Nigel Green, chief executive and founder of international financial firm deVere, is lauded by some and criticised by others for his work – thus a genuine contender for the ‘Marmite man’ tag*. Gary Robinson caught up with Green as the company he founded and clearly loves, has been going through what it calls a “comprehensive restructuring period”. And despite what many might class as a ‘perfect storm’ of industry convergence, wave after wave of regulatory changes and scrutiny and criticisms from rivals and former colleagues, he found that this is one individual that is still very much up for the fight.
GR So, what does undergoing a “comprehensive restructuring period” entail?
NG “It entails looking in-depth at every part of the business. We have lots of different brands, operate in lots of different jurisdictions – which all evolve at different paces and have different regulatory environments. And offer a wide range of different products and services.
“To keep ahead of the curve, we need to review each and every part of the business model. This will then give us a roadmap for the future by telling us where and what we need to invest more in and where we should reduce and/or modify our current model.
“It is likely that some offices will close, and others will be opened, as a result of the Strategic Review, which we envisage will be completed by the end of the second quarter.”
Why is the battle against FATCA so important? First for the market/investors and secondly to deVere? And does this mean that the US is now deVere’s most important region, ahead of the UAE?
“I’ve been speaking out and campaigning against FATCA since it was first mooted by the Obama-administration back in 2010. More recently, I have set up the official Campaign to Repeal FATCA in Washington DC with some veteran lobbyists, including Jim Jatras, the former US diplomat.
“My primary motivation for my ongoing campaigning is that FATCA is a huge and unnecessary burden for the eight million or so American citizens who live outside the US. Expats are, of course, our biggest market and I felt compelled to take on the fight on their behalf.
“But in addition to turning ordinary hardworking American individuals overseas and US firms that operate globally into financial pariahs, as I have said before, FATCA is a masterclass in the law of unintended consequences.
“It does not and cannot achieve its purported aim of tackling tax evasion – in fact the legislation does not include a single provision targeting actual tax evasion. FATCA is a Washington diktat imposed on sovereign states around the world.
“There are important questions to be asked about the utterly imperialistic nature of FATCA. Countries and Foreign Financial institutions (FFIs) have been coerced into complying with FATCA’s sovereignty-violating, expensive, burdensome, privacy-infringing regulations by the US – or face heavy penalties. In effect, these countries and FFIs are now working as de facto agents of America’s tax authority.
“The Gulf remains the region in which we write most business.”
As a global company, how do you stay abreast of the different regulatory approaches in different jurisdictions?
“We do this through three key ways. First, we have a large and, I believe, industry-leading technical team of highly skilled and qualified professionals whose job is to understand all the existing and incoming regulations and how they apply in each and every jurisdiction in which we operate.
“Second, we have a centralised compliance department and compliance teams in each jurisdiction. And third, we provide continuous professional development and training to all our advisers on the regulatory landscape in which they work.”
The recent QROPS legislation took the industry by surprise. QROPS currently represent about 20% of our business and, therefore, with this change coming in with immediate effect, it was sensible to bring forward our planned Strategic Review.
How did it feel for the FCA to single out deVere with its recent ‘concerns’? And how damaging is it to have to stop providing transfer value reports in response to FCA concerns? And do you see more companies set to be restricted/investigated by the UK regulator?
“DeVere wasn’t singled out because we ourselves wrote to the FCA on this matter in the first instance to clarify the new requirements – the fact we approached the regulator first is something much of the less informed trade media failed to put out when we went public with it.
“But we might have started a wider review as we have now seen with other firms going through the same process.
“It is not damaging – indeed, it would be damaging to our clients and our business not to have voluntarily ceased providing reports in the short term whilst we work with the FCA to strengthen procedures in line with the changes they established.
“This step underscores our commitment to working with the regulator in each and every area of our business.”
Is the UK regulator and government going too far in targeting (and in some cases restricting) advisers? Are we in danger of reducing the options for advice for investors?
“The regulator needs to have teeth to be effective and to fulfil its remit in client protection. That said, I would urge the regulator and advisory firms to work more closely together – this is when real, effective change takes place.”
Some of the criticisms that are levelled at deVere by some commentators are extreme. Do such comments hurt personally?
“DeVere is the largest and most successful firm in the international advisory sector. Therefore, being so high profile, scrutiny is to be expected.
“Whilst we welcome constructive criticism that will help us improve and develop, much of the criticism is from envious competitors and/or disgruntled former employees who didn’t cut it with deVere.
“I don’t get hurt by it – we work hard, we help our clients reach their long-term financial goals through sound advice and planning strategies. We are rightly very proud of what we achieve on a daily basis.
“This is what we focus on and we don’t get distracted by those who feel threatened by our success and should be focusing their energies on their own clients and improving their own businesses.”
You have said recently that overseas buyers and British expats are ‘routinely rejected’ for UK mortgages. Why is deVere’s offering different?
“DeVere Mortgages was launched as an independent deVere brand as so many of our expat clients around the world and returning expats to the UK were seeking advice on home loans.
“As we know the expat market so well, we felt we were best-placed to help them in this area too. Overseas buyers and expats are, typically, flagged up as high-risk by UK lenders, therefore it is essential they seek mortgages from specialist lenders.
“This is what we offer as we have established relationships with specialist lenders who trust deVere.”
Dubai and UAE are undergoing some fundamental changes in the IFA world (i.e. offshore bonds, commission and regulatory issues, etc). How are these impacting on deVere, and is the so-called ‘gravy train’ about to dry up, as some commentators say?
“This is another example of how the world’s different regulatory environments are evolving. Indeed, we’re in times of unprecedented change. All changes of regulations do – and should – impact firms like deVere.
“The challenge is stepping up and adapting accordingly to meet and embrace the changes head on. DeVere is very good at this. Gravy train is a negative term and I wouldn’t use it.
“But, to answer, your question, no. This is because there are ever increasing numbers of expats in the UAE and around the world as the world becomes ever more globalised. As such, demand for specialist cross-border advice will, in fact, only increase.”
Tell us something about the deVere business that nobody else knows?
“This is a difficult one. DeVere is a high-profile, constantly scrutinised, well-documented and very open organisation. I think we’ve been consistently upfront in our history, background, challenges and plans for the future.”
Some of the claims outlined in the undisclosed South Africa commission admission row with Moneyweb (on its website there were various individual cases outlined) seemed extreme. How do you deal with matters that appear to have adversely affected individuals’ life savings? Are there two sides to every story?
“Indeed, there are always two sides to every story. We take all legitimate complaints seriously and work with and for the clients to resolve any issues. It would be absurd to do anything differently.
“It always seems bizarre to me that if there is a genuine complaint that the client would choose to go to the press in the first instance, rather than coming to us or, in extreme cases, the local regulator. This makes you question motives.”
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
“I never have any trouble getting of bed in the morning. I am extremely focused and set goals the night before, so each morning I wake up early and want to get started. I want to achieve all I set out to do each day.”
What do you do for fun? And as a global company, where is your favourite place to travel to and why?
“I am passionate about F1 and go to as many as my schedule allows. I’m also a huge Chelsea fan and catch every game I can.
“My favourite places to travel are any where I am going next – I am genuinely excited about moving on to each place. Even after all these years of visiting our network of global offices almost continually, it’s still a thrill.”
How important is it to have the work/life balance in order and what is yours like?
“For me the work/life balance isn’t an issue as I thoroughly enjoy what I do, so my work is my life and vice versa.
“The work/life balance becomes a problem for people when they don’t truly have passion, believe in and are committed to what they do for a living. This is when stress comes in and things get out of kilter.”
With so many offerings (investments, advice, mortgages, even a private bank) and so many different jurisdictions, how hard is it not to spread focus too thinly? How does the company combat this?
“We believe that financial planning is holistic and all parts are integrated. This is why we have specialists in most major areas of financial planning in order to help people build robust, workable strategies to help them achieve their long-term objectives.
“DeVere is a one-stop shop in this regard because we have the strength, size and resources.”
What regions are of interest and how important are the likes of Saudi, China, India to the future of financial services, as opportunities in other regions narrow?
“All regions have their own challenges and opportunities and we evaluate each on their characteristics.
“We are committed to helping expats wherever they are in the world, working within each jurisdiction’s regulatory landscape.”
What is next for deVere in 2017 and beyond?
“2017 is set to be another landmark year for deVere. Evidence of this is the launch of our own private bank and receiving our investment licence. Expect some more major developments.”
*Marmite is a yeast-based spread often put on toast. Its taste divides people.
This interview was first published in this month’s print version of International Investment magazine. To subscribe for free and/or receive our digital edition, click here.