Meet Bruce Ely-Johnston, chief commercial officer at AdviceBridge

Bruce Ely-Johnston, AdviceBridge

By AdviceBridge

In his role as chief commercial officer at AdviceBridge, Bruce Ely-Johnston looks after everything on the commercial front – including relationships with firms, marketing, product improvement, and strategy. 

He’s involved in a wide range of other things too, including more business-wide decisions along with the hands-on nitty-gritty of making calls or writing blogs. 

Speaking about his role with AdviceBridge, Bruce says: “I love the varied nature of the role and enjoy being involved in running the business.”

Here we learn more from Bruce about his role with AdviceBridge and his views on the future of advice.

What drew you to be involved in the AdviceBridge platform?

I’ve reviewed (and implemented) various pieces of technology, systems, and solutions over the past 10 years for wealth and advice businesses of differing sizes. But when I saw the AdviceBridge solution, it stood out.

It reminded me of the Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It’s such a giant leap forward in terms of its capabilities, there wasn’t anything else like it.

Advice firms have been adopting more and more solutions which each solve a single problem over the past two decades; combined, they just compounded the problem.

This caused all the issues we are aware of, for example, re-keying, copying and pasting, workarounds, using templates, manual operation, and drawn-out procedures. It’s all become a bit messy. 

The AdviceBridge solution overcomes much of this and does something no other company offers: the ability to undertake the analysis of a client’s holdings across GIAs, ISAs and pensions in much the same way as a paraplanner or adviser.

It does these tasks in a matter of seconds, rather than the hours it would ordinarily take a human. In fact, it cuts the time for onboarding a typical client from the 25 to 35 hours it “currently” takes to under five hours. That’s a business cost saving in time of more than 80%. 

It was just a no-brainer to me. I wanted to get involved as soon as I saw it, as I genuinely believe it will change the market, significantly improving advice firms up and down the country.

What led you to this point?

I’ve been in the wealth and advice space my whole career, whether promoting solutions to advisers or running wealth and advisory teams. 

The first business I joined was Willis (now Willis Towers Watson), the world’s third largest insurance broker. The graduate scheme gave me great experience in various parts of the business, but being in such a large organisation wasn’t for me. I moved to Rothschild Asset Management, which was much smaller, and I felt I could make a difference.

Fast forward to 2008, when I’d gained enough experience to set up an extremely successful sub-company (for a wealth business). Initially, I had to do everything myself, from designing the product to promoting it, which taught me a thing or two. The product was new to the market, so there was a lot of educating advisers about its benefits, but it really took off. It reminds me a lot of AdviceBridge and its proposition in that way.

In 2012, I joined the board of Sanlam Wealth (as well as several other firms) to help launch the UK business. 

My main role has always been business development, which has meant spending a significant amount of time looking at how to improve processes and procedures. Most of this hinged around technology, so I reviewed and implemented various projects for the businesses I worked for. 

Ultimately, I could see that technology would become more important, so I started to focus on this side of the business. This fits well with my personality type too, as I love looking for ways to improve things. 

I’ve never worked for a company where I didn’t truly believe in what they were doing, that it was unique, or that it brought a better way of doing something to the market. 

With more than 20 years of financial services experience, I’ve had the pleasure to work with some amazing people too, having sat on the board with Paul Bradshaw (Chairman – Skandia / Nucleus / SJP), Angus Samuels (Chairman – Punter Southall / Nucleus), Mark Howlett (CEO – Broadstone / EQ Investors) and Mark Allen (CEO – Dairy Crest) to name-drop a few!

I genuinely want to help clients improve their businesses along with the firm I’m working for, and now I’m looking forward to the next chapter!

What’s your specialism?

I’d have to say that I have more of a uniqueness as opposed to a specialism. 

There are very few people who have worked on both sides of the fence – in running an adviser business/team and working for firms that promote to them. 

Equally, I’ve done this with small firms through to large nationals, working at a junior and senior (board) level. Having done this at different firms provides a much greater insight into how a company functions, what works, what doesn’t, and so on. 

My experience in a range of sectors, including M&A, private equity, RegTech, corporate finance, private client and stockbroking, as well as with a variety of products and solutions, means I bring a truly unique perspective to the table.

Also, I’m interested in how businesses operate, so I’ve read a lot about the subject, including:

  • Fans Not Customers by Vernon Hill 
  • Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Wickman and Gino
  • Unsexy Business: How 12 Entrepreneurs in Ordinary Businesses Achieved Extraordinary Success and How You Can Too by Jamie Waller, Oliver Hunt, et al.
  • Way of the Wolf: Straight Line Selling: Master the Art of Persuasion, Influence, and Success by Jordan Belfort and John Murray
  • What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark H. McCormack
  • Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan
  • Good to Great by Jim Collins
  • New Power: Why outsiders are winning, institutions are failing, and how the rest of us can keep up in the age of mass participation by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms
  • Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by James Collins and Jerry Porras
  • Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The list goes on!

What do you consider to be the most exciting thing that AdviceBridge brings to the market?

The advice engine, with its abilities to undertake the analysis it does. This is such a game-changer for the advice industry that it’s exciting to think about where it could lead the market and how it could help so many consumers.

However, firms often remark on our understanding and deep level of experience in the key areas. There are many developers and tech companies that have built solutions for advice firms that don’t understand the context. This results in the product never quite working in the way it should, or only solving one problem. 

That’s why we see some advice firms do well marketing their own homegrown, simpler solutions to other advice businesses. Having people who really understand what advisers and paraplanners do while being able to translate that into technical jargon for a developer to build seems to really resonate with firms. 

These are just two of the comments I’ve received, which makes it really satisfying: 

“What really appeals is their understanding of adviser practices and how tech can benefit all involved. They care about making the delivery of advice simpler and have built an impressive solution to streamline the advice journey.”

“I’ve looked at a number of solutions, and it’s when you ask about the back office working with new tech that it starts falling apart […] but everything seems to hang together really well, and I’m keener now than I was before to crack on and do this.”

What role do you believe technology will play in financial planning in the years to come?

A significant one – for advisers to be effective and offer consumers the service they require, there’s only one direction of travel. And that’s through technological improvement. 

However, for advice to really be able to catch up with the services that are available through technology in other walks of life, changes to regulation will be a big factor. 

The regulator talks about the advice gap and tries to put the onus on advice firms. But I believe real change requires them to understand their role and collaborate (properly) with advisers and tech firms. This is the only way they’ll achieve a step change in advice provision.