AJ Bell has been judged a better cultural fit for Helena Morrissey than St James’s Place as she exits the FTSE 100 wealth manager a little over a year after joining.
Sky News reported on Monday night Morrissey (pictured) would be exiting SJP after just 14 months to chair rival wealth manager and platform group AJ Bell.
This was confirmed by AJ Bell the following day, with the FTSE 250 platform group revealing Morrissey would be joining the business as a non-executive director on 1 July, with the aim of succeeding Les Platts as chairman at the next AGM in January 2022.
In a separate statement SJP said it had been informed of Morrissey’s decision and that she would step down as a director of the company at the end of its AGM on 17 May “to avoid any potential conflict”.
An insider told Sky News Morrissey’s split from SJP was “amicable” though she is said to have been keen to become the FTSE 100 wealth manager’s chair. The role was awarded to Threadneedle Asset Management founder Paul Manduca toward the end of December.
Morrissey said she was “sorry” to be exiting SJP “after a relatively short time and wish my colleagues well”. “I have a great opportunity to chair AJ Bell and it’s clearly not possible to do both roles. I look forward to continuing to work with SJP through the Diversity Project.”
‘There doesn’t seem to be a good cultural fit between SJP and Helena Morrissey’
“Helena is an incredibly principled individual and I’m not too surprised to hear she is leaving SJP after such a short tenure,” said Martin Bamford, founder and CEO of Bamford Media.
“There doesn’t seem to be a good cultural fit between SJP and Helena, and I’m sure she will be far more at home with AJ Bell’s culture.”
CWC Research managing director Clive Waller believes the “attraction of chairing AJ Bell” was more likely the deciding factor in Morrissey’s decision to exit SJP.
“I cannot seriously believe that Baroness Helena discovered anything at SJP that she was unaware of,” he said. “The charges and the cufflinks issues were very well known.”
Morrissey’s appointment to the board at the start of 2020 was viewed as a crucial win for SJP which had been trying to modernise its brand after a barrage of bad press around its outdated and aggressive sales culture and its male-dominated board.
Weeks after joining she criticised the wealth manager’s charging structure for being too complex in an interview with the Telegraph and touched on the “bad optics” of its controversial cufflinks and cruises perks system which was scrapped not long after.
She also discussed the importance of attracting more female talent to SJP’s business. SJP had the fourth highest gender pay gap in the investment industry in 2019 and one of the worst bonus gaps.
Shortly after Morrissey joined SJP, it hired two other senior women, Emma Griffin and Lesley Ann-Nash, as independent directors.
Female board appointments ‘a step in the right direction’ for AJ Bell
Morrissey’s appointment has also been hailed as “a step in the right direction” for AJ Bell which has been criticised for its lack of senior female leadership.
In addition to hiring Morrissey, the platform giant announced it would be appointing ex-Bupa CEO Evelyn Bourke as a non-executive director.
Bourke, who is currently an independent director at Marks and Spencer and chair of the audit committee at the Bank of Ireland, will join on 1 July.
After current chairman Platts steps down in 2022 this means AJ Bell will have an even split of men and women on its board. But its eight-strong executive management team, led by CEO Andy Bell, is still all-male.
Bamford said that “anything that improves the diversity of a leadership in a business should be celebrated”.
“We should strive for progress rather than perfection when it comes to gender equality on boards and in senior leadership teams, and Helena’s appointment is most definitely a step in the right direction for AJ Bell.”
Not a diversity play
Boring Money CEO Holly Mackay views the hires as a “very smart move” by AJ Bell.
“Helena and Evelyn are both class acts and I don’t see this as a diversity play,” Mackay said. “I simply see it as Andy Bell picking two of the very best, smartest, nicest and on the ball senior level directors out there to boost his growing business.
“Andy is hugely strong when it comes to interpersonal skills and human relationships and so are Helena and Evelyn,” she continued. “I can see the cultural fit and a common, genuine shared interest in the customer.”
Waller agreed with this sentiment, calling Bourke a “formidable woman” who “will add great value to AJ Bell, as will Baroness Helena”.
Helena Morrissey reflects on AJ Bell’s growing business
Morrissey said she had “long admired” AJ Bell and “its commitment to helping people to invest”. “Its low cost, easy to use investment platform is exactly what people need to help them start their investing journey and build financial security for themselves and their families,” she added.
“The business is growing quickly and I’m looking forward to joining the team to help build on that success and shape the future direction of the company.”
Morrissey is currently lead non-executive director for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, reporting to the foreign secretary.
She became a baroness last summer, having been nominated by prime minister Boris Johnson. She was made a dame in 2017 while she was head of personal investing at Legal & General Investment Management. Before that she was chief executive at Newton Investment Management for over 15 years.
In 2010 she founded the 30% Club in a bid to get FTSE 100 companies to hire more women for their executive teams and is chair of the Diversity Project.