Wealth manager Dolfin has always been something of a puzzle to its competitors – not to mention the journalists covering the sector.
On the one hand there’s its slick website, shining laboratory-like Mayfair offices, and creative press engagement. For media investment briefings – at most firms a snooze-fest of epic proportions – Dolfin’s CIO Simon Black uses a wine tasting “world tour” to talk about the regions and sectors he’s keen on.
The 2013-founded firm feels young, creative, and cool – a world away from the stuffy surrounds in which money managers to the wealthy usually work.
It has also attracted some talented people, luring in alumni of Deutsche Bank, UBP, JP Morgan, and Credit Suisse.
On the other, staff turnover is high with some of the aforementioned talent not sticking around long. The strategy at the £3 billion AUM private client investment manager can seem confused (dozens of programmers in Amsterdam?), and the firm seems to lack discipline at times.
Staff gossip flagrantly and departees have been known to ring up journalists out of the blue to air their grievances. Great for reporters – not so great for senior management. One former staffer painted a picture of millennial upstarts who have no interest in learning from their older, more experienced colleagues.
As I relay some of this to Dolfin’s newly arrived Mr Fixit, Robin Davies, (officially head of transformation), he looks on the verge of nodding, and opts for diplomacy: “It’s interesting what you say about the ‘start-up vibe’ because obviously it’s a firm that has come up very quickly, and I think what we’ve reached now is a juncture, which culminated at the end of April with a step-change for the business.”
He’s talking about the departure of former chief executive Denis Nagy, an intense thirty-something Russian whose former career it was difficult to get a handle on.
“A lot changed then, and it wasn’t just one person’s departure,” Mr Davies continues.
“As you were saying, it was this ‘cool start-up’ and with that comes a team that obviously has to have the energy, drive, and boldness to get the business growing as fast as this one has.
“But with that comes challenges as well. The challenge that the firm faced up to that point was one of a relatively young and energetic team managing the complexity of a regulated financial services company.”
As Mr Davies goes on to explain, it is now time for the firm to “mature” and professionalise. He himself forms part of this new look, having been brought in at the insistence of the chief executive designate – whose name will be revealed when his appointment is approved by the regulator.
Mr Davies, a management consultant, has sensible City pedigree – having, after leaving the British Army, held senior operations and change posts at the likes of Citi, Deutsche Bank, and Lloyds.
The firm will be changing its governance structure and implementing a proper board of directors as opposed to the advisory panel it formerly had in place. The board will be chaired by Rodney Baker-Bates, an existing adviser to the firm and experienced NED who simultaneously chairs Willis Towers Watson.
Dolfin's main backer, wealthy businessman Roman Joukovski – who was previously linked by marriage to Ukrainian oligarchs – will step back from the business entirely, having been an adviser to it.