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Danny Cox

Hargreaves Lansdown’s head of financial intermediaries started out in the fruit and veg business but now he is enthusiastically intent on growing and nurturing a quality crop of advisers for the entrepreneurial company. Interview by Nicola York.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s head of financial practitioners Danny Cox began his career as fruit and vegetable manager at Sainsbury’s and says the experience taught him to work hard and to be resourceful.

He fell into financial services after buying his first house and started by working in direct sales – or “door-knocking” as he describes it – for Laurentian Life.

After three years with London and Manchester in pension admin, he passed his FPC1 exam and, via a couple of other companies, joined Hargreaves Lansdown in May 2001 as an IFA and pension PR.

He apologises in advance for gushing about working at Hargreaves Lansdown and then proceeds to do so for the next five minutes. “It is just one of those companies that has got the feel of success and the feel that everybody is pulling in the same direction. Everyone has this burning desire to be innovative, to be entrepreneurial, to find the next new way of marketing services. But underpinning it all is a sense of always putting the client first.”

The firm was set up in 1981 by Peter Hargreaves and Stephen Lansdown and has grown into one of the most recognisable brands in financial services. Some IFAs have been uncomfortable with the Hargreaves Lansdown philosophy. As a research-led business, it gets over 90 per cent of enquiries from consumers who do not want to speak to an adviser. Cox says: “If we provide clients with enough information, those people who want to make their own decisions can go on and make their own decisions and do not actually need an adviser which means that business can be transacted much cheaper than if an adviser is involved. And why shouldn’t people be able to make their own decisions?”

Cox runs the IFA arm of the business – the financial practitioners’ department. “I am responsible for the strategy for the profit, for recruitment plans, marketing plans, ultimately for the processing of business and our advisory sales process and compliance.”

The financial practitioners department is in the process of a major restructuring and recruitment drive aiming to take on 50 new advisers, although Cox stresses that quality is more important than quantity.

“Our next induction programme is very undersubscribed because the first wave of our recruitment drive that we started at the back end of last year did not produce the right standard of candidates. So if we only find five good advisers then I will only take on five advisers. Quality of advice and quality of service to the clients is absolutely paramount.”

The recruitment drive is the result of three years of work on reorganising the IFA side of the company. “We are now in a position where we can say well, look, we have got a scaleable operation that we know works, we have got huge numbers of leads, we know we can generate more leads so this is the time now to expand.”

Cox is responsible for 94 people. There is a constant variety to the job and he finds it stimulating to be involved in so many different aspects of the business, although he has a particular interest in pensions.

Like many, he is very disappointed about the Chancellor’s U-turn on residential property in Sipps. “It is just sad that you have to ruin what is potentially an investment choice for the right person. There is no way that it was a mass-market solution by any stretch of the imagination but, for certain types of investors, given the fact we have got a million buy-to-let investors already, there might have been 10 per cent of those who would be looking at BTL within pensions. That is potentially 100,000 opportunities that we have missed.”

Last year, Cox took the decision not to advise on mortgages any more because he felt the company could not build a big enough mortgage business quickly enough. Instead, the company formed a strategic alliance with John Charcol where Hargreaves Lansdown introduces mortgage business to Charcol and Charcol introduces investment and pensions business to Hargreaves Lansdown.

The aspect of the job that he enjoys most is interaction with advisers and other support staff and managers. He describes himself as a people person and enjoys problem-solving. “I am quite a task-focused person so I enjoy getting an issue that has a challenge and finding a way round it.”

He likes helping people to develop and grow into different roles. The firm now has 382m in its discretionary managed service, a massive increase from the 10m total when he took over. But Cox admits there are many things he should have done differently or could have done better. “You learn so much more from your mistakes than from your successes so everything I have not done right, hopefully I will do better next time.”

As to his personal five-year plan, he intends to carry on as he is and grow the team until it reaches its critical mass, a number he is not sure of yet. “I think the issue is we do not know whether we are going to end up with 100 or 700 advisers. I suspect that with another 50 advisers we could still have capacity for another 100 on top of that but we do not want to grow too quickly.”

One of his motivations is to run a happy and successful team and says he is the type of person who needs to be proud of what people do although this does not seem to extend to his game of golf. “I am a golf-obsessive but I am rubbish. I have got the most expensive swing in the South-west.”

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