It may seem incongruous that national IFA Positive Solutions chief executive David Harrison declares his commitment to independence while selling a majority stake to Aegon UK but his argument seems to stack up.
Last week, he sold 60 per cent of the IFA which he has built up from its launch in 1997 to 600 RIs. He also signed a deal to sell Aegon the other 40 per cent in 2006.
Harrison is emphatic that Positive Solutions, which has its headquarters in Newcastle, will remain IFA. He sees himself as an entrepreneur rather than a traditional adviser and gives this as a reason for quitting his role as a director at Allied Dunbar after 14 years to set up on his own.
“We will continue to be IFA and that was of paramount importance in the Aegon deal. We are not tied, we are the opposite of that. Many of the 600 people who have joined us have left tied roles to become independent, and many have left independent companies that have signalled they will be multi-ties. Aegon and ourselves would be pretty foolish to change that.”
He says the 100 per cent sale to Aegon means that Positive Solutions would either tie completely or stay independent, with the latter being the clear-cut choice.
“It is very different from the approach that some providers have, of taking a 99.9 per cent approach which, in my opinion, is a definite signal that they intend to create multi-ties. If four or five major companies have a 10 to 20 per cent stake in an IFA, it will definitely become a multi-tie.”
He believes that any IFA which is profitable enough will choose the independent route. Harrison is a keen supporter of polarisation and the benefits that it has brought for consumer choice in financial services. He says he would have preferred it if the FSA had kept the status quo rather than scrapping the current regime.
“Polarisation has worked well for consumers. Without it, product charges for consumers would not have been driven down. We would have been very happy with the status quo.”
But Harrison is not an out-and-out critic of the regulator, saying that although it made some mistakes at an early stage in the consultation, it has listened to the likes of Aifa director general Paul Smee and made a major concession by introducing the menu-based system.
He says he is firmly committed to continuing to build up Positive Solutions using the entrepreneurial and business skills he developed taking an MBA through the Open University while working full-time at Allied Dunbar. “I would recommend any businessperson to do an MBA, although I think I took the world record time to do it – five years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”
Although Harrison describes Dunbar as a “fantastic training ground”, having joined Hambro Life as a salesman in 1983 and working his way up to director, he is not confident about the company's future.
“Being tied or multi-tied is a huge constraint on distribution, I do not want to have to choose from four or five providers. I think Allied Dunbar has a tied strategy and will struggle with the concepts of multi-ties and gap-filling which will be a strain on profitability. They have some tough times ahead. They have some brilliant salespeople but that's about it.”
He compliments his staff for their discretion in keeping the Aegon deal quiet, saying: “They must have heard the long conversations and conference calls. It says a lot about the people that work with us that it did not leak out.”
Since its launch five years ago, Positive Solutions has been quietly recruiting IFAs from rival firms as well as benefiting from the demise of direct salesforces. It was one of the main culprits in scuppering Inter-Alliance's plans to recruit the Pru's DSF en masse.
He puts the company's appeal to IFAs quite simply – “we charge less and give them more”. It says that while some firms charge advisers 50 to 60 per cent of their commission, it only takes 22 per cent.
Harrison is very focused on his career, saying “I genuinely love what I do and am here for the near to middle future. I have no ambitions to travel the world.”
But he has not always been so focused, saying he did a lot of odd jobs in construction and sales before joining Dunbar and realising a love of financial services.
Away from his career, his other big love is his family and his collection of pets. He lives in Northumberland with his wife and four children, venturing to London as seldom as he can. A lot of time must be taken up looking after eight cats and keeping them away from the retired greyhounds he takes in.
He concludes he is not into the corporate schmoozing that goes on in financial services, saying he is a “reasonably shy person” who prefers to meet people on a one-to-one basis.
With the Aegon deal done and dusted, it really is no surprise that Harrison seems secure about the future and the position of his firm after polarisation. But the changes over the next few years are inevitably going to test his declared commitment to independence.
Lives: Northumberland with wife and four children.
Born: July 12 1950 in Wales but grew up in Durham.
Career: 1983-1997: salesman and then director at Allied Dunbar, 1997-present: chief executive at Positive Solutions. Did a variety of odd jobs before joining Dunbar.
Career ambition: To remain at Positive Solutions for the near to middle future, saying: “I genuinely love what I do using innovation and creativity.”
Life ambition: “To continue to be happy, nothing deeper than that.”
Likes: “Individuals with character and most types of animals.”
Dislikes: “I do not like backstabbing and I do not like critics. Too many people can be hypocritical.”
Peers say: “David is a very focused individual with a refreshing approach to financial services. We could do with more people like him.”
Car: Audi TT but does not like driving.