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Henry catchpole

As his beloved football team, Ipswich Town, battle it out for a chance to join the big boys in the Premiership next season, so Suffolk Life’s chief executive is relishing the prospect of captain- ing a niche player in the growing Sipp market from next April. James Phillipps finds he is confid- ent of helping 25,000 or more clients to achieve their goals

Ask any schoolboy what they want to be when they grow up and most would probably say a sewage worker rather than a pension administrator, says Suffolk Life chief executive Henry Catchpole.

But more than 10 years down the line, he would not change his lot for anything – except, perhaps, pulling on the blue shirt of his beloved Ipswich Town.

A Tractor Boy through and through, he claims it is entirely coincidental that Suffolk Life’s new offices, which open this week, are just a stone’s throw from Ipswich’s Portman Road stadium.

The offices will be opened by former Chancellor Nigel Lawson. The choice was no accident as Lawson was the architect of the self-invested personal pension.

Suffolk Life now administers 1.1bn across 5,000 Sipps and, with the new flexibility given to the product after A-Day next April, Catchpole thinks the market is set to explode.

“Our sales and marketing director John Moret said he anticipated there being 500,000 Sipps by 2010. People said he was mad but that now looks like an undershoot and the proof is in the pudding for us. We have never been so busy.”

Catchpole says market consensus puts the overall number of Sipps in force at 120,000, giving Suffolk Life a 5 per cent market share.

“If the market does then grow to 500,000 by 2010, even if we do not grow our market share, which I think we will, that will still be around 25,000 Sipps and 5bn,” he says.

Catchpole admits he is a little surprised that several of the bigger insurers have not launched Sipps. The most high-profile entrant into the market was Standard Life, which last December brought its Sipp admin in house and relaunched the product with a new charging structure.

Such a big player talking up Sipps undoubt- edly raises the profile of the product, which is positive for the smaller players in one sense, but is Catchpole worried that Standard will hoover up all the money?

“No. It is terrific that Standard is involved in Sipps. I have been doing this for 12 years and have always said the market is so big that, although there are a lot of competitors, it is a bit like Waitrose in Henley being worried about Tesco in Huddersfield. The market really is that big. Having the likes of Standard involved takes it not quite from obscurity but from niche to mainstream,” he insists.

Catchpole is very confident that smaller players such as Suffolk Life can differentiate themselves from the likes of Standard, with their powerful brands and distribution.

He says service is key to Suffolk, which underlines why the firm has almost doubled its staff in the past year as it gears up for A-Day. Catchpole stresses that maintaining its existing book of customers is at least as important as attracting new clients and rapid growth cannot be allowed to hit service.

That is the danger if some players enter the Sipp market late, warns Catchpole. Pension administration is something he believes Suffolk has perfected over the years.

“I think there is every likelihood that there is going to be a hiccup for the industry. I have heard anecdotal evidence that people are still not preparing yet but we are quite confident with our position. It is a lot easier to develop an innovative product than it is to get the admin right. If someone goes for a quick landgrab, they might live to regret it,” he says.

Suffolk is geared up to accept residential property, one of the key drivers of investor interest in Sipps post-A-Day, but is still undecided on some of the more esoteric investments being touted in certain quarters.

Catchpole says demand will ultimately drive whether Suffolk accepts such investments as stamps or racehorses and, if it does, it will be through a third party as the required level of expertise – for example, in valuing the asset – is possessed by specialists only.

Catchpole will not be putting his Ipswich Town season ticket in a Sipp, however. The one time his enthusiasm for A-Day wanes is when discussing his team’s promotion chances. Ipswich are in the Championship but have made a stuttering start to this season’s campaign. “I am not too confident we will be playing top-flight football next season. Football’s power to disappoint is huge,” he laments.

But dealing with clients lifts him from his gloom. He says the best part of the job is finding solutions for clients’ needs and helping them achieve their goals. Although most would balk at a career in pension administration, he says staff turnover at Suffolk Life is close to zero.

“If you asked 100 schoolchildren to rank the careers they wanted from one to 100, ranging from undertaker to actor, then pension administrator would be their 100th choice and most would probably work on a sewage farm. It is an amazingly vibrant industry to work in, though. My clients are genuinely interesting people.”

Born: Ipswich, 1965Lives: Ipswich

Education: Marlborough College, BA in business studies from University of Buckingham

Career: MacFarlanes, Suffolk LifeLife ambition: “If put on trial for being a Christian, I would hope there is enough evidence to convict me”

Hero: “Anyone who triumphs through good work”

Likes: French cheese and good handwriting

Dislikes: Milk puddings and jellyfishCar: Mercedes c280

Favourite authors: John Bunyon and Anthony Trollope

Favourite film: 12 Angry Men and Mississippi Burning

Favourite album: Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd

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