High-profile business coach Sue Viskovic has inked a deal to sell her Elixir Consulting business to Philippines-based Virtual Business Partners as the service providers prepare for what they anticipate will be a wave of disruptive change from artificial intelligence (AI).
Professional Planner can reveal that VBP will acquire 100 per cent of Elixir in a transaction for an undisclosed sum expected to be announced and take effect from today. Viskovic will join the VBP as head of consulting and the combined firm will change its name to Vital Business Partners. It is understood most of Elixir’s staff will also join VBP.
After 16 years coaching advisers, Viskovic says she is proud of the industry’s evolution and Elixir’s role as a champion of more holistic professional service beyond traditional investment management.
“The market [has] really matured in the sense of the value proposition that they provide and how they charge for it,” she tells Professional Planner. “We very rarely hear people talk in terms of FUM.
“The majority of firms are on a fixed fee model, with profits built in delivering value that far outweighs just purely an investment proposition. And I think we’ve seen a lot of maturity in the way that advisers are articulating that.”
The evolution of the profession from investment manager to trusted adviser and strategic partner makes them more resilient against AI, she says – technology which is already beginning to disrupt portfolio construction and asset allocation.
Similar thinking lay behind VBP’s decision to buy Elixir, which provides service akin to those of its clients in that they involve more tailored, strategic and emotionally-charged advice services that can only be provided by human beings.
“With the advent of automation and AI, there would be quite a few activities that [VBP’s] staff do that wouldn’t need to be done by humans anymore,” Viskovic says. “So, rather than be disrupted, they wanted to be part of the disruption themselves.
“They’ve also recognised that it’s not enough just to have the tool on the shelf ready. There are significant change management processes or programs that firms have to go through.”
In a statement to Professional Planner, VBP chief executive David Carney confirms the sentiments. “If VBP does not lead the charge in process automation and challenge our current outsourcing model, we will have the changes forced upon us,” Carney says.
“By expanding our service offering to further support our clients with their growth aspirations we are able to continue to grow our business. The combined business of Elixir Consulting and VBP is able to offer a superior service to clients and will position us as the ‘go to’ growth partner for advice firms looking to innovate and scale.”
The company works with more than 260 local financial advice firms. It is backed commercially by Paul Barrett’s AZ NGA network and AMP-aligned advice firm Invest Blue, both of which joined the outsourced business processing firm’s register last year.
Despite VBP’s traditional focus, Viskovic has not always been an advocate of the tactic of outsourced business processing, telling Professional Planner in 2020 that it was not a panacea for growth and did not always result in profitability. “Just outsourcing won’t make you better if your systems and processes aren’t there in the first place,” she said at that time.
Though she will become an employee and equity partner of VBP following completion of the deal, Viskovic says she will retain sovereignty over the coaching her team provides, including advising against outsourcing where necessary.
“We’ve always been Switzerland,” she says. “We don’t take a commission. We don’t take a referral fee. We don’t recommend certain things other than what’s best for our clients.”
But she says the strategy is “absolutely” right for many of her clients. “We do know it is one of the key elements of building out more efficiencies in your business without having to just keep driving cost of advice up,” she says.
Either way, the two firms are aligned in wanting to support the profession and in believing it is facing considerable tailwinds in the years and decades ahead.
“In terms of their opportunity, I think it is phenomenal, because there just aren’t enough advisers now to serve the number of clients that need it.”
This article was edited on 9 November 2023 to clarify VBP will acquire 100 per cent of Elixir, not 100 per cent of shares.