In late February I attended this years Nucleus annual strategy meeting. Since much of my own, and my client’s money is domiciled there, I thought it was important to attend and to report back. I have delayed this blog because other topics have taken precedent since, like the budget changes and our quarterly investment update.
In 2008 we selected Nucleus as one of our main platform partners. The decision was neither easy nor automatic as we were required to invest £15,000 to become a tiny shareholder in Nucleus in order to do business with them. There was just £300 million in total client investments on the platform when we became member number 24. Just over 5.5 years later, there are now over 215 investment firms who use Nucleus and the total client assets have grown to over £6.5 billion! The platform crossed into profit in 2012 and last year profits continued to grow, allowing further development and reduced charges to larger accounts. Many other platforms are yet to turn a profit and that cannot be good for their customers in the long term. We have already seen American Express, UBS and Aviva withdraw from the market because they couldn’t make it work profitably. Aviva have since returned to the market to give it another go.
Nucleus and its founder David Ferguson had opened Pandora’s box for me. The past dirty tricks of the insurance companies and the investment houses were brought into my focus for the first time. Never again would my clients be subjected to behind the scenes cash skimming by the high street brands that continued to abuse their customers trust.
David had created a new investment offering for customers which had the audacity to challenge the Goliath insurance companies status quo.
Transparency was a radical idea in the investment world; letting all investors clearly see all their costs and charges had never been done before on a large scale. From then on the UK insurance and investment companies market stronghold, maintained by confusion and opacity, was fatally wounded.
In many ways the Nucleus business model was similar to the one Apple had pursued. Apple’s ideas were never necessarily new, but successfully combining ideas created new markets at the cost of the old player’s profits. Apple had challenged the once mighty music industry with the introduction of the iPod and iTunes. When put together, consumers liked the idea and the once dominant record companies lost control of the market. Apple also set about the existing mobile phone companies with the iPhone and it looks like Nokia and Blackberry could soon be consigned to history. Nucleus will never be a giant like Apple, but it too started off small and will continue to grow by killing off the once dominant players.
Nucleus Financial Services brought together the perfect alignment. The client, their advisers and their platform all pulling in the same direction. A better service and investment outcome for the client leads to more client recommendations for the adviser, which leads to more assets on the platform. Any questions?
I have noticed Nucleus is based in Edinburgh. What are the implications of Scottish Independence?
There will not be a problem as Nucleus already has a UK business entity. Should Scotland become independent, like Standard Life and Lloyds, Nucleus will switch to become a UK company.
The software hasn’t been improved for ages now. Is anything in the pipeline?
Yes there are exciting developments. The whole system is about to get a major upgrade. Systems will run many times faster and there are hundreds of changes in the offing. However initially when the change comes, which is estimated to be sometime in May, you will still be greeted by the same welcome screen. Only gradually will the new functionality start to appear to keep things simple and understandable.
We are excited about the changes, but also a little nervous about the switch over. I have not seen too many upgrades run seamlessly from day one and so there will be some teething troubles. However I have personally been involved a little in some of the changes and have met the whole team and have confidence in them to deliver.