Born: January 20, 1955, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.
Lives: Edinburgh, with wife Joan and three sons.
Education/qualifications: St Katherine's College, Cambridge (BA Hons maths), member of Faculty of Actuaries.
Career: 1976 joined Scottish Life as actuarial trainee, 1983 made investment manager, 1988 general manager (marketing), 1995 general manager (administration), 1996 director of Scottish Life International Holdings, 1996 director of Scottish Life and subsidiaries, 1998 deputy chief general manager, 1999 chief executive.
Career ambition: To lead Scottish Life's business from strength to strength for many years to come.
Life ambition: “We will have to forget about world peace but I enjoy making things happen.”
Likes: Sport generally, particularly golf, rugby and cricket.
Dislikes: Touchtone phone queues, circling Heathrow one morning every week.
Peers say: “He is a well-respected individual within the financial industry.”
Car: Saab. “Very idiosyncratic but good on frosty mornings.”
It would be fair to say that Brian Duffin is Scottish Life through and through. Pausing only to get a degree in maths from Cambridge University in 1976, Duffin went straight to ScotLife as an actuarial trainee. Twenty-five years later, he is at the tiller in the role of chief executive, steering the life office through the choppy waters of price-capping, depolarisation and review overload.
But Duffin gives the impression of seeing the issues that face the IFA distribution channel as challenges rather than problems, approaching changes to the market calmly rather than with suspicion and paranoia. Committed to selling products on the back of advice, Duffin is of the school of thought that predictions of the demise of the IFA are misplaced.
“I would be cautious of the confident predictions of industry commentators. These are the same people who in 1987 and 1988 were confidently predicting that tied agents would dominate our market and now you have to look very hard to find a tied agent anywhere,” he says.
Duffin denies that ScotLife's move into the protection market is in response to the stakeholder margin squeeze. Rather, he sees it is a natural new growth market for IFAs and points out that the IFA protection market had already started to grow before the introduction of stakeholder.
“Stakeholder is only one of the drivers behind the new protection arm. Customers are becoming more aware of the need for financial security and IFAs are becoming more aware that protection is something that is good for the client and good for the IFA. In recent years, there has been a gap in our range of protection products. We do not have the sophistication in our range that an IFA would want so he can offer a full range of Scottish Life products to his client.”
The new ScotLife protection arm has been set up with a sizeable chunk of Scottish Provident's protection team, causing Abbey National to warn ScotLife parent Royal London against approaching any more staff. Former ScotProv marketing and business development head David Robinson will be at the helm of the new venture, as yet unnamed, along with several other senior ScotProv protection management figures.
But Duffin is careful when discussing any “wrongdoing”. He says: “Royal London has had a letter from Abbey National reminding us of the confidentiality agreement and we have replied to confirm that we are aware of it. I can assure you that we have not made approaches for Scottish Provident staff but, as you can see, a number of Scottish Provident people have become available. We will do everything very properly when recruiting. This is an expanding business and we are going to be recruiting. I would not like to prejudge where those people will come from. Your guess is as good as mine as to who may or may not be leaving Scottish Provident in the future.”
Duffin says his management style is to devolve decision-making to people at the level where they are best informed on how to deal with problems. “Using the combined brain power of 1,500 people, you get a better result than if you just use one or two.”
A lthough coy at this stage about what new products will look like, Duffin predicts development in the post-retirement protection market, particularly in the field of long-term care. He says: “That is a difficult area to do business in as there is not sufficient reliable data and there is not the right regulatory structure to make it all attractive but this will change. This is an area where our strong pension expertise will go well with the protection expertise required for the launch we are making.”
He is sanguine about the challenges facing IFAs and thinks too much is being made of the polarisation debate, while the state of the economy is potentially more crucial to IFAs' well-being. He says: “We do not know what the various reviews will produce but I would be very surprised if employers will want to move away from the concept of advice. The group pension market at the moment is almost a 100 per cent advice market. I would think even though polarisation may affect other parts of that market, the employer-sponsored market will always be a professionally independently-advised market.”
Duffin says the greater influence in all this is how healthy the economy is as a whole. “If we see a slowdown in the economy and the stockmarkets are maybe predicting that, then IFAs could find things a bit lean, just like in other areas of the economy. That is probably as big an influence on IFAs' business as the debate on polarisation.”
Nor is he overly panicked at what the Sandler review might do to the IFA sector. “I am confident that Sandler and the people supporting him are doing an honest job. They are trying to think through what changes would be desirable, particularly from the perspective of the consumer and the financial services industry. There will be some changes in the way regulations are devised and supervision is performed but IFAs should not be too jittery.”
Living in the leafy suburbs of Edinburgh with wife Joan and three sons, Duffin accepts he will now probably never play for Scotland at football or rugby, contenting himself with a position on the board of Heart of Midlothian FC. After 25 years with Scottish Life, he says he has no intentions of moving anywhere else.