“It means making sure your competitors always think you are the best.”
Crocker started out wanting to be a vet but his squeamishness put paid to that ambition pretty quickly. After replying to an advert in the Bristol Evening Post, he got a job as a pensions clerk at Legal & General straight out of school.
After four years in this role, he was moved to London and into the investment department, supporting the person who looked after clients. A few years later, he became a pension expert within the IFA salesforce.
In 1990, he joined the start-up IFA division and worked his way up to the number two position before moving on to run the appointed representative channel.
After a number of other roles within L&G, he started running the intermediary business five years ago. He is responsible for the generalist mass of the IFA market and also runs the sole supplier distribution side called business partnerships.
His team is made up of three sales directors who run IFA protection, IFA savings and business partnerships. In a typical day, he sees business partners and IFAs as much as he can and says that is “the best part of the job”.
He spends quite a bit of time in meetings and committees and tries to be the sensing edge for the business.
“My role is sensing what the customer wants, sensing what the competitors are doing and then feeding that sensing back in through the structures that we run and right now, with the market so dynamic, I think that sensing is important.”
At present, he is very involved in preparations for the retail distribution review and is responsible for a series of operational workstream groups and planning the life insurer’s lobbying and positioning reaction.
He is also contributing to L&G’s plans on how to transform the business in terms of products, charging structures and disclosure notices in readiness for the RDR.
But he says it is still early days as each consultation paper has brought “a fairly significant shift” from the one before, so he is slightly cautious of what the final shape will look like.
But he says the bones of the RDR are not going to go away and is therefore planning for a more professional market, revamped charging structures and adviser structures and trying to envisage how the market will look come 2012.
He is very much against factoring regulations being translated over to the protection market because it is quite a different market with a different set of problems.
“The RDR should not be allowed to spoil the protection market because it is difficult to see a world where protection is over-provided.”
He does not think that the Conservatives’ plans to scrap the FSA and bring in a Consumer Protection Agency are likely to affect the RDR too much and says if there is any deferral of the 2012 timetable, it is likely to be on achieving the required qualification levels.
Crocker is also engaged in trying to convert the business partnership channel from a mortgage-led proposition with a couple of thousand advisers into a more long-term focused business.
“It is around not just selling to somebody more than once and recognising that they should be there for the life of the customer but also being a protection-led business.
“Mortgages are not as easy as they were. It isn’t good enough to simply get in there, remortgage and come back out again. For many years we have had a protection follow and a mortgage lead, I think in many businesses it should be reversed.”
L&G is the biggest player in the protection market by market share and Crocker says the firm will be launching some new product flexibility in this area towards the end of the year in a bid to build even more clear water between it and the rest of the market.
The company is making a big move away from focusing on the quantity of business written towards the quality of that business, which group chief executive Tim Breedon emphasised in L&G’s recent interim results’ announcement.
Crocker says: “We expect our market share to fall quite possibly in the short term because we are parting company with distributors where we do not feel our qualitative requirements are being met.
“If that enhances both the product margin and the profitability as a whole, we would prefer to write less profitable business so the expression is that quality outranks quantity and that profit outranks sales. That is quite a shift from a market that has driven itself through growth and volume for many years now.”
Crocker thinks the reason for many life offices making this flight to quality is due to capital scarcity. “I think it has caused us to realise that the capital we deploy acquiring business and the return we get on that capital is simply not making commercial sense.”
He believes the pension transfer market will shrink significantly as a result of these changes and the move away from initial commission. “The market will be much more interested in counting the money in the room, not measuring the front door. We have all measured the front door too strongly and at times celebrated an increase in business that may not be profitable for us.”
L&G is happy to part company with distributors that it feels are not offering the right quality of business.
“If history would suggest that, for whatever reason, the qualitative indicators running in that business are not meeting our required levels, then we would choose and prefer not to do that piece of business.”
This is done by either making the commercial terms unattractive so the intermediary would not place business with them,or by closing the agency. “It depends how severe the situation is. If there are reputational issues at stake, we would probably close the agency. We are not isolated in that action but I think that is correct.”
He says the number of IFAs who try and cut corners and whose lapse history is not good is on the increase at the moment.
Crocker expects to see more consolidation in both the life office sector and IFA sector but says it is difficult to make real efficiencies by “crashing” two life companies together, in reference to the Resolution and Friends Provident deal.
He says L&G has no plans to acquire any businesses – either manufacturers or distributors – and says that, other than Suffolk Life and its shareholding in Cofunds, the group’s strategy is to align with best-of-breed suppliers where it will take too long or be too expensive to get to where they are.
Born: May 1958, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
Lives: Bolney, near Haywards Heath in West Sussex with my wife Karen, son Sam and daughter Ellie
Education: Did O and A levels
Career: (All posts with Legal & General) 1976-80: pensions clerk, Bristol, 1980-84: LGIM – relationship support, 1984-90: regional pensions expert, 1991-94: created IFA division, 1995-2000: created business partnerships division for old AR/DSF channels
2000-05: various distribution leadership roles, including banking distribution
2005-present: managing director of intermediary distribution
Likes: Arsenal, eBay, golf, curry, piston heads, TVRs and fun
Dislikes: Bureaucracy, unreliability, salad, people who play small
Drives: Nissan GTR and a TVR Griffith 500
Book: Anything by Peter James
Film: Coach Carter
Album: Anything by The Killers or Kings of Leon
Career ambition: To stay motivated
Life ambition: To live long enough to see my kids successful, happy and independent
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Travelling the world or driving cars around a racetrack