Age UK Enterprises managing director Gordon Morris says he always saw Age Concern as one of financial services’ “best-kept secrets”. But since its merger with Help the Aged and its rebrand, he says he is ready to tell the world about his growth plans in the post-retirement market.
Last year, charities Age Concern and Help the Aged joined forces and, in November, rebranded themselves as Age UK. Morris, who heads its financial enterprises division, plans to spend this year relaunching the charity’s range of financial products, which includes white-label general insurance and financial advice aimed at the elderly market.
Morris says: “Whatever industry you are in, you are going to create a product you can sell within the profit zone – people between 25 and 65. The problem with being on the older side of that is you are often ignored. But why should those people be ignored? Whether that is for independent financial advice or appropriate financial products, I want to make sure those people are best looked after in terms of getting the right advice they can trust and finding products that meet their needs.”
After a gentle push into financial services by his mother on leaving school, Morris worked across life, healthcare, pension and insurance markets at several big financial firms. He eventually moved to Age Concern and helped create a long-term healthcare proposition with the charity alongside CGU. He has since gone on to develop the Age UK Enterprise business, which today has 1.1 million customers.
Age UK Enterprises now runs from 280 Age Concern offices and more than 500 Help the Aged stores across the UK. It offers products that cater to the elderly market, such as will-writing and travel and home insurance, which are all distributed by Age UK’s 600 arrangers. Age UK has also been offering an experimental independent advice referral service with the Co-operative Bank IFA service for the last year.
“We are now reappraising the IFA referral and intend to relaunch it next year but have been overwhelmed with the results, which tells us what we already know – there is a demand out there for elderly financial education and advice that has not been satisfied.”
Morris says the Age UK Enterprise proposition has flourished because it works around its elderly customers’ needs. All the profits from the products and services are put back into the charity, the arrangers have no sales targets and they are all encouraged to spend time talking to any potential clients.
“The customer is at the very heart of our strategy,” he says. “As long as we have happy customers, they are going to tell their friends and stay with us.
“The duration of a sale over the phone or in the office is going to be double with us because it is more of a conversational process. It is more important that the person understands what is being discussed, as opposed to closing the sale as soon as possible.”
Morris says this sales and distribution strategy puts Age UK in a unique position to take on some simple advice and generic information roles that could be sought by lower-earning older people after the RDR in 2012. “If there is a need to do something for people in later life, we will be there to do it.”
He also thinks the charity’s focus on the elderly market is being noticed by other providers in the sector: “Lots of firms have age cut-off dates for insurance products, for example, but we have never had that. What is noticeable now is that more firms are increasing the upper age limits – so firms are responding and that is great. I think we have made a dent in the market, most definitely.
“Companies are waking up to the fact that people are going to live longer but they have to recognise it is a different market and you need different products and services.”
As well as a refreshed GI range and a relaunch of its IFA service, Age UK Enterprises says it has plans to move into annuity services as well as long-term healthcare funding and equity release.
“We are all living longer but that does not mean we will live a healthier life, so what type of care will people need? Will they need to go into a home? How will they pay for it? We need to recognise there is a problem building up and someone needs to find the solution. Age UK is well placed as the leading charity that looks after later life in the UK, working with partners. But we need to face facts that the cost of care will be enormous and there needs to be a solution.”
Morris hopes to be able to offer all his products and services through Age UK’s offices and its network of retail stores, amounting to a significant national distribution chain.
“Elderly people can come into one of the shops and take a leaflet on any of the products or on any advice and information matters and if they want to take it further we can point them to an Age UK office. Alternatively, we will put a phone in the shop or even have a screen they can see an arranger on. It is about choice.”
A recent TV campaign by the charity more than doubled the calls made to the Age UK helpline, reaching as many as 2,400 a day. Morris says many of these calls are questions about benefits, equity release, long-term healthcare funding and pensions. “This tells me how much of a problem there is out there for older people and how we are in the right place to deal with them.
“We want to enable people to have more money and improve their lifestyle and being part of Age UK now means we do not make a secret of that any more. We have a big growth strategy but on the same basis we always have – value-for-money products and happy customers.”
Born: East London, 1955
Lives: Sidmouth, Devon
Education: East Ham Grammar School
Career: 2009-present: managing director, Age UK Enterprises; 1999-2009: sales director, marketing and product development manager, managing director, Age Concern Enterprises; 1994-99: lifetime care sales director, PPP Healthcare; 1991-94: Scottish Equitable, 1974-91: London & Manchester
Likes: Spending time with family, watching rugby, Indian food
Dislikes: Wasting time
Book: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Film: The Godfather
Band: The Eagles
Life ambition: To continue to be healthy and happy
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…England rugby team coach