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Sanlam UK on a quest to be ‘go-to brand for intermediaries’

‘There are plenty of opportunities, most of the life companies have died’ says former Thesis director


The IFA sector is a tough nut to crack, but financial services firm Sanlam UK has outlined its ambitions to cater for businesses in the industry.

This comes after it bought the private client business, distribution network and direct support teams of Thesis Asset Management.

“Sanlam is an interesting brand.” said Lawrence Cook, head of intermediaries at Sanlam. “We are a well-known name, but not a well-known brand in the intermediary space.

“Just after the deal was announced, we met business owners of IFAs about Sanlam. They know us but didn’t know a lot about us. That is the challenge we have.

“We need to get people from knowing who we are to knowing who we are and what we do. I think the first few months is about getting our name out there about what we do and our capability.

“We haven’t got a 20 or 30-year legacy of running a life company in the UK like our competitors have, but I think we are a fresh new face.”

Deep pockets

Cook said that Sanlam saw Thesis as a key element of its intermediary ambitions.

“Thesis had already delivered a number of these type of services and this was one of those things that emerged in the selling conversation with Sanlam,” he said.

“Sanlam had just started to offer something like this in South Africa and were on the cusp of offering this in the UK, and Thesis had already done it on a small scale.

“Thesis has been able to merge its UK experience with Sanlam’s global capability and deep pockets. The team in Thesis have all moved over so there is continuity for existing clients, and expertise to call on.”


Cook, who was previously a director at Thesis, added: “There are plenty of opportunities, most of the life companies have died.

“There has been a mass extinction in 20 years. The number of wrap platforms seems to be shrinking not growing.

“I think we are one of the few businesses in the UK that has capability across the whole value chain.

“All of the stuff we do someone else already does. Put them altogether not everybody does it, so that is powerful.

“In the next two-to-three years, Sanlam will be seen as the go-to brand for intermediaries.”


The distribution space can become a lucrative one mainly because IFAs are increasingly looking to outsource parts of their business.

So, where does Cook see advisers needing firms like Sanlam?

“Most small IFAs by definition don’t have scale,” Cook said. “If you don’t have scale, it means the cost to serve per client is a lot higher.

“It is a lot more of the grunt work. An IFA said to me the other day that to recommend a new fund in a portfolio, he has to issue 17 pieces of paper. If you repeat that across many hundreds of clients in an advisory business that feels like a lot of grunt work.

“The client is not paying for that, they are paying for being advised and they are paying for the trust an IFA has in the recommendations they make.

“And hopefully they achieve their financial goals. All the stuff behind the scenes, with the tapping of the keyboards and sending emails, that is not what a client wants it’s what they get.

“I think the trend of outsourcing will accelerate, and I think firms that are best place to provide a broad service offering will be best place.”


Cook is under no illusions that outsourcing is not a “new story” but he believes that “mass-customisation needs to happen on a wholesale level”.

“What I mean by that is an IFA who is very clear about their proposition and the pride they have in that, they don’t want to give that up,” he added. “They don’t want to take an off the shelf solution and plug it to their clients.

“What they would rather do is take a strategic view and say to firms like Sanlam, ‘you can do all of the heavy lifting to help deliver our proposition’.

“You can see the pride that IFAs have, despite the hassles of running an advisory, and challenges of regulation, many still run their own advisory portfolios.

“They do it because they have invested emotionally and intellectually into the brand. Why would they give it up? That is what the client has bought.

“With Thesis, and now Sanlam, what we are looking to do is to understand what that means and what specifically the IFA is looking to deliver.

“Then, we are happy to shape our offering to their wants and that is where the customisation comes in at a wholesale level, which is a new thing in the marketplace.”

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