The mortgage distribution industry has been in a state of flux for the last 12 months as new networks appear and one of the most established, Legal & General Network, has been steadily exiting the appointed representative (AR) market.
Stonebridge, traditionally the network of the small business, has been quietly strategising to move itself into pole position to catch the eye of L&G advisers caught in the cross fire while evolving its model to appeal to a wider broker market.
Adam’s feelings about doing the profile are, understandably, mixed. After £1bn of mortgage completions in quarter three this year, the recruitment of Crystal Clear Financial Planning and The Mortgage Advice Shop, former ARs of L&G, and a major investment from property services firm Shepherd Direct Group, he’s keen to talk about his successes. But, explains Adams, there’s still a lot going on yet to publically surface so he’s cautious about rocking the boat. I ask him straight off the bat about the L&G deal and why Stonebridge was one of the preferred partners to house L&G’s migrated ARs, seeing 90 advisers flock to the network with 60 still in discussion.
“We have similar cultures and I have personal relationships with all the ARs at L&G on one level or another as Stonebridge used to be one of them when it was first set up. We concentrate on mortgage and protection business and not wealth services, which mirrors the L&G offering.”
A long-established relationship has existed between L&G and Stonebridge. Adams’ firm was an AR of L&G in 1998 before setting up as a directly authorised advice firm in 2004. Stonebridge took on the network structure in 2008 during the downturn and recruited advisers from other networks which were collapsing. Its strategy in the years to follow, up until now, was not to actively recruit but to build on the productivity of those early procured firms.
Despite the ties and obvious trust between the two distributors, Stonebridge does not have an open door to all ex-L&G firms. “We spoke to a few firms we decided not to engage with. Some didn’t match culturally with us and suit our risk profile and some were geographically near firms we support already so it would be creating competition for us,” says Adam.
Adam’s growth plan for the network is to increase membership sensibly through a mixture of L&G firms and new recruits. In October, Stonebridge had 370 advisers and 185 firms. It expects to have 450 advisers by the end of March and 500 by the end of 2016. The firms it is attracting are a mixture of sizes which indicates a move away from its small business ethos, but Adams refutes the claim he is turning his back on small firms.
“We’ve managed to secure a lot of the major accounts which is a good move because traditionally we’ve been known as the network which specialises in the smaller firm. That remains the case because that’s where our core business is and that’s where I’m comfortable. We didn’t really look for larger firms before, but we’re comfortable with some of the larger firms we took on because I know them, frankly, and I know their past history.”
The ‘sensible’ growth strategy takes on more meaning when viewed in the context of the recent tie-up with Tenet. Put simply, Adams wanted to win the membership of two large AR firms which he felt were right for the Stonebridge culture. His network didn’t supply the services needed to support the ARs’ wealth advisers so he created a partnership with a network which did, although in practice Adams says it was a complex deal to engineer. That’s not put him off though as Adams says he hopes there will be more tie-ups like this to come.
Richard Adams – a brief biography and quick-fire question round
Proudest career moment?
The 25th anniversary of Stonebridge Group in 2013. It gave me an opportunity to look back at our growth from a one-man-band operation to our current situation as a medium-sized network.
Biggest challenge ahead?
To ensure continued and sustained growth of Stonebridge Group without the dilution of our proposition. Our culture is the most important driver for me and I will fight tooth and nail to maintain what has worked for us for 27 years.
If you were Prime Minister for the day, what would be your first policy change?
As far as financial services is concerned, full FCA regulation of claims management companies would be high on my agenda.
What’s the best present you’ve ever given?
On my son’s 21st birthday I gave him my watch and took him to Las Vegas with his buddy. Unfortunately it reminded me that I’m no longer young any more.