Born: June 6, 1946.
Education and qualifications: Degree in mathematics, Exeter College, Oxford.
Career to date: Standard actuarial student 1967-71, assistant actuary 1971-1976, organisation and methods manager 1976-1981, joint actuary 1981-1984, general manger (actuarial) 1984-1990, finance director 1990-1994, group finance director 1994-2001.
Career ambition: To be a successful chief executive of Standard.
Life ambition: “To exceed my actuarial life expectation.”
Likes: Golf, reading, travel.
Dislikes: “Manipulative people of any kind.”
Peers say: “Iain is concise, cryptic and a firm defender of mutuality.”
For a man who has spent the greater part of his life as an actuary, Standard Life's new group chief executive Iain Lumsden is, by his own admission, not very good at maths.
Despite gaining a second-class degree in maths from Oxford's Exeter College, Lumsden says most – if not all – of his fellow students were on a higher academic plane than him. But just how many of the class of 1967 have done as well as Lumsden is probably equal to the number of gold medals Britain won in the winter Olympics.
His success seems to lie partly in his manner – part hard-nosed actuary, part genial uncle – and in keeping with his steady attitude, he says he will do little to steer the business away from its present direction under his predecessor Scott Bell, from whom he took over this week.
He says: “The only thing I may do differently from Scott is be a bit more open on how we run the business. There is greater media and consumer exposure now and I am clearly the person who will be the focal point for credit or blame, depending on how things go. But I know my way around a bit. I have been here a long time.”
Lumsden joined Standard Life straight from university as an actuarial student after his father – an ex-Standard Life insurance broker – recommended the company to him. He knew little of the firm himself – “like most young people, I made a fairly uninformed choice” – but was struck by the small company atmosphere at Standard and settled down nicely. Until, that is, he qualified as an actuary in 1971 and was immediately ordered down to London, a city he holds in no particular affection.
Within a few years, however, he was back in Edinburgh and in a new job, heading up branch refurbishments and organisational projects among other distinctly non-actuarial responsibilities as Standard's new organisation and methods manager. It was a semi-secondment that went on for five years before he returned to his roots and rose to finance director in 1990.
“It is kind of a Standard thing – they have always tried to give experience in other areas to their employees. It was great fun and means that people, especially actuaries, are not necessarily doing the same job for all of their time with the company. For me, it is one of the major strengths of Standard.”
An even greater strength as far as Lumsden is concerned is Standard's status as the biggest mutual in the UK, easily dwarfing monolithic building societies such as Nationwide and Britannia. He says Standard does not have a “religious” commitment to mutuality but more of a business commitment. With no shareholders to satisfy, it can pay higher with-profits returns than most plcs.
“There is no case for demutualising at the moment and, in terms of growth, we have the capital to grow organically. Although there will always be a threat from carpetbaggers, I certainly don't spend a lot of time worrying about them. As long as we run the business well, I don't see why there should be a problem.”
S omething Lumsden acknowledges as far more of a problem is the 1 per cent world under stakeholder. He agrees with Norwich Union's recent assertion that the cap makes it very difficult for providers to offer low-income and medium-income earners any real options. But he reserves his vitriol for the FSA's depolarisation proposals, of which he is no big fan.
“We were surprised about the proposals and how they sprung from the research. It does not seem as though they are particularly logical. We would not have sought them but our main strategy remains to help IFAs prosper, even if that means supporting them if they decide to multi-tie. And if there are good IFA businesses up for sale, we would have to consider it.”
As befits a man who has just taken on one of the highest-profile jobs in the UK, Lumsden admits to becoming increasingly intrigued by politics and is currently ploughing his way through Paddy Ashdown's diaries, which he says are “highly amusing”.
But it seems his new-found political awakening is less a desire to emulate the shady movers and shakers in the corridors of power than a genuine interest in a world “so different from what I have experienced in my life”.
However, this is not to say Lumsden is not harbouring reasonably grand ambitions for Standard, including plans to expand the business in Germany, which has just seen new pensions legislation introduced.
If the move proves to be successful, he says expansion in other European countries could be on the horizon, although the UK will always remain the core market.
But of a more immediate concern to Lumsden – in common with many other men of his profession and age – is trying to get his golf handicap back down to its all-time best of four (achieved when he was 16) from its current 11.
He admits it is an uphill battle, particularly when his new job will make free time even scarcer, but cheers himself up by living vicariously through the Tiger Woods of this world. He is currently “annoying my wife Rosemary by watching golf four days a week on cable television”.
Unless he puts in an below-par performance at Standard over the next few months, this is a situation that Mrs Lumsden may have to learn to accept.