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Correspondent&#39s week

Shirt buying – is this a viable business expense and am I supposed to put this exorbitant yet increasing cost on my Inland Revenue self-assessment form? Since the start of the year, the pace of life has been frantic for this discount broker, with so many imminent possible acquisitions and fund launches, resulting in many overnight stays in London, away from the bosom of my family in Bucks, and therefore the regular purchase of a new shirt.

Monday starts with a round of press meetings as I get in front of national journalists to reacquaint them with us under our new guise – Money Portal – though many know us under former monikers Willis Owen and HCF.

Once the caffeine gets into the bloodstream, I&#39m off and the mouth goes into overdrive explaining where we are and what we want to achieve, plus a liberal dose of slamming the majority of fund managers – music to the ears of quote-hungry journos.

Tuesday and there are a few nervy cigarettes to be smoked outside The Sanderson, the swanky central London hotel, prior to a forum we have set up and organised via our PR agency, Lansons, on the merits and future of with-profits products.

A tricky one this – my view is that there are very few providers that can survive in this market going forward but those we think that can we have invited to speak in the form of their chief actuaries.

With minutes to go, the usual panic ensues as one of the presenters hasn&#39t arrived, one actuary is stuck on the train and, true to form, no journalists have arrived yet.

A bold move, some would say, to hold such a forum, what with the reputation of this honourable actuarial profession. But all goes well in front of the assembled body of press, who miraculously file in the obligatory 15 minutes late. Indeed, the actuaries get off with a relatively easy ride.

It would appear, however, that my opening statement that the industry could see another Equitable situation tickles the fancy of the press and this results in me being on the phone for much of the rest of the week to journalists asking me whether I have signalled the death knell of the life industry.

Oh, the magic of the soundbite. I leave the cool, funky surroundings of The Sanderson to have lunch with the chief executive of a well-known discount broker with which we are in takeover talks. But first, I&#39ve just got enough time to pop down the road and buy a new shirt.

The breakneck pace of the week continues the following day as I meet a possible equity provider in the morning, then our compliance director in the afternoon to talk about how hard-hitting we can be with our next ad campaign. Already we have upset major high-street providers as we highlight their poor-performing funds as they languish in the bottom quartile of their sector with an apparent laissez-faire attitude.

In the evening, we entertain a team of trade journalists to a night of pool at the Elbow Room in Shoreditch. I silently wonder on the merits of the selection of my team, as my colleague Clive slaughters me over the choice of my new shirt in front of everyone and then Gob from our sales team begins to embarrass her male journalistic counterparts at the table, seriously denting their hard drinking and bar games reputation.

The evening is going well but is prematurely curtailed with the evacuation of the pool hall, not down to our behaviour but because a fire has broken out across the road.

Thursday requires some skilful juggling as I meet a different owner/chief executive of a distribution house on our acquisition trail. Consolidation is the name of the game in our industry and a civilised meeting is held over a lunch.

Then I return home, where I am recognised by my family in that “I know you but I can&#39t quite put a name to you” way. I&#39m soon off again to my doctor&#39s for a medical. I hope last night&#39s B52s are out of my system and maybe I shouldn&#39t have drunk that third espresso this morning. Surprisingly, all goes well, which puts a spring in my step again.

It&#39s an early start on the last day of the week as I do a pre-record with Charlie Gibson of LBC about our with-profits forum. I reiterate that there are chaps who should not be running our hard-earned money because they are not delivering and I manage to rename the products “possibly with-profits”, which makes much more sense. The interview goes well, I am assured by Bev, our PR.

After a tough, hectic week, the weekend begins at last, with a barbeque with the family to look forward to – but not before another interview, this time for Moneybox.

After that, I may conveniently mislay the damned mobile phone for a couple of hours and do a spot of shopping, as I could do with a new shirt.

Richard Craven is managing director of Willis Owen


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