The growth period driven by Matthew Rowe at CountPlus will come to an end after the listed wealth management firm announced the chief executive and managing director will not be renewing his employment contract.

Rowe will assist with a handover to current chief financial officer Laurent Toussaint and depart CountPlus on February 24.

Rowe’s departure comes after a five year stint that saw the firm pick up CBA’s Count Financial for a steal at $2.5 million in mid-2019, a far cry from the $40 million it was valued at by Wilsons Equity Management and even further from the $373 million founder Barry Lambert sold it to CBA for in 2011.

At the time Count Financial had $8.1 billion in client funds under administration spread across 160 firms. Its 359-strong adviser network vaulting CountPlus to the eleventh biggest licensee owner in the country.

Since then, the group embarked on a concerted acquisition spree, bolting numerous practices onto its converged accounting and advice network whereby CountPlus takes a roughly 40 per cent stake in a practice, generally with three to five principals, and adds what Rowe calls “a layer of expertise”.

Some of the recent investments for CountPlus include Venture Financial Advisers, Affinitas Financial Planning and DMG Financial Holdings.

Along with Paul Barrett’s AZ NGA, CountPlus has been one of the biggest investors in advice businesses during Rowe’s tenure.

Above the parapet

Rowe has been clear during his tenure on his intention to be seen as a leader in the industry.

Harvard-educated, the ex-Financial Planning Association chair went public in 2019 with his conviction that accountants will fill the void opened up by the adviser exodus.

“The deficit will be filled by professional accountants in whom the public has greater confidence,” Rowe said, referencing a CoreData study stating people believe accountants are 82.3 per cent likely to act in the best interests of their client than advisers at 41.2 per cent.

Despite his accounting advocacy, Rowe was never a fan of the limited license regime, calling it “a bit of a furphy”.

“You can’t be half pregnant; your either giving advice or you’re not,” he added.

During the pandemic-induced market swings in early 2020, Rowe sent a missive to CountPlus firms setting his expectations which included “setting the tone” both in the office and with clients.

“No panic. No rumours. Steady hands,” it stated.

Change of the guard

The CEO’s departure comes at a curious time for the CountPlus group, as it was only three months ago that Rowe was reappointed.

Despite rumours of internal conflict at the group, it’s understood the decision to step away was his.

According to a company release to the ASX, Laurent Toussaint will assume the role of interim CEO while an executive search is launched for Rowe’s replacement.

Toussaint’s declared remuneration in the stop-gap role is $380,000 (including super) with additional short and long-term incentives “if conditions are satisfied”.

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