Mike Foy, chief executive of the recently-branded Utmost Wealth Solutions (from AXA Isle of Man), has been through both a rebrand and a change of ownership following its acquisition by Life Companies Consolidation Group (LCCG). Gary Robinson met up with Foy towards the end of last year and found that while everything appears to have changed, a lot has also stayed exactly as it should
A key challenge to implanting new brands and M&A remains keeping details secret until the point of execution. Mike Foy starts from this point when outlining recent business changes in response to the question on how the past few months have been progressing.
Starting from the point of view of related acquisitions,
“We are a regulated business and had this whole process of running the business through the summer whilst we were agreeing change of ownership with the regulator and coming up with a new brand and a new ID for the market while keeping it secret so it would make the biggest impact when it landed. That was difficult. But, we had a lot of people working hard back in the shop.”
“We assessed the market and found most competitors stick with bold primary colours. There was a gap in the dark ranges, hence why we came up with black and gold. [It provides] A quality feel.
“With the name, we were looking for more than a word, so using the bracket [in the logo as the O] was a design concept that we felt we could use in a lot of marketing material. It is something that will start to define us. When you see that bracket and split people will think of Utmost.
What has changed within the offering as a result on this?
“It is essentially a tax efficient bond that we run out of both the Isle of Man and Dublin, so we have the best of both worlds [in terms of passporting issues after Brexit] and we have right products that are built around that bond offering. We also have a highly customisible discretionary management vehicle.”
“A lot of clients, advisers and IFAs like the discretionary management. They like a third party to manage their money well. We have a tried and tested offering in that market. As Utmost Wealth Solutions, we call ourselves a £10bn startup – 25 years of experience and asset base, but behave like a startup operation.”
What is your take on the Isle of Man government and regulatory initiatives towards greater transparency?
“One of our internal values is ‘wise’. We came up with a set of internal values that ended up spelling out ‘wealth’ (in Utmost Wealth Solutions) – the ‘w’ in wise.”
“We’ve always tried to be the office about which you would want to know their opinion, so we have always been involved in regulation. Part of being in Utmost is that you can come to us and ask for our opinion.
“Regulatory changes have been around forever. We have had RDR in the UK and we are seeing it wash out around the globe. We have business in Asia and are seeing that move towards the UK RDR approach. The rest of the world is getting that way
“The Isle of Man is keen to stay at the forefront of regulation. It has just merged its regulator and is going through its own change cycle. We are actively supporting that.”
What can the international marketplace expect from Utmost Wealth Solutions in 2017?
“We started as a UK [company] and took advantage of being part of the global AXA group to establish a range in Asia with Hong Kong and Singapore offices. And that’s continuing as part of Utmost. We have found by not being part of a global group [is that] people are approaching us as we are now seen as independent and privately owned.”
“Therefore, people don’t think that there is a potential conflict with a global group that might want to compete with them. So, some interesting stuff is on the go.
“We are talking outside of the UK with partners that want to do business with us but our core will still be UK. But we are happy to look at business opportunities outside of that.”
There is plenty of consolidation ongoing in the life sector, but why do you wish to remain active within it?
“Consolidation is seen right across the industry. It is [perhaps] more obvious when life offices do it. Fund platforms, fund management and IFAs at grass roots level are all consolidating. It is part of the market. For us the big attraction was that we stayed independent.”
“Where consolidation happens it can be bad for customers with reduced competition. With change of owners it is keeping an avenue open, an option of choice open for customers. We thought that was a strong point of our deal (with LCCG).
“Will there be more [consolidation]? I expect so. Big groups, global groups like AXA are looking at where they can deploy capital most efficiently. The UK is a pretty mature market, regulations are quite tight and efficient, so margins are tight. Big groups could question that.”
What about the impact of Brexit and MiFID II?
“It will impact every office. Some things are non-competitive as everyone has to move forward on the same basis – such as RDR. MiFID II will impact more on companies depending on their margins. Relying on more fund-based than product-based margins it might impact more. We have to live with that. It is good for the industry.”
“Some might say there are a lot of changes, but organically the UK is well ahead of Europe. However, while these changes will wash across Europe it will then bring the rest of Europe more in line with the UK.”
But why do you think there has been such an impact on the life industry?
Lots of modern brands today come and go. Look at [confectionary brands] Marathon and Snickers. I’m old enough to think of that. But hopefully people don’t say AXA and think of Utmost.”
“It is about choice. Brands that change and stay in the market is one thing, but those that are removed altogether to reduce choice, that is when it is an issue for the industry.
Living and working in the Isle of Man
Mike Foy has expressed equally clear views on the Isle of Man as a place to live and work.
“I’ve lived in the Isle of Man for over 20 years now,” he says.
“It’s a place that you love or hate. The standing joke is that if you survive your first winter you’ll be OK. Some people find it too remote and claustrophobic, being a population of just 80,000 people.”
“But I like it. I grew up in Cornwall next to the sea. Running a business living by the sea means that walking on the promenade at lunch on a bad day to clear your head brings a high quality of life. There is a good sense of engagement with people and you develop an affinity with the place.”
Click here to view the Utmost Wealth Solutions brand launch video.