Born: Lancashire, October 28, 1948
Lives: In Kent with wife and three children in their 20s.
Education: BA (Hons) History, University of Leicester. ACIB professional
Career: Lloyds TSB, 1970-2001. Started as a graduate trainee with Lloyds
and became manager of a Liverpool branch in 1980. Held a series of position
in banking and insurance and became group executive director UK retail
banking in February this year before leaving to joining Axa this month.
Career ambition:”I have just achieved it by becoming chief executive of a
Life ambition: Wants to get the best out people.
Likes: Passionate about travelling and enjoys history.
Dislikes: None. He says he is a pragmatist and optimist.
Peers say: “Dennis is a leader who is light on the tiller, gives people
space but support, steerage but understanding and always has time for a
Describing himself as “one of life's pragmatists and great optimists” Axa
UK's new group chief executive Dennis Holt espouses the benefits of
multi-ties over polarisation.
Despite this, Holt, who left behind 30 years at Lloyds TSB to take up his
new post, says Axa is still committed to IFAs and even if the current
regime is scrapped he says they will remain critical to the market. “People
have been predicting the death of IFAs for as long as I can remember but
they have gone from strength to strength.”
On the current reviews of polarisation, he says no one can put a bet on
precisely what the outcome will be but Axa, like many others, is looking at
a range of future options, of which multi-ties is just one. “Multi-ties
seem to be coming and if it can give the customer better choice it is a
Many IFAs may see this view as perverse but Holt is adamant that
multi-ties can give consumers more choice and let them pick the best
product for their circumstances.
But he is not keen on Catmarking of products, saying this is only an
indicator of cost and ignores other features.
He says polarisation works reasonably well but does not give everyone
sufficient access to financial products, especially now that customers tend
to be more self-confident and keen to gather their own information.
Axa is seriously looking at the option of multi-ties and is talking to
IFAs and other potential alliance partners about what customers want from
distribution so it can develop the most appropriate channels.
He says banks are one potential partner but he is looking beyond the
traditional finance sector to utility companies, such as Centrica which
launched the Goldfish brand, and supermarkets which have large databases of
His preference for multi-ties over polarisation is not surprising given
his long commitment to date to Lloyds TSB, the company he joined after
graduating from Leicester University in 1970.
Why did Holt at the age of 52 decide to make such a major move and why
Axa? “After over 30 years it was not a move to be made lightly. Axa
approached me and it is a powerful brand I have always been impressed with
as a global business.”
He says he was impressed by the people he met and the strong, outward
looking top management team so he took them up on the offer and achieved
his ambition of becoming a chief executive of a global company.
Although Holt has dedicated his working life to finance, it does not seem
to have been a grand plan and he says he enjoyed studying history so much
at university he found the idea of getting a job appalling. He went into
banking in the end as he saw it is an environment where people with talent
could progress regardless of their social background or whether they
attended the “right” university.
O bviously, he was proved right in that view as he moved up through the
ranks from a graduate trainee to become group executive director of UK
retail banking earlier this year before taking the plunge with Axa.
Now one of his aims is to transform the company from a traditional product
provider to a wealth management offering and he thinks no one is exploiting
that much hyped market effectively yet.
He believes a fatal mistake is thinking that everyone with wealth is the
same. Some people want high-level advice on investment decisions while
others want to do it themselves and need much less guidance.
“The wealth management arena is changing significantly. It is no longer
predominantly inherited wealth but people in earlier stages of their life
who still want to work and have both borrowing and investment needs.”
Developing Axa's reputation for being innovative in product development is
a key objective but Holt does not think it is possible to use this as the
only means to differentiate from competitors. He says service, quality,
access and convenience are key factors.
His optimistic outlook extends to the stakeholder market and he seems
confident that Axa will be able use its efficient admin process to survive
in the market which has hit the likes of Clerical Medical and Scottish
But he does not believe in the strategy used by some of treating
stakeholder as a loss-leader to generate other business, arguing it should
be profitable in its own right. “Stakeholder has not yet taken off as well
as the Government may have hoped, but I hope they do not move to compulsion
as thatwould be an admission of failure.”
With the challenge of stakeholder and the market under review and likely
to change beyond recognition over the next few years, it is doubtful how
much time Holt will have left for his love of French restaurants and
But his experience at Lloyds TSB, where he was involved in five mergers
and held a range of jobs, including managing director for the general
insurance division and running its IFA operation for a time, should stand
him in good stead.