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Bringing it all back Home…

Andrea Tryphonides on the head to head between Zurich and Home of Choice

Zurich will literally be up against many of its former employees in what is becoming an increasingly competitive market. Most recently, after six months of accusations and bickering, legal proceedings between Openwork and Zurich against Home of Choice and two directors have been settled out of court.

Home of Choice, along with managing and sales directors Richard Coulson and Gerry O’Brien, had been in a dispute with their ex-employers since May when Coulson abruptly left what was then Zurich Mortgage Network as he felt his position had been made redundant in the new Openwork structure.

Coulson and O’Brien had a number of allegations against them, including acting in breach of restrictive covenants. They were also accused of using an Openwork email account to recruit franchisees – a claim they have vehemently denied and supported, they say, by the fact that only 12 members have come from Openwork to Home of Choice.

Coulson says within the first six months since its inception, it had 500 appointed representatives and 600 directly authorised members and it hopes to double these figures to over 2,000 members in the coming year.

Coulson says: “It is not a case of going back to business as business never stopped. Our single-minded focus will be attractive to many mortgage introducers who are unsure of where their interests will be best served. We are wholly committed to focusing on the mortgage market.”

At the start of November, Home of Choice also appointed former Zurich employee Frank Lowe as national estate agency director. Lowe will recruit estate agency practices into the network as either appointed representatives or introducers. Throw into the mix Keith Baldwin as chief executive and chairman and Paul Adleman as head of risk assessment and it is like a Friends Reunited bash for Allied Dunbar mates.

Home of Choice is also vowing to keep a close eye on the smaller network operations as a means of growth but its main focus will always be mortgages.

Coulson says he is not interested in expanding into other areas of financial services. This was one of his main bugbears about the evolution of the Openwork strategy. Having been a man closely affiliated with mortgages throughout his Zurich career, the move to align all advisers as franchisees rather than segregate them was not to his liking.

Openwork says it has 2,300 franchisees, with 80 per cent licensed to sell mortgage business. It is looking at 12bn lending a year and has a target of 3,000 members by the end of 2006.

A Zurich spokeswoman says: “We are consistently hitting record numbers of mortgage business month on month and anticipate continuing this in 2006.”

Zurich has also recruited Peter Hamilton as protection management director. Joining from Friends Provident, where he was head of protection marketing, Hamilton is responsible for managing and developing Zurich’s business protection proposition, developing underwriting and claims philosophy and managing the existing protection portfolio.

In a break from the current trend, Hamilton is returning to Zurich, having worked at Allied Dunbar in various marketing roles.

One of the most recognisable ex-Zurich names is Simon Chamberlain. He was the national development director at Zurich Financial Services in 1997, moving on to become the national recruitment director. He left the company to set up Thinc Group in 2000 which focused on financial planning, mortgages and commercial finance. It finally merged with Destini in 2000.

Ex-Zurich chief executive Sandy Leitch is re-entering financial services and is set to team up with former Zurich allies to launch a 30m multi-tie proposition in the new year. It is understood that Leitch wants to capture up to 1,000 advisers and has secured funding from big backers, including Bank of Scotland, Friends Provident and Sanlam to launch an operation understood to be called Intrinsic.

Chamberlain et al’s assertiveness is certainly a trademark that has become linked to the ethos of Allied Dunbar. CBK principal Peter Chadborn says: “A lot of people associate Allied Dunbar and Abbey Life as being part of that aggressiveness of salesforces that were around in the 80s and 90s. I think that there has been a period of ex-Allied Dunbar people sitting back trying to distance themselves from that and now coming back in in with big names, brands and aggressive marketing campaigns.”

Positive Solutions was set up in 1997 by David Harrison and Maurice Cotter, both formerly of Zurich. The group has 1,300 registered individuals, with 300 recruited in the last 12 months.

Marketing manager Daniel Harrison says: “When Positive Solutions was set up in 1997, we were still in a world of traditional IFAs and networks. In the interim, there have been massive developments, particularly on the technology side, and the developments of brands that have allowed business such as Positive Solutions to flourish.”

It cannot be denied that the financial beast that was Allied Dunbar has spawned some of the most recognisable and ambitious figures in UK distribution. It will be interesting to see how figures who were once colleagues will compete head to head in the coming years.

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