FRONT Consulting embarks on its next phase of growth

12 December 2017 8 min. read
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FRONT Consulting, a consulting firm for the financial services industry, has unveiled plans that aim to propel the firm to its next phase of growth. For this reason, sat down with partner Sam Dezillie to understand more about their ambitions; what the firm does, how it stands out from the crowd, and how he believes FRONT Consulting can deliver on the strategy.

Having begun as a small consulting boutique in Brussels in the mid 2000’s, FRONT Consulting is now one of the better known consultancies in the field in which it operates. The consultancy specialises specifically in the asset management domain, working for players across the financial services industry, including private banks, wealth managers, asset managers, pension funds and family offices. So is FRONT Consulting still one of the industry’s hidden jewels? “No,” says Sam Dezillie, adding “across the full landscape people are relatively unfamiliar with our brand, yet in the asset management industry a large share of managers know who we are.”

Dezillie’s first acquaintance with the firm was back in 2006, when he still was working at Fortis Bank. David Staquet, one of FRONT Consulting’s two co-founders (the other is Henk Drappier), was working at Fortis as an external consultant, and within the space of months their very first meeting unfolded into a working relationship which still lasts today. Dezillie, who prior to Fortis spent six years in PwC’s consulting arm, joined FRONT Consulting as a partner in 2007, and together the three partners have over the past decade built the firm to the current team of seventy employees, across offices in Belgium, Luxembourg and the UK (both opened in 2009), France and the Netherlands (both established in 2010).

Throughout the years, FRONT Consulting has always remained faithful to its original focus, says Dezillie. “We are a consultancy that focuses exclusively on the financial services industry, with a strong dedication to asset management.”

FRONT Consulting embarks on its next phase of growth

The firm’s main client group, asset managers, have faced major change in recent years. Following the financial crisis, they have seen a wave of regulatory requirements hit their frontiers, with many parts of their business model facing increasing pressure from digital competition, changing client behaviour and secular shifts in investment portfolios. While asset management firms have managed to recover – assets under management (AuM) stand at record levels and total revenues are nearly $200 billion, up from $150 billion in 2012 – the industry by no means finds itself in calm waters. Beneath the surface, the industry will, according to analysts, see practically all levers of its operating model impacted by external trends, competition or technology; squeezing profit margins down the line.

FRONT Consulting has since its inception helped dozens of asset managers with shaping and executing their change programmes, spanning growth or compliance to cost-cutting. Clients the firm has worked for (or still does) include French banks BNP Paribas and Société Générale, UK banks HSBC and Lloyds Bank, investment managers AXA, Robeco and Petercam, as well as players in financial markets, securities and private banks. “Our sweet spot lies in the middle and back office activities of asset managers,” explains Dezillie. “We help our clients with operating model (re-)design and the implementation of transformative efforts, supporting them from planning through to execution.”

The Belgian-origin consultancy has gained extensive experience in mid-office domains such as risk management, reporting, collateral management and trade support, and back-office functions such as transaction processing and settlement, asset administration, fund accounting and outsourced operations. The majority of transitions in these fields involve process transformations and the implementation of systems/tooling, says Dezillie, adding that FRONT Consulting leverages its industry knowledge and consultancy/project management skills to serve as the business consultant to transformations. “Our work revolves around the business side of change – that is the common denominator across our project portfolio.”

Specialist in asset management

FRONT Consulting’s expansion over the years has been built on organic growth, with Dezillie highlighting that satisfied clients and their word-of-mouth marketing has been the main driver of growth. So what is it that clients value in working with FRONT Consulting? Dezillie: “The most cited point we receive in our engagement evaluations is our capability to provide deep expertise in both asset management and the financial services industry. Asset management experience lies at the heart of our proposition – all our consultants build on experience in the field.”

FRONT Consulting

While FRONT Consulting faces heating competition – battling the likes of large generalist players such as Accenture, Cognizant and the Big Four, the larger specialised consultancies for financial services such as Capco and Synechron, as well as dozens of boutiques, – there are just a handful of international players that are committed to the space in which FRONT Consulting operates, with larger UK headquartered rival Alpha FMC arguably the firm that comes closest.

Asked how he believes FRONT Consulting further stands out from the rest, the partner points at the firm’s passion to deliver tangible results. “Whether we help clients design a new operating model or implement a new regulatory system, our strength is that we work shoulder to shoulder with clients to deliver real results. We literally switch off the lights with them once benefits have been realised and handover to the standing business has been completed.”

Dezillie describes the firm’s approach as one which is renowned for bringing structure to complex situations, coupled with result-oriented delivery skills and a ‘softer’ capability to operate within sensitive environments. “Consultants of FRONT are capable of navigating in complex managerial and organisational environments,” explains Dezillie. “Their DNA makes them able to facilitate the bridging of gaps between different stakeholder groups and the alignment of goals towards a common vision – in our belief an important skill for making change happen in financial services.”

Next phase of growth

Looking ahead, Dezillie says that the firm has embarked on its next phase of growth. Following a strategic orientation completed last year, the three partners of the firm decided that ramping up was the preferred way forward. “We asked ourselves the question: Do we want to continue to be successful the way we are, or do we want to invest and ramp up our operations in order to take FRONT Consulting to the next level of maturity?”

Quote Sam Dezillie

Since, the consultancy has invested across its network, introducing among others improvements to client offerings, internal management, and employership. The move has also transitioned the firm’s resourcing model, building a more in-house fundament of consultants and staff while reducing its leverage of freelance communities. “Today we work primarily with advisors on our own payroll, as opposed to years back when freelancing had the upper hand.” Among the advisors that have joined are several sector experts recruited from the industry, consulting industry heavyweights, and juniors who bring a fresh perspective to the firm’s projects and culture.

One of the recent new joiners is Sergio Franssen, who brought with him more than 20 years of consulting and digital experience, latterly serving as Consulting Services Director for Teradata in the Benelux. Based in the Netherlands, from an organisational point of view one of FRONT’s more mature offices according to Dezillie, Franssen has, besides his growth targets set for the Dutch consultancy market, been tasked with leading the overarching investment agenda.

The changes put in place to date have enabled FRONT Consulting to professionalise its operations, says Dezillie, including “better coordination between cross-country project teams, improved opportunities for employees and more leverage of thought leadership dispersed throughout the firm.” While the consultancy is reaping the benefits of its investment plan, he admits at the same time that the firm is just at the start of what could be a long journey. Ultimately, the partner says that FRONT Consulting aims at being recognised as the “leading specialist consulting firm for the asset management industry” in Europe. “We know that we still have a way to go, but we are looking ahead with confidence, and most important, we are much enjoying the ride while doing so!”