Back in August last year, TenFifty CEO Brendan Johnson was enjoying a casual Sunday afternoon at the Steyne Hotel in Manly when he received a message that would lead to major change for the fledgling advice community.
“I was with a few mates watching the Raiders play the Bulldogs and I got invited to a Sunday night meeting,” he recalls.
What followed – the announcement that IOOF had purchased NAB’s MLC, whose GWM dealer group licensed the TenFifty cohort – stunned the amiable CEO as much as everyone else. “I have to say I was shocked,” he says. “It was a crazy period.”
While the $1.44 billion acquisition of MLC’s advice, platforms and asset management business was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for IOOF according to the group’s CEO Renato Mota, it left TenFifty in an uncertain position.
The community, which was in the process of consolidating all the Meritum, Apogee and GWM advisers under the GWM license, was effectively put in flux. The phones were “blowing up”, Johnson says, but the CEO didn’t have a lot of information to give stakeholders.
“There was no immediate word on TenFifty. It was clear IOOF was not buying the [MLC] AFSLs but initially it was not clear on whether IOOF was intending to work with the TenFifty brand, which was quite new,” he says.
“You can’t buy a community and a concept, so at that point advisers could scatter and join different communities and licensees or do whatever they want, they were all free to make their own decision.”
Just when a splintering of the TenFifty community was most likely, the opposite happened. The uncertainty ended up consolidating the group’s collective resolve to stay together regardless of the IOOF/MLC shakeup.
“Looking back, this was the best way to test if we had something meaningful, because if it wasn’t the advisers would have scattered,” Johnson says. “It was an awesome period, it really tested whether our team had enough belief to continue, notwithstanding a transaction between two huge companies.”
Lift and drop
Once contact with the IOOF team was established, the wealth management giant and the advice community starting meeting to try and understand where each was coming from and where they were heading.
“[IOOF head of advice] Darren Whereat and the team got to know us while we got to know them and their vision for advice,” Johnson recalls. “After a few months of courting, my advisory board and the vast majority of advisers felt this was the right place to continue what we’d started.”
Around 115 practices in the TenFifty group agreed to come across to IOOF, and almost 200 advisers.
The clincher for TenFifty was IOOF’s agreeance that the group should retain its invite-only status, as well as a due diligence process focussed on the value of community.
The licensing issue was also important, with the group eventually coalescing under IOOF’s self-employed Consultum brand.
Johnson says the transition was “smooth”, effectively a “lift and drop” from the old AFSL to the new, with only a day or two lay-over between systems.
“For us it was not even a discussion point, we just plugged into Consultum,” he says. “One day we were licenced by GWM, the next day Consultum.”
Johnson isn’t exactly ambivalent on the licensing side of the union, but it’s clear there is less dependence on the AFSL for TenFifty advisers. They already have a community, which is something most licensees put front and centre in their value proposition.
Regardless, he says the TenFifty advisers are opening up to its “second family” and the advantages of being connected to the largest wealth management provider in the country.
While the potential to partner up with IOOF practices for M&A opportunities is an obvious benefit, the group’s extensive advice technology suite is a more immediate and tangible prize.
“We’re now in the phase of getting to know all the different parts of the value proposition across IOOF,” he says. “Number one is WealthCentral – we’re soon to pilot that – then it’s getting to know different parts of the business that we couldn’t get to know till the transaction completed.”
Johnson knows there may be bumps in the road while the two groups get better acquainted. The shine of joining another large vertically integrated institution may wear off.
TenFifty advisers have also had multiple licensee swaps in the last few years and he’s acutely aware “change fatigue” is sapping energy those advisers would rather spend on their clients.
And of course, in a perfect world the two groups would be getting to know each other over a beer at the Steyne rather than on zoom calls.
But at least the group has its future mapped out and a clear path forward.
“We had our TenFifty advisory meeting yesterday and I asked everyone to describe how they were feeling,” he says. “The words people used most was ‘optimism’.”