David Cooper, director of marketing and distribution at Just Retirement, admits he was “completely clueless” about financial services when he started his first job in the industry.
He says: “I set out to work in entertainment. Finance was not on my agenda but by virtue of being good at maths, I stumbled into a trainee actuary role at Hymans Robertson.”
Cooper enjoyed the role but he soon realised that being an actuary was not for him. He says: “The going got pretty tough exam-wise so I realised I had to add value in some other way. I effectively became a management consultant, which was fantastic as I got to travel the world helping pension fund managers.”
However, after 13 years, the novelty of the jet-set lifestyle wore thin. Cooper says: “I was either packing for a trip or unpacking from the last one. By pure coincidence, I spoke to a headhunter for Stalwart Assurance, which had recently launched the UK’s first enhanced annuity. It had received front-page coverage because all of a sudden people who smoked were getting a better deal, so I joined up.”
Cooper says the potential for innovation was the main appeal of the enhanced retirement market. He says: “In 1997, the market was completely underserved. You could almost write your own game plan on a piece of paper and make half of it happen.”
However, after Stalwart was bought by GE Capital and Cooper was faced with “the big US treacle you have to wade through at global companies”. Cooper left the retirement market to run product management for Goldfish Credit Cards.
From there, he spent four years looking after product management for Bradford & Bingley but again he grew tired of the travelling. “I enjoyed bringing innovation to the business and helping them grow their revenue form their non-manufacturing core but the travel issue came back. Nothing as glamorous as St Kitts or Mauritius – I had to go from Gatwick to Yorkshire every Monday – but it was a bit of a bind. They had just made 3,500 people redundant so I figured another one would not damage the coffers too much.”
Cooper joined Just Retirement as marketing director in 2006 after company chief executive and ex-Stalwart Assurance managing director Mike Fuller invited him on board.
Cooper says: “Just Retirement was going from strength to strength. I joined a business that was absolutely flying. Today, we have over three times more staff than we did then. We are the UK’s third-biggest annuity writer and second-biggest equity release writer.” Just Retirement also hit the £1bn total sales mark last year.
Since joining, Cooper’s role has broadened into distribution as well as marketing. He says: “A big part of what I do is strategy. I get together with our new management team, which has been built over the last year or so since Permira became our owners, and discuss where we can add value.”
The most recent component of this strategy is Just Retirement’s fixed-term annuity, which Cooper believes offers unparalleled flexibility. “Interest rates are better at longer durations, so clients can get a higher income but know they are not locked in for the long term.”
It represents a shift in Just Retirement’s target demographic. “Our current annuity business is focused on unhealthy, mid-market people. The fixedterm annuity is for much healthier people and is more upmarket. Our two annuity offers do not touch each other and this is part of a theme to help advisers cater for a broad range of clients.”
Another part of Just Retirement’s strategy is making the underwriting process less painful. “If you are an impaired client, it can take months, so we launched tele-underwriting. A professional medical practitioner spends 15 minutes on the phone with the customer asking relevant questions, which takes out cost and complexity. Nearly 70 per cent of cases are qualifying at the intermediary firms we have tested it on.”
Working with medical professionals is a big part of Just Retirement’s strategy. It employed Dr Tim Crayford as medical director earlier this year. Cooper says: “We see medical intellectual property as one of the most important assets we have. Leveraging medical IP is the starting point for understanding clients’ likely longevity and helping them make the most of their retirement.”
Equity release is the other branch of Just Retirement’s proposition and Cooper believes this too has huge potential to improve the status of the country’s retirees.
“We see home equity as being the only financial solution for many to have a long and active retirement. I would put my money on equity release being a sizeable market at some point in the future.
“I know we have been saying that for a long time but the reasons the market came down were understandable. The recession gave people the biggest shock of their lives and major players also withdrew from the market. You could argue it is one of the best-run sectors because everyone is so paranoid about doing anything wrong.”
Cooper thinks that the Dilnot report will boost the equity-release market. “We will see more players. We welcome the competition. I always say we should grow the market first and then worry about who else joins it.”
Cooper also thinks Nest will be a key player in addressing the savings gap. Just Retirement has been selected as one of the four companies to sit on its annuity panel, which Cooper sees as a great achievement. “We made the grade and we are pleased. Nest is the right thing for us to be seen to be doing.”
Just Retirement has recruited six senior staff so far this year to cope with the company’s new responsibilities and Cooper plans to employ three more people over the next few months.
He says: “Now is the right time to gather talent. There are obviously challenges in the form of the RDR and Solvency II but they are not barriers. We have a good team and good backers, so nothing is impossible.”
Born: Ilford, Essex in 1966
Lives: West Sussex with wife, Jane, and three children
Education: Palmers College Sixth Form followed by Institute of Actuaries exams
Career: 2006-present: marketing and distribution director at Just Retirement; 2002-06: group director of retail products at Bradford & Bingley; 2001-02: Goldfish Credit Cards, product director; 1999-2001: general manager at Centrica Financial Services; 1997-99: head of risk management at GE Life; 1984-97: actuarial consultant at Hymans Robertson
Likes: Can-do attitude, delivery focus and strategic thinkers
Dislikes: The “not invented here syndrome”, politics for politics’ sake and misplaced egos
Drives: A Mercedes E320
Book: The AA Good Pub Guide
Film: Blues Brothers
Album: Just Enough Education To Perform by Stereophonics
Career ambition: To play my part in getting decent reliable financial services solutions to the mass population who need them most and trust them least
Life ambition: I am still searching for it
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A film cameraman having failed the final interview for a job at the BBC in 1984