Business Hub: New Arvida Group chief Jeremy Nicoll on rugby, retirement and village reform

In many ways Jeremy Nicoll is the perfect choice as the new boss of listed retirement village operator Arvida Group.

Not only has he been with the company since its inception but he’s also a keen rugby player, continuing Arvida’s association with the sport since Dan Carter rang the NZX listing bell back in 2014 and attracted investment from the likes of Richie McCaw and Kieran Read.

Nicoll, 48, is currently chief financial officer but will take over the chief executive role from Bill McDonald, who is stepping down at the end of September to pursue personal interests.

Nicoll is a finance, commerce and accounting graduate of the University of Auckland and son of former university registrar Warwick Nicoll.

He has strong memories of his dad bringing home boxes of graduation certificates to personally sign during weekends.

He has a close association with rugby, playing since he was 5 on Auckland’s North Shore. It’s only subsequently that he reveals he is in the elite over-35s Takapuna Turtles, a regular rival of the Northcote Nobras – “I’m a lock, yes I catch the ball!”

The business of retirement certainly occupies his working hours.

Arvida has a market cap of $998m, assets of $2.2b, trades around $1.84 and Nicoll says it has plans to buy two further sites to develop soon, but not ones with existing villages on them already, as has been the company’s main modus operandi.

“We started up in 2014, there was Bill the CEO and myself, working out of a studio bedroom in Parnell. We managed to pull together 18 villages worth about $300m to start our business.

“Over the next few years, the focus was gaining scale and relevance. We bought around another dozen properties and we’ve just released the annual result for 2021. We’re building around 250 homes a year and we’d like to increase that to around 300 a year,” Nicoll said from HQ, 39 Viaduct Harbour Ave, an Argosy Property tenant.

Around $130m annually is going into new properties, occupied for only a short time by elderly residents as they get sick or die, enabling Arvida to quickly resell those places to maximise shareholder returns.

Nearly 5000 elderly people live in Arvida properties “and we’re a real people-centred business”, Nicoll says.

However, the idea of sharing capital gains with those 5000 people or reducing a punitive 30 per cent deferred management fee are concepts he flatly rejects.

The model isn’t based on being changed, he says.

Associate Housing Minister Poto Williams said in May she wants the sector to issue clearer contracts and implement a better complaints system so elderly people get a fairer deal.

That’s not something John Collyns of lobby group the Retirement Villages Association wants but he does acknowledge the sector is examining those ideas with a view to change.

Retirement Commissioner Jane Wrightson also wants a review of the sector where she said on June 9 the law hadn’t been updated in any substantial form for about 20 years.

Nicoll, a chartered accountant, was the Property Council of NZ president in 2009, between Dominion Fund’s Paul Duffy and Kiwi Property’s Chris Gudgeon.

Before Arvida, he was at ING/OnePath/ANZ Wealth New Zealand and has worked in London in corporate finance, fund management, broker dealing and insurance.

He is such a retirement village fan that he says he will move into one when he is older: “I’d look at one near my family. You could move into one of ours at 65 years of age but most people would not move until they’re 75 or 80.”

Benefits he cites are “having your own community. Living in a village means people are less isolated”.

But the risk to the elderly from the potential spread of infectious diseases and the pandemic? He cites strong health measures, protecting residents.

“You’re in good care,” he says.

And the loss of 30 per cent of his capital via the deferred management fee which Arvida charges – at the top end of the sector, above Ryman Healthcare’s 20 per cent and double what Fletcher Residential says it will charge when it builds its new retirement village units?

“It wouldn’t worry me because you are able to release equity in your own home and have a stress taken away, with great facilities,” Nicoll says.

He has been married to his wife Ellie for 18 years and they have Lucy, 18, studying commerce at the University of Auckland, and William, 15, at Takapuna Grammar.

Arvida’s expansion came in a rush when in 2019 it bought a $180m portfolio from well-established operator Premium and its founder Fraser Sanderson, bringing the company Bethlehem Country Club, Bethlehem Shores and Queenstown Country Club.

Now, he says, the focus is on ramping up the new-build rate.

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