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07 March 2004
Scotland on Sunday
Spowart snubs banks to join Adventi

JIM Spowart, who stunned the banking sector when he resigned from Intelligent Finance last year, has spurned approaches from other banks and joined a fast-growing Edinburgh firm that rescues small firms hit by computer failures.

Spowart will join IT firm Adventi and has taken a "significant minority stake" in the company which he believes will become "the AA of the IT sector".

His move will surprise the banking sector which expected him to stick with an industry he helped re-invent. Apart from establishing IF, part of HBOS, he founded Standard Life Bank and was instrumental in the creation of wealth manager St James Place and Direct Line insurance.

He had been talking to a number of potential partners about launching an internet and telephone-based business banking service.

But after completing his six-months restricted covenant he has opted out of financial services to become the second biggest shareholder in Adventi behind Graham Bucknall, managing director, who founded the company nearly two years ago.

Bucknall and Spowart, who becomes director of business strategy, want to create a nationwide emergency call-out service for small firms who cannot afford, or do not need, full-time IT staff on the payroll.

They believe they can create a £20m-turnover business over three years, and expect to be employing 300 technical and back-up staff in key cities across the UK in less than two.

Spowart and Bucknall met at a Business Forum meeting last October when Spowart was invited to comment on Adventi after visiting its operations.

Bucknall, a former investment banker at Kleinwort Benson who has worked with start-up businesses in Scotland, got the idea for the company after calling IT service engineers picked at random from the Yellow Pages and finding the level of service unsatisfactory.  "Some didnít turn up, others came a day later," Bucknall said. He felt IT was being seen as an add-on job for somebody in a business, who usually did not have the skills required to solve anything but elementary problems.

Since launching Adventi in June 2002 he has acquired two companies, one led by Chris Duff, who now holds the position of technical director.

Spowart believes the business model for Adventi is not unlike the plan for IF and that it will fill a big gap in the market, servicing mainly small firms employing between five and 50 staff.

One immediate target is the independent financial adviser (IFA) community which by October 31 has to satisfy the Financial Services Authority that it has the required IT security processes in place for handling mortgages.

"The FSA will be tough on any IFAs who are not compliant," said Spowart. "There is a need for more transparency and there are issues with online information and data protection. There is a need to keep accurate customer records held on secure storage."

Another target is the individual home-worker. "We will start to commoditise IT services by offering ranges of service level to suit the client. Individuals are a big market as more and more get broadband services and people work from home," he said.



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