The Pru's Chris Traynor very nearly did not take up a career in the insurance industry. Desperate to get his teeth into a sales role, the ambitious young Sun Life sales support clerk accepted a more flavoursome role as a salesman for Liquorice Allsorts.
But at the last minute he was talked out of it and now, more than 20 years later, finds himself sitting in the Pru intermediary sales director's seat at a desk he put his feet under for the first time last October.
Before then, he had been a staunch Axa Sun Life man, walking straight from school at 17 into the arms of Sun Life. The relationship lasted 22 years.
Traynor says: “I thought if I don't make this move to the Pru at this moment in my life, I will end up buying the Axa badge and I will retire thinking I never really tried that. I wimped out of it.”
Traynor, now 40, found himself in the insurance industry by default. After finishing school at Glasgow's St Aloysius' College, he was accepted to do a degree in accountancy at the University of Strathclyde. But he turned it down as he wanted to get a job. He saw an ad for staff at what was then Sun Life in Glasgow and his insurance career began.
Traynor was headhunted by Pru last year just at the time of the company's critical-illness cover debacle when it withdrew guarantees on new and pipeline business last April, causing uproar among IFAs.
“In hindsight, we can look back and say we did not handle that very well. If you look at what happened in the course of last year, there is consensus that our business has suffered. But by the fourth quarter of last year, our business performance had gone up from the first quarter by about 36 per cent.”
When he was offered the Pru job, Traynor believed the firm was failing to punch its weight in the IFA sector but looked ready to do so and, being a keen supporter of the UK chief executive Mark Wood, formerly the UK chief executive at Axa, he was keen to make the leap. “I am quite impressed by the Pru's ability to execute, to actually deliver things, which life offices generally do not get a great reputation for. They tend to intellectualise stuff quite a bit and they do not get from intellectualising it to delivering it.”
Traynor has his goals firmly assigned, starting with repositioning Pru to make it a more “substantive” IFA life office than it has been considered in the past.
He talks about the importance of building a stronger service proposition over time around the “kernel” of a good product to bring substance to the “aura” of the Pru brand. This includes taking more of an interest in an IFA's business and small things such as moving to put real people back at the end of all phone lines taking IFA and customer calls.
Plenty of providers pay lip service to this concept but Traynor believes the difference will be Pru's execution of it.
He also speaks of the Pru “broadening its waterfront”, meaning extending its product range in line with the service proposition. The firm is aiming to boost unit-linked sales and is taking tentative steps to becoming a force again in the critical-illness cover market. It also plans to launch a new-look with-profits product this year.
Traynor says the regular-premium and single-premium markets are conundrums in terms of finding ways to write business profitably but says Pru must understand how to be a player in the high-street pension market, with the company keen to build its profile in this area.
“As the world depolarises, we can't afford not to consider that as a potential opportunity,” he says.
Traynor says Pru believes the IFA market is currently worth around £6bn-6.5bn on an annual-premium equivalent basis. Nearly £4bn of that falls into three product areas – regular-premium and single-premium pensions and investment bonds, both with-profits and unit-linked. At the same time, the protection market is growing and the offshore market is proving profitable although quite small.
“If someone said what would success look like in two years time, it would look like the IFA market recognising spontaneously that the Pru is one of the most prominent players in their arena.”
He is keen to show IFAs he is in touch with the issues affecting them and goes on to list them and he lists his career ambition as being a prominent member of a management team in a life office or a big UK IFA such as Bankhall or Sesame.
Traynor says he balances his work life so he can enjoy his private life, particularly spending precious time with his nine-year-old daughter.
He describes himself as extremely driven, tenacious, focused and, he hopes, fair. He has been told he is very supportive to staff but if they do not eventually take his efforts on board, he does not suffer that well. He says he would prefer to have “an empty seat than an empty suit” on his team.
Instinctive is another word Traynor uses to describe himself, suggesting that his analysis of decisions generally only backs up what he already feels is the right move to make. You get the feeling that definitely includes ditching Bertie Bassett in favour of more soberly attired colleagues.
Born: 1963, Glasgow
Education: St Aloysius College, Glasgow.
Career: October 2003, intermediary sales director, Prudential. Previously, 22 years at Axa Sun Life, including 1981, pensions scheme clerk in Glasgow; 1983, sales support clerk in Glasgow doing quotes for consultants; 1985, started as a consultant; 1990, went to Liverpool as a technical manager; 1991, went to Wolverhampton as sales manager for West Midlands; 1994, moved to Glasgow as regional sales director for North of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland; 1998, IFA strategy director 1999, head of IFA sales.
Career ambition: “I want to look back on my career and be able to see I was a prominent management member in a big UK IFA or life office business.”
Life ambition: “I want to balance my work and life such that it gives me the capacity to enjoy my private life” Likes: Football, keeping fit, eating out
Dislikes: People who pursue their own agenda
Drives: BMW 5 series