Financial services veteran Peter Mann famously reserved a chair at board meetings to represent the client, his view being the only thing that really matters is whether they have been served.
Although he winces at being described as client-centric, the ex-Skandia chief executive and Old Mutual Wealth vice chairman’s focus on the customer extends to technology, which he says is only as effective as the purpose it serves for the people who use it.
Mann identifies common properties in his work throughout his career. He has to have a strong connection with the people he works with, he wants to innovate and he relishes disturbance.
Considering the school of thought that artificial intelligence will make the people element of workforces less important in the future, does Mann think his focus on people could be anachronistic?
No. To him, artificial intelligence is really only the sum of the human ambitions creating it. He passionately believes successful advice is rooted in the intimate relationships that an adviser forms with clients.
So what does he think about the march of the robos? Does he not believe it could be a new dawn for democratising advice?
While he recognises the arguments in their favour, he just does not agree they can work without the human element of advice.
“Data spreads the truth about functional things but not about the emotional. Open banking doesn’t reveal anything about the person. The core of financial services will still be about how I personally want to change my financial wellbeing,” he says.
Peter Mann – CV
2014 – present: Various chairman and non-executive director roles
2012-2014: Vice-chairman, Old Mutual Wealth
2007 – 2012: Chief executive, Skandia UK
2002-2007: Chief executive, Bankhall
1996-2002: Distribution leadership roles, Scottish Amicable/Prudential
1990s: Financial adviser and life company inspector
But technology does have the power to change the way the industry does things, even if it cannot outdo us in the field of emotional intelligence. For Mann, the biggest game changer has been the introduction of platforms. “Who would’ve dreamt 10-15 years ago that a platform would be the way we do business?” he says.
Indeed, platforms have offered advisers the flexibility to create and adapt portfolios at the touch of a button.
At their very best, they make advice firms more profitable, as well as help advisers look good in front of their clients and avoid some of the pitfalls that could leave them on the wrong side of the regulator. Increasingly, they offer a convenient service to clients too, giving them greater visibility of portfolio performance and valuations.
When we speak to advisers, they often cite Old Mutual Wealth’s U-Scan investment analysis tool as an example of a platform really getting something right.
Mann says: “U-scan is a very good example of the principle ‘everything we did, we did for the client’. Yes, you could argue that we created an interesting and clever tool. But the real point about U-Scan is that it just worked and it made advisers’ lives easier.”
Mann’s latest venture is as chairman of protection company Guardian Assurance. Underwriting has been revolutionised by improvements in the way we interpret data, and data from smart devices has helped manage risk by changing customer behaviour, making them healthier. Mann sees an opportunity to improve customer outcomes.
At the moment, protection is still most often sold in conjunction with a mortgage but consumers are not being sold products with the right level of risk protection. He sees the thrust of this business as creating intent in advisers that protection is a good thing.
On the secret to a successful business, Mann believes one can only be created with a clear purpose in mind, and with everyone in that business understanding that purpose.
He cites men like Nucleus’ David Ferguson and Transact’s Ian Taylor as being platform leaders who really get this right.
Platforms in their purest form are essentially utilities. It is only people that can create something transformative. Mann started this journey at Skandia, changing a life company into a platform business and creating disturbance.
It is clear that technology has played an important role in his career but no one can put it clearer than him when he says: “The essence of life, pensions and investments is life.”
Miranda Seath is research director at Platforum