixed fees; no reason a supplier to the advisory sector shouldn’t as well.

We won’t get that from Embark this time – but I do wonder if we won’t see some sort of acknowledgement of the appeal of that approach – maybe a capped fee or something similar. I’m sure we’ll find out soon.


  • Fun research on risk-taking from Cass Business School here – women are more risk-averse than men, readers of the Grauniad are more risk-averse than readers of the FT, and LibDem voters are more risk-averse than Scot Nats and Plaid voters. Who knew, etc.
  • Enormous plug for our State of the Adviser Nation 2019/20 survey – please do lend us half an hour of your time if you work for an advice business. Free 2019/20 Guide to advised platforms (normally £200 plus VAT) to everyone that completes it, when I’ve finished writing it.
  • I liked this bit from Mark Loosmore on electronic messaging, which is 50 years old this year. The first message was, apparently, ‘Lo’. It was meant to be ‘login’ but the system crashed, giving us the very first replatforming problem. Lol.
  • And your music choice this week isn’t Circle of Life, but is the best kids’ song ever written. It is, of course, Go Go Ninja Dinosaur by Four Tet ft. Princess Watermelon, but you knew that already.

See you next week