Billionaire Kerr Neilson has decided not to sell his booming Platinum Asset Management business after bidders failed to offer enough money for the right to clip the ticket on $20 billion.

Alan Kohler broke the story in The Eureka Report on Monday when Neilson gave a rare interview and described the situation as follows:

We couldn’t find a suitable partner. Our intention was not to sell the business but to find a partner with whom we could move forward. We just wanted to see what was out there. Unfortunately, we didn’t find someone. We wouldn’t want someone to get their hands on the business and damage it.

An information memorandum was distributed in December and Kohler claims ANZ and Perpetual were the front runners.

The funds management industry has been a bonanza for numerous players in Australia but Neilson, who owns 77% of Platinum which made a $140 million profit last year, is the first clear billionaire to emerge.

Robert Maple-Brown, the non-executive chairman and 50% owner of Maple Brown-Abbott, the original boutique fund manager which now manages about $20 billion, is estimated to be worth $230 million by BRW.

This is thought to be conservative, just like BRW’s claim that Neilson wasn’t even worthy of a mention on the Rich List two years ago and debuted at $443 million last year. Anton Tagliaferro, the majority shareholder of Investors Mutual, is claimed to be worth $220 million based on ticket clipping an estimated $6 billion in funds under management.

This makes the omission of Balance Equity Management’s Andrew Sisson a little hard to fathom given that he manages $12 billion.

Despite having the world’s greatest dowry of natural assets, financial services companies comprise 42% of the ASX-listed stocks, way above the global average of 26%. This largely reflects the earning power of the banking cartel, booming insurance profits and the enormous profitability that has flowed from Paul Keating’s compulsory superannuation policies.

Whilst Perpetual boasts of being the world’s most profitable funds management company, Kerr Neilson is Australia’s best ticket-clipper because he has owned the space for retail investors seeking an exposure to international equities.

However, competition is emerging, most recently from Chris Mackay and Hamish Douglass who have set up Magellan Financial Group to cut Neilson’s lunch on international equities.

Distribution is the key to this business and Magellan has just hired Frank Casarotti, who managed Colonial’s herds of financial planners, to crank up the retail funds inflow for Magellan. As usual, this will involve lots of juicy fees that ultimately come from the great $1 trillion superannuation honey pot.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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