Staff to share £2m wind­fall as stock­bro­ker AJ Bell floats

Founder will re­ward work­ers as firm plans to go pub­lic in dif­fi­cult mar­ket to raise its pro­file

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Lucy Bur­ton

STAFF at stock­bro­ker AJ Bell will share a £2m wind­fall when the “DIY” in­vest­ment gi­ant goes pub­lic later this year, The Sun­day Tele­graph has learnt.

Founder Andy Bell, who is tar­get­ing a £500m stock mar­ket list­ing in the com­ing months, has told his 750-per­son work­force that they will each re­ceive a free share award worth £750 af­ter the fund shop floats.

The multi-mil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur has also promised staff that they can buy shares up to the value of £1,800 when the busi­ness floats and pay the firm back over 12 months.

He said the wind­fall will en­cour­age em­ploy­ees to “think like busi­ness own­ers” and will act as an in­cen­tive to grow.

“Fol­low­ing the norm and do­ing our of­fer­ing be­hind closed doors didn’t feel right to me,” Mr Bell told The Tele­graph.

“Some of our staff have been with us for over 20 years.”

The busi­ness, which has £46bn of as­sets un­der man­age­ment, has al­ready said that its 197,000 cus­tomers will have “ex­clu­sive” ac­cess to its shares at the time of the float.

The list­ing will also cre­ate a wind­fall for City ty­coon Michael Spencer, who promised to back the list­ing ear­lier this year.

Well-known fund man­ager Neil Wood­ford sold off his fi­nal stake in the com­pany to his for­mer em­ployer In­vesco Per­pet­ual in Feb­ru­ary.

Mr Bell, who was born in Liver­pool, set up the busi­ness in Manch­ester with a col­league and £10,000 of per­sonal loans in 1995, two years af­ter he took a ca­reer break to teach foot­ball and ten­nis in Amer­ica. He is sell­ing just 3pc of his hold­ing in the float, leav­ing him with a 25pc stake.

He wants to raise his firm’s pro­file so that it can steal mar­ket share from arch-ri­val Har­g­reaves Lans­down, which also of­fers in­vest­ment prod­ucts on­line but, with over £91bn of as­sets un­der man­age­ment, is much larger. The 2007 list­ing of the Bris­tol-based fund su­per­mar­ket net­ted founders Pe­ter Har­g­reaves and Stephen Lans­down wind­falls of £81.6m and £70.4m, and made mil­lion­aires of 20 of its em­ploy­ees.

How­ever its growth seems to be slow­ing. Har­g­reaves warned of an “in­dus­try-wide slow­down” af­ter post­ing a de­cline in net new busi­ness over the sum­mer months, an an­nounce­ment that sent its share slid­ing.

Yet, AJ Bell last week posted a 16pc boost in as­sets un­der man­age­ment for the year to Septem­ber, as well as a 20pc in­crease in cus­tomer num­bers.

De­spite the strong num­bers, AJ Bell is pre­par­ing to float against a back­drop of mar­ket volatil­ity. It also fol­lows a raft of dis­ap­point­ing Lon­don list­ings, which bankers say have damp­ened ap­petite for share of­fer­ings among City in­vestors. Shares in car­maker As­ton Martin and peer-to-peer lender Fund­ing Cir­cle both slumped fol­low­ing their long-an­tic­i­pated de­buts in Lon­don ear­lier this month, prompt­ing a num­ber of com­pa­nies to pull the plug on their plans.

Lit­i­ga­tion fun­der Van­nin Cap­i­tal and French build­ing ma­te­ri­als sup­plier Con­so­lis both shelved list­ings this month.

“The first-half [of 2019] will be sparse,” said one banker.

The FTSE 100 is on track for its worst month since the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, on Fri­day slump­ing briefly to its low­est level since 2016 fol­low­ing dis­ap­point­ing up­dates from Google and Ama­zon.

“Global mar­kets are clos­ing out a mem­o­rable week, with sharp losses across the board,” said IG’S Joshua Ma­hony on Fri­day.

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