AJ Bell chief Andy Bell sees pandemic’s silver lining

Andy Bell has a message for investors paralyzed by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict: don’t panic.

The co-founder of AJ Bell, one of Britain’s biggest investment websites, has seen a few meltdowns in his time. And even though the markets are on a rollercoaster ride after Russia invaded Ukraine, his advice is that investors should not lose their temper and make rash decisions.

“It’s understandable that UK investors are worried about the impact the dispute could have,” he says. “But Russia-specific exposure is likely to be a tiny proportion of a well-diversified portfolio.

“Investors should check that they are comfortable with their investments, but in most cases there will be nothing to do.”

Pioneer: Andy Bell is now looking to launch Dodl, an app for novice armchair investors

His comments will reassure those who watched with concern as the FTSE100 fell 4%, before rebounding within days and then falling again last week.

Bell, a multi-millionaire whose company manages £75.6 billion in assets, is keeping tabs on the market after setting up the website he started with friend Nicholas Littlefair.

Starting out in 1995 with a loan of £10,000, they are now one of the UK’s most popular brokers for individuals looking to invest in stocks and funds.

AJ Bell is itself listed on the FTSE250 index and has over 398,000 customers. But Bell is not content to just stand still.

He’s already seen a new wave of so-called “living room” investors dip their toes in the water during the pandemic. He now wants to recruit a new generation eager to put his money to work.

In the next few months, he will launch Dodl, an application aimed at novice investors.

“We hope this will help us get closer to the group of younger and less experienced investors,” he says, adding that the trading commission will be “very low” at 0.15% per year.

“Investments are back as an acceptable topic of conversation now. When people saw there was going to be a lockdown and easyJet’s shares were affected, it made sense to people.

“They can then start to take a position: ‘I think we’re coming out of lockdown now, so I think those Ryanair or easyJet stocks are going to start coming back’.

“I compare it to a conversation at a dinner party. Not that I ever go to dinner parties,” he laughs.

He’s more of a family man, he says. But the 55-year-old admits he has similar conversations with his wife and four adult children around the dinner table.

The lockdown is over and people are going back to the office. But Bell – whose main rival is Hargreaves Lansdown, which has 1.6 million customers – is optimistic it can attract those who want to invest for the long term, not just budding day-traders making a turn. quick.

He says: “The state has done a great job of helping people, but the amount of money it has cost has probably been a wake-up call for a lot of people who think, ‘Actually, I have to take care of my own future finances.’ Bell himself needn’t be too worried – his net worth was estimated at £360million in 2019 and he still owns around 22% of the investment site.

AJ Bell handed out nearly £40million in dividends in December after profits rose and 87,000 new customers joined the business in the year to the end of September.

Its own shares now trade at £2.91, down from £1.60 per share when it floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2018.

Unlike most other IPOs, Bell ensured that smaller retail investors could buy shares in its initial public offering (IPO) alongside big city pension funds and institutions.

“We have deliberately decided to make the shares available to our clients. I think we would have been shot if we hadn’t done that,” he jokes.

“I think the flip side is that we need to make sure that retail investors aren’t just exposed to weak IPOs, where the only reason to bring them in is that they haven’t received a request. enough of the institutions. The whole system is played to exclude retail investors.

“For them to be included, there has to be a very pushy CEO saying, ‘I don’t care what you say, Mr. Bank Advisor, we’re opening our IPO to retail investors.'”

Experts say the exclusion of individual investors from the London stock market is one of the reasons why some fast-growing companies choose to list overseas – to have a growing pool of shareholders .

Last month, the London stock market received a major blow when the owner of £30 billion British chipmaker Arm said it would list the Cambridge-based company on the Nasdaq at New York. “It’s a shame that a British company wants to float in the United States, as opposed to London,” he laments.

“If these companies all start registering there, then they start setting up the headquarters there, then they start building the skills there.”

But he points to the blows some tech stocks have taken in the UK, saying: “I can see why they might be persuaded to go to the US.”

Is investing in Arm a topic of conversation around the Bell dinner table? He’s laughing. “No, I tried to bring my children back from the precipice called crypto.”

But he adds: “The UK is quite conservative, it is dominated by pension funds, which are naturally conservative investors.

“We should encourage these companies by removing all barriers to listing in the UK and then try to get a range of institutional investors who really like high-growth tech stocks.”

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