SRA approves transfer of law firm owned by AIM-listed company

Millard: Head of law firm and general counsel

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has approved new owners for an alternative business structure (ABS) set up by an AIM-listed personal pension provider.

Bristol firm Rivergate Legal is owned by Curtis Banks, which is set to be acquired by Nucleus Financial Platforms, one of the UK’s leading independent adviser platforms.

The Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority also had to issue approvals, which they have done, while the Competition & Markets Authority has concluded that the transaction does not qualify for investigation under merger control law.

The deal, first announced in January, will see Nucleus spend £242m to buy Curtis Banks, creating a retirement-focused adviser platform with approximately £80bn of assets under administration, nearly 5,000 advisers and 250,000 customers.

Curtis Banks is one of the UK’s leading administrators of self-invested personal pensions and small self-administered schemes for employers and Rivergate Legal was set up in 2018 to provide advice to schemes seeking to invest in commercial property within their pension portfolios.

When it launched, head of legal practice Gemma Millard – also Curtis Banks’s general counsel – was joined by just one trainee legal executive in the Rivergate team but it now has four solicitors and two paralegals.

Ms Millard told Legal Futures: “We are extremely excited for the future. The successful completion of the acquisition, which is still subject to, amongst other things, the approval of the court at a court sanction hearing, would mean Rivergate will be the only SRA-regulated entity within the wider group.

“This will give us the opportunity to support customers of a market-leading platform and retirement group with no less than 14,000 commercial properties across their combined retirement portfolios.

“Nucleus’s established reputation and strength in the retirement-focused adviser platform market, as well as our shared customer-centric approach and aligned corporate values can only be a further added benefit.

“I believe that our teams’ proven expertise can only enhance the group proposition and benefits which can be delivered to clients across the full wealth spectrum.”

In a statement about the regulatory approvals, Nucleus said: “In a market where scale is increasingly important, this transformational deal will enable further investments in technology, people, products, price and service for the benefit of advisers and their customers.

“For the immediate future both businesses will continue to operate independently and there will be no immediate change for advisers or clients of either business.” In time, Curtis Banks will be rebranded as Nucleus.

Ms Millard explained that Rivergate’s advantage over other commercial property specialists was its knowledge of the “additional requirements, regulation and other considerations for a pension scheme acquisition”.

She added: “This is invaluable to clients who are seeking to make the most prudent long-term investment choices for their own retirements.”

The acquisition was approved by Curtis Banks shareholders in February and remains subject to a court sanction hearing in the coming weeks.

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