*conditions apply

And so this is it, siblings – the last Update of 2021. I think we all know not much work is going to be done next week, not least because the kids (at least up here) are breaking up on Friday and so we are all set for one of the least tolerable weeks of history. I personally plan to be at the bottom of one of these next Wednesday lunchtime, so rather than give you drunken ramblings I’ll make this our final TCWU.

As is my wont, I’ll miss out the full review of the year kind of thing, not least because Citywire will inevitably do it better with a 107-page carousel or something, and no-one really wants reminded of the year that’s been anyway.

What I will say is that from where I sit, 2021 looks like it was a pivotal year for the business we call show. Long-awaited, pent-up deals happened; dynamics in the sector that had been bubbling away for years accelerated into the light, and we started to see what the shape of the industry and profession will be for the next two decades.

The period we’ve just been through has been brilliant. Insanely exciting, disruptive, and righteous in many ways. The point it started is a fun thing to argue about – it might have been when Transact launched back in 2000 or so, or it might have been when Ned Cazalet published Polly Put The Kettle On in early 2006, or when then-FSA chair Callum McCarthy stood up and eviscerated the industry over his petit fours at Gleneagles on 16 September 2006 with a speech called Is The Present Business Model Bust? (spoiler: yes).

Whichever, we’ve had 15 or 20 years when the old order changed, the with-profits mafia were run out of town (leaving only capo di tutti capi PruFund and a couple of low-level wiseguys behind) and the industry broke apart and reassembled itself around advisers.

And now that’s done. As we turn off the lights on 2021, it strikes me that the industry (including the profession) looks more similar now to that which Big Cal (as he likes to be called, maybe) bemoaned in 2006 than at any time in the intervening decade and a half. Yes, commission is away and the basic cardiovascular health of the sector is better; financial planning is now properly recognised as the gold standard and that’s all good.

But those vibrant, exciting players are now entering their adulthood. Many have got married, quite a lot are vertically integrating their families now with tech provider children, asset management older generations in need of 24-hour care and black sheep discretionary siblings all living under the same roof. Distribution – if we must use the regrettable language of MiFID II – is the last key to unlock the full chamber-of-secrets industry dominance elixir of whatever (these metaphors are exhausting, you should try it). And so it’s no surprise that adviser consolidation either directly into providers or into larger advice organisations which may in time be attractive to those providers is such a theme. Really big companies tend not to be good at buying little companies; they like to buy other big ‘uns and so it’s easier for MegaCorp A to buy a scale advice firm with a few tens of billions under advice, howsoever derived, than 200 individual firms. That’s one of the key reasons the PE and credit guys are so driven to be part of this space.

The big question we have to ask is – does the cyclical nature of this industry take us back to the bad old days, or have we learned something along the way? Who was the last 15 years for? Who is positioned to win the next 15 or 20 years if platforms and advisers won the last 20? Who, in the words of the detective, benefits?

SLÁINTE GO SAOL AGAT

I guess we’ll find out. For my part, 2021 has been a mixed year. As a company the lang cat has exceeded even the most ridiculous dreams I had for it and we are a 21-strong, 11-year old force to be reckoned with that isn’t going away. I’m insanely proud of my team and what they’ve achieved, and we have, we think, the tools in our bag to take it to the next level in 2022. Thank you to the team, to all our clients and to those who’ve read our stuff, tuned into HomeGames and all the rest. We never take any of it for granted.

As many Update readers may remember, my Mum died in April of this year, and as we look at pictures of folk having parties it’s hard not to remember me and my Dad negotiating, cajoling, threatening, whining, and generally moving heaven and earth to try and get 20 minutes with Mum at her hospital bedside on Christmas Day 2020. That was the first time I’d seen her for three months and would be the second last time before she died.

But even as I’m incandescent about that and about the lack of empathy and fellow-feeling so many pound-shop Platos and flatulent faux-Friedmans feel licensed to excrete out on social media, I turn back to an email folder I keep from that time and am reminded of the good side of this industry. The condolences, the notes, the DMs and the rest from those I know and those I don’t really were sustaining and healing, and what makes it even better is that I know I’m not special and that warmth is routinely extended to all those in adverse times.

This is a great industry to work in. My wish for 2022 is that we can double down on that and leave the other stuff behind.

For now, everyone at the lang cat wishes you and yours a lustrous and well-earned festive break, a full-bore kick of the baw at Hogmanay and a phenomenal 2022.

Nollaig Chridheil

Mark

PS – no ordinary links this week, but I will give you two music selections as it’s a special time of year. First up, here’s what I think might end up being my favourite Christmas song ever, and certainly one of very few to take on Fairytale of New York. Here’s Lowri Evans and Tom Mcrae doing Merry Christmas My Darling (Drink Up). When the Welsh male voice choirs get going it’s pretty hard to resist. And for those of you who quite rightly want something a bit more spirited, I think we can’t do any better than the sheer overblown wondrousness of the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s Carol Of The Bells (and for extra credit try the live version, it’s even more daft). Enjoy.