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MM Profile: Tom Ilube

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The managing director of Callcredit consumer markets is setting up a new service called Noddle which aims to put credit information into the hands of the public and their advisers Interview by Rachael Adams

Callcredit consumer markets managing director Tom Ilube has a track record of food related business names. “I have done Egg credit cards and Garlik identity protection, so when I misheard the expression ’Use your noddle’ as ’Use your noodle,’ I thought that would be a great name for our new service.”

The name stuck with Ilube and Callcredit’s new service, a free credit report service, was named Noddle.

The service is due to complete a six-month trial next month and will formally launch to the market in November. Noddle will not only gives consumers access to their credit reports but will use its clients credit ratings to provide a short list of financial products they are likely to qualify for.

“Noddle fits in with what I like doing - helping the little guy. I like using technology to redress the balance between consumers and organisations.”

Ilube started his career as a programmer for British Airways before moving into the financial sector.

“I worked on settlement systems for the London Stock Exchange. From there, I went to managing banking systems for PricewaterhouseCoopers. I deliberately chose finance because I was interested in how technology was changing things and in the 1980s it was revolutionising that sector.”

A stint in building the technology behind bond trading at Goldman Sachs represented Ilube’s final foray into the world of corporate finance.

“I enjoyed the pace but at that time there were new West Coast technology companies emerging and I wanted to get involved with start-ups.”

Ilube was approached by the founders of Egg and got his first experience on the consumer side of the fence.

“You got this feeling that Egg had created a bank just for you, something the early literature focused on. A lot of people worry about putting technology in the hands of consumers because it opens up new ways of doing things and leads to more balanced conversations between companies and consumers but I think that is great.”

However, simply working in a start-up business was not enough for Ilube. “I wanted to have a go at setting up my own company. The whole blank sheet of paper and a pen thing really appealed.”

After much testing and planning, identity protection service Garlik was created.

“We did consumer research to see what people were worried about and what came out was their anxiety around the volume of information about them on the web. Nobody was saying: “We will help you.’ No one was on the consumers’ side. So that is where we went.”

Aided by internet pioneer, Tim Berners-Lee, Garlik became the 2008 Davos Economic Forum technology pioneer of the year.

“It was fascinating working with Tim, although whenever we had a discussion about where the web was going and I offered up my opinion, everyone still went with Tim’s. It was a great experience but after five years I felt I had taken Garlik on the journey I wanted to take it on.”

Two charitable ventures took up much of the following year. The Hammersmith Academy, a secondary school focusing on creative and digital media, opened earlier this month following a six-year planning process. Ilube’s second venture, the African Gifted Foundation, saw its first academy for talented children take place in January.

“I took most of 2010 off, but by mid-summer I got into the ’What next?’ conversations. Callcredit asked if I would help them build on their consumer division, and Noddle is the fruit of that.”

As with Garlik, consumer research formed the initial stages of Noddle’s formation.

“I was surprised at how many people knew what a credit report was - over 60 per cent. But despite this only 25 per cent had ever seen them. The hidden charges they incur and the fact that consumers do not know what to do with the information once they have it are the reasons for this, which is why we provide the suitable financial products short list.”

The tailored approach Noddle takes was inspired by Ilube’s time at Egg and has proven successful so far.

“We wanted to get 10,000 people for the trial but we hit that number halfway through the second week. People can be sceptical because so many products claim to be personalised but if you really can manage it, great.”

Ilube sees the trial’s success as a sign of consumers becoming more savvy about their finances.

“Awareness is rising but engaging consumers is still a challenge. Sometimes the industry cannot bring itself as close to the consumer as it needs to be.”

Ilube says the increase in information available to consumers raises interesting issues for people’s attitudes to financial services and is changing the way people interact, including with IFAs.

“I do not envy IFAs. They have a difficult job in that they have to know the technicalities of the industry and simultaneously possess great interpersonal skills.”

However, he thinks technology could help them. “It is a combination of leveraging technology to make your job as simple as possible and focusing on customer relations. Regulation such as the RDR encourages this and I think it will draw more consumers into the conversation.”

Ilube also believes the RDR’s transparency will drive more engagement between consumers and the industry. “People are using technology to help them shop around for the best deals. What you get is smarter consumers who cannot have the wool pulled over their eyes by advisers.”

However, that does not mean there is no place for advisers among these tech-savvy consumers.

“Yes, for some, the way may be to seek information themselves but others will still need help.”

He believes IFAs will become more about mediating between consumers and information, in the same way Noddle does with customers and their credit reports.
Ilube believes consumers will also benefit from Noddle in less direct ways.

“Lenders are starting to want to do more for their customers, especially the ones who find themselves in financial difficulty. Working with lenders that have a strong citizenship bias is on my agenda.”

He also thinks that by being the first free service Noddle will galvanise innovation in the credit report market, saying: “If you are going to keep charging a customer you are going to have to work for it and offer more value.”

Working for consumers is something Ilube intends to keep doing. He says: “At the start of the year, I did not even know what Noddle was going to be called. Now I just want to get it launched and continue to put technology in the hands of consumers.”

Born: London, 1963
Lives: Richmond, London with wife and two teenage children
Education: BSc in physics from the University of Benin, Nigeria, and an MBA in finance from Cass Business School, London
Career: 2010-present: managing director of consumer markets, Callcredit; 2005-10: founder and chief executive, Garlik; 2002-04: chief information officer, Egg Plc; 1998-2002: founder and chief executive, Lost Wax Media; 1996-98: launch project manager, Prudential Banking/Egg; 1995-96: internal management consultant, Goldman Sachs International; 1990-94: management consultant for financial services, PricewaterhouseCoopers; 1988-90: management consultant, Cap Gemini; 1986-87: systems designer, London Stock Exchange; 1985-86: programmer, British Airways
Likes: Tai Chi, creating new schools and trying to understand string theory, a branch of theoretical physics
Dislikes: Posh food, people who know they are right and my long neck
Drives: VW Tuareg
Book: The Book of Universes by John D Barrow
Film: Blade Runner
Album: No album, just one song - Mr Bojangles by Sammy Davis Jr
Career ambition: To help consumers use information to get the best out of life
Life ambition: To build my African Gifted Foundation charity into a continent-wide initiative
If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Listening to Mr Bojangles and learning to tap dance

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