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Dominic Grinstead

One of the most influential books in MetLife UK managing director Dominic Grinstead’s life has to have been the A to Z of Graduate Careers, although he never made it past A as his first job was at Allied Dunbar.

It was a toss-up between that and Asda but Asda paid £500 less and he would have had to work on Saturdays so he says it was an obvious choice.

After two years as a graduate trainee at Allied Dunbar, he became a broker consultant with Guardian Royal Exchange for five years before joining Clerical Medical in various sales management roles.

Four years ago, he heard that US insurer MetLife was looking to enter the UK market and says he was intrigued by a company that was offering products with guarantees.

He was brought in initially to help turn the business case into a reality and after six-months he was offered a full-time job as business development director.

In December 2007, he took on the role of strategic development and marketing director for both the UK and the emerging European operations in Poland, Spain and Greece.

Then in May this year, MetLife decided to merge the companies in Europe into one firm with a single management structure. The UK CEO at the time, Ed Gardner, was made redundant and Grinstead was promoted to managing director of the UK firm.

Grinstead says his role covers five key elements – making sure the products are right, building the brand, expanding distribution, ensuring good customer service and profitability.

At present, MetLife only sells through IFAs but Grinstead says the company is “open to other distribution in the future”, although he thinks it is very unlikely the company would set up a tied agency.

“I think bancassurance is an area which at some stage we would like to develop further but I should say we have no specific plans yet. Good quality banking advice could play a part in addition to IFAs.”

MetLife offers two products – a pension product called the retirement portfolio, where the client chooses from three types of guarantee, and a guaranteed onshore investment bond which has a capital guarantee.

The retirement portfolio guarantee options consist of a capital guarantee which ensure the client’s money will never reduce, an immediate guaranteed income for life which means the guaranteed income will stay with the client for life regardless of underlying fund performance, or a deferred guaranteed income for life.

The guarantees are underwritten by MetLife itself, avoiding the problems faced by other insurers which experienced the failure of third-party guarantees on Lehman and AIG-backed products.

MetLife will be launching further products during the next few weeks which will expand the range of guarantees and the choice of tax wrappers. Following the departure of competitor The Hartford from the UK market in May, Grinstead says these launches should prove that MetLife is committed to the UK market and is here to stay.

Grinstead reports that the economic climate is stimulating interest and sales of Metlife’s existing products and, with a changing retirement landscape, he is bullish about the future.

“What we find is that both state and corporations are moving away from their traditional role in providing for people in old age so an insurance company which provides guarantees is very much a key driver for success.”

The main impact of the economic downturn on the business has been on the rising cost of providing guarantees. The company repriced in April and although prices have gone up, Grinstead says clients can still buy a guarantee for as little as 70 basis points. “We have not found it has slowed down sales traction.”

Grinstead says he was disappointed to hear The Hartford had left the market. “We would like more competitors in the market. We do expect more competitors to come in over the next 18 months. I know some of the large players would love to come into the market because they recognise the products meet a consumer need.”

There have been a number of critics of third-way products, mainly focusing on complexity and what some commentators feel to be the high cost of the guarantees.

But Grinstead says this is not consistent with the company’s general experience of the IFA market. “We certainly find that IFAs are adopting these products in a reasonably big way. It is a new product category so it will take time but we definitely think we are on that road.”

The products are aimed at the mass affluent and Grinstead expects variable annuities to become a mass-market product. He expects guaranteed products to emerge as an asset class in its own right and says it offers an alternative to cash, fixed interest and equities to form part of a balanced portfolio for investors.

Grinstead says the firm is focused on organic growth but does not rule out the possibility of an acquisition if the right opportunity arises. The company is expanding the sales team which now stands at around 75 people with seven recruited from The Hartford. He says he gets three or four calls a week from people wanting to join the business.

His philosophy in life echoes Nelson Mandela’s final thoughts in his autobiography – you can climb to the top of the mountain but once you get there, there are many more mountains to climb.

Speaking of mountains, Grinstead and his colleagues will have hopefully completed a 24-peak challenge by the time this goes to print with the aim of raising £30,000 for Sue Ryder Care.

Born: London, 1964

Lives: Gloucestershire and London with wife, two daughters aged 19 and 17 and one son aged 11

Education: A-levels from Bishop Challoner School, Kent, degree in Political Studies from Newcastle University

Career: 2009-present: managing director UK, Metlife; 2007-09: marketing director, Metlife; 2005-07: strategic development and marketing director, Metlife; 2003-05: head of national sales, Clerical Medical; 2001-03: head of business development, Clerical Medical; 1992-2001: various sales and manage-ment roles, Clerical Medical; 1987-92: broker consultant, Guardian Royal Exchange; 1985-87: Allied Dunbar

Likes: Teamwork, fast pace, new ideas, Newcastle United

Dislikes: Negativity, politics in the workplace

Drives: Lexus

Book: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess

Film: Atonement

Album: 52nd Street by Billy Joel

Career Ambition: To build MetLife into an established UK player

Life ambition: To look back and believe I gave it my best shot

If I wasn’t doing this…I would be a history teacher

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