Unicorn AIM IHT ISA

The Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service is now available for new investments. Its investment adviser is specialist UK smaller company investor, Unicorn Asset Management (‘Unicorn’), which began investing in AIM in 2000. 

Launched in 2016, the Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service seeks to invest in a portfolio of 25-40 AIM-quoted companies that qualify for Business Relief. It focuses on established, profitable, dividend-paying businesses whose founders or management team have retained a meaningful shareholding. Investors can choose between two portfolios: income or growth. Both follow a similar investment strategy, however, the growth portfolio places greater emphasis on companies that can deliver sustainable earnings growth, whilst the income portfolio on companies paying attractive and growing dividends (not guaranteed). 

Unicorn currently manages £1.2 billion across its range of predominantly UK equity focused investment mandates, of this £32 million is within the AIM IHT Portfolio Service.

Important: The information on this website is for experienced investors. It is not advice nor a research or personal recommendation to invest. If you’re unsure, please seek advice. Investments are for the long term. They are high risk and illiquid and can fall as well as rise in value, so you could get back less than you invest.

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The manager

Unicorn Asset Management is a specialist in UK smaller companies. About a quarter of the £1.4 billion Unicorn manages is in AIM stocks. Unicorn’s AIM VCT is the UK’s largest. The Unicorn AIM IHT portfolios were launched in 2016 and are managed by Chris Hutchinson, who is also the lead manager for the Unicorn AIM VCT.

There are around 1,000 firms on AIM. As Chris Hutchinson puts it: “Among the dross there are some great businesses. But you have to filter through the ones that over-promise, under-deliver, burn through cash or are too specialist. Whittle them down to around 40 and you stand a good chance of getting some decent returns.”

The IHT portfolios often invests in businesses Unicorn has known for years and which were previously backed by the VCT.

Watch a video interview with Alex Game of Unicorn Asset Management:

 

Highlights

  • Chris Hutchinson, the lead investment adviser, is one of the best known and most experienced investors on AIM and is supported by the wider Unicorn investment team.
  • Seeks to invest in the “blue chips” of AIM: profitable, dividend-paying companies
  • Income or growth portfolios available: any income will be paid tax-free, quarterly
  • Available in or outside an ISA
  • Save 3.5% on the initial charge
  • Minimum investment £50,000 (or £20,000 if topping up an existing portfolio)

The manager

Unicorn is the Investment Adviser to the service, whilst WM Capital Management Limited (WM) is its Discretionary Investment Manager and James Brearley & Sons Limited (James Brearley) its Administrator and Custodian

The Investment Adviser – Unicorn

Unicorn is a specialist AIM, small and mid-cap manager. It manages more than £1.2 billion (as at 30 June 2020) across its five UK equity funds, Unicorn Mastertrust, the Unicorn AIM VCT, and Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service. Overall, it manages more than £400 million in AIM stocks. 

Unicorn has been investing in AIM since the company’s inception in 2000. It has its own dedicated in-house research team which seeks to uncover attractive opportunities that may not yet be known to other investment groups. 

There are six members in the investment team, with Chris Hutchinson acting as senior investment manager. Mr Hutchinson joined Unicorn in 2005 and has more than 20 years’ experience managing portfolios of UK smaller companies. He is the lead manager of the Unicorn AIM VCT (the UK’s largest AIM VCT) as well as the Unicorn Outstanding British Companies Fund and will have primary responsibility for selecting stocks for the service. 

The Discretionary Investment Manager – WM 

WM is responsible for the day-to-day management of investor portfolios, including the allocation of stocks, compliance and taking legal advice on stocks’ BPR qualifying status. 

The Administrator and Custodian – James Brearley 

James Brearley will hold the shares for investors.

Investment strategy

There are around 830 firms on AIM. As Chris Hutchinson puts it: ‘Among the dross there are some great businesses.'

The service sticks to what Mr Hutchinson considers to be the fundamentals of stock picking. At its core, the service invests in businesses that sell a product or service that offers tangible benefits to its consumers. These companies should be established, profitable, and cash-generative with minimal gearing. 

The team favours companies whose founders or management team have retained a meaningful stake in the business. In Unicorn’s experience, these tend to be more risk-averse and focused on long-term growth, traits that complement the service. 

Investors have the choice of two portfolio options – Income or Growth. Both follow a similar investment strategy but whilst the growth portfolio places greater emphasis on companies that Unicorn believes can deliver sustainable earnings growth, the income portfolio focuses on companies paying attractive and potentially growing dividends (not guaranteed).

Current portfolio overview

Unicorn is sector agnostic although its focus on cash-generative businesses precludes higher risk sectors such as oil, gas, mining, and commodities as well as biotechnology and other early-stage technology companies. The portfolios are expected to hold 25–40 stocks, with no single stock expected to make up more than 5% of the portfolio. 

The growth and income portfolios have similar sector exposures but differ in terms of market capitalisation. The Growth portfolio is more than 80% invested in businesses with a market cap greater than £150 million (average £636 million). The Income portfolio has a bias towards smaller income-generative companies, with an average market cap of £318 million. Around 40% of the businesses within the Income portfolio have a market cap below £150 million. 

The income portfolio targets a yield of 2-4% per annum and quarterly income payments – not guaranteed.

Source: Unicorn Asset Management, as at 30 September 2020

Source: Unicorn Asset Management, as at 30 September 2020

Examples of portfolio companies

GB Group__Unicorn_AIM_IHTGB Group – Growth portfolio

GB Group (“GBG”) is a technology specialist in fraud, location, and identity data intelligence. 

With its suite of products, GBG helps organisations validate and verify the identity and location of their customers. The company looks to set itself apart from the competition using its unique partnerships with leading global data providers. Currently, GBG believes it can verify more than half of the world’s population. 

Since 2011, GBG has acquired 12 companies, grown to over 1,000 employees, and operates in more than 70 countries. This year, GBG saw revenues increase ahead of market expectations to £199.1 million (compared to £143.5 million in 2019). 

Fulcrum – Unicorn AIM IHTFulcrum Utility Services – Income portfolio

Based in Sheffield, Fulcrum Utility Services Ltd (“Fulcrum”) is a multi-utility infrastructure and services provider.

Its main business is the design, build, and maintenance of energy connections and their related infrastructure. It targets four key sectors: housing, industrial & commercial property, maintenance & ownership of distribution infrastructure, and smart metering. In FY2020, the company completed 13,000 new connections. 

Recently, the company has been targeting the sectors of clean energy and electric vehicle (“EV”) charging, particularly given the UK’s clean energy target of 2050. To accommodate this industry change, Fulcrum has recruited EV specialists and formed several partnerships within the sector, including ChargePoint and The Bayford Group.

Fulcrum recorded revenues of £46.1 million in FY2020, a drop of only 5.8% compared to 2019. The business still has an order book of £68 million (as at 30 June 2020) and anticipates a return to normal trading by Q2 of 2021. 

Conviviality Retail

As is to be expected, not all investments work out. One example is Conviviality Retail.

Formerly known as Bargain Booze Limited, Conviviality was at one point, a stock market darling. The company floated on AIM in 2013 at 100p per share and expanded rapidly with a series of acquisitions. At its high, the share price hit 426p and the business had doubled profits to £22.5 million.

Then, in early 2018, the company issued a number of profit warnings. It was later announced that the company had an undisclosed £30 million tax bill which led to the share price collapsing. The business was placed into administration after failing to secure emergency funding.

Performance

Since launch, the portfolios have delivered returns of 76.54% (Growth) and 26.09% (Income) respectively. This is equivalent to an annual return of 12.24% and 5.08% respectively. Please note, past performance is not a guide to the future. 

The charts below show performance since launch compared with other AIM IHT portfolios available through Wealth Club.

The default view is the performance for this particular offer. You'll be able to see the performance of other AIM ISA offers if you click on the portfolio names above. Source: Unicorn Asset Management and other AIM ISA managers. Performance is shown net of fees, excluding initial charges, with dividends reinvested, based on the average portfolio performance across the service, except for Puma and Fundamental which shows the performance of one example portfolio. Past performance is not a guide to the future. Dividends are variable and not guaranteed.

Access to your investment

Investments in this portfolio are for the long term, however, you can withdraw your funds from the Unicorn AIM IHT Portfolio Service at any time, subject to payment of the exit fee and market liquidity. The exit fee depends on the residual portfolio value and ranges from 1% to 2%. Additionally, Unicorn may set a minimum surrender amount if a partial withdrawal is requested – please see the provider’s documents for details. 

Funds withdrawn from the Service will be subject to IHT and any funds withdrawn from an ISA will no longer be eligible for ISA tax benefits, unless transferred to another ISA provider.

Risks – important

This, like all investments available through Wealth Club, is only for experienced investors happy to make their own investment decisions without advice.

AIM IHT portfolios are high-risk so should only form part of a balanced portfolio and you should not invest money you cannot afford to lose. Before you invest, please carefully read the Risks and Commitments and the offer documents to ensure you fully understand the risks. 

AIM stocks can be hard to sell, particularly at the smaller end of the market, and can be illiquid. AIM shares can be very volatile especially if the market falls sharply. The difference between the buying and selling price of AIM-listed shares is often wider than the spread for shares listed on the main market.

Tax rules can change and benefits depend on circumstances. Eligibility for BPR is assessed at the date of death and will depend on the companies in the portfolio remaining qualifying. Broadly speaking, you will need to have held a BPR-qualifying stock for at least two years and still hold it on death to qualify.

Treasury review

A previous Chancellor requested a review of IHT to simplify the tax system. A report was published in July 2019, but this has not yet led to any rule changes. Please remember, tax rules can and do change and benefits depend on circumstances.

Charges 

A summary of the main charges and savings for an investment within an ISA is shown below. If you wish to invest outside an ISA, please see the provider's documents. The investment may have additional charges and expenses: please see the provider documents for more details. If you would like a full breakdown or a personal illustration, please let us know.

Full initial charge 4.5%
Wealth Club initial saving 4%
Net initial charge through Wealth Club 0.5%
Annual management charge 1.75%
Administration charge 0.25%
Dealing fee 0.85%
Performance fee
Exit fee 1-2%
All fees and charges are stated exclusive of VAT, which may be applicable in some cases.

See example of the total charges over 5 years

    Our view

    Unicorn is an established fund manager with significant experience in the AIM market and managing UK small-cap portfolios. While the service is one of the newer entrants to the IHT market, the team has been investing in AIM for over two decades and also manage the UK’s largest AIM VCT. 

    Unicorn believes it is well placed to manage an AIM IHT Service, particularly given the strong overlap with its other mandates, which should provide the service with valuable perspective. 

    The investment strategy is deliberately uncomplicated, targeting established and profitable companies, preferably whose founders or management team have retained a significant stake in their business. Investors into the service have a choice between the income or growth portfolio. For the growth portfolio, the emphasis is on companies demonstrating an ability to grow earnings, whilst the income portfolio is focused on the sustainability of dividend payments. 

    Read important documents and apply

    Wealth Club aims to make it easier for experienced investors to find information on – and apply for – tax-efficient investments. You should base your investment decision on the provider's documents and ensure you have read and fully understand them before investing. This review is a marketing communication. It is not advice or a personal or research recommendation to buy the investment mentioned. It does not satisfy legal requirements promoting investment research independence and is thus not subject to prohibitions on dealing ahead of its dissemination.

    The details

    Portfolio size
    £32.0 million
    Average market cap
    £636 million
    Initial charge
    4.5%
    Saving via Wealth Club
    4.0%
    Net initial charge
    0.5%
    AMC
    1.75%
    Last updated: 3 February 2021