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James dalby

In his new role as head of fund proposition at Norwich Union, the former investment IFA is using his research skills and knowledge to help the life office become more investment-focused. Changes are already afoot in its equity portfolio and he plans to build on other areas, such as property, with the launch of a European fund. Interview by Philip Scott

AAs far as Norwich Union head of fund proposition James Dalby is concerned, he is working for an investment firm. He is adamant that NU is committed to competing with the likes of Fidelity and New Star.

He says: “Historically, life companies are seen as offering relatively poor performance but they are trying to change and are becoming much more investment-focused.”

The former investment IFA joined the life office in April. Dalby says his former role at Bates were, aside from his public relations duties, based in the field of research and the skills he learned there are just as relevant at Norwich Union.

“Life companies are increasingly offering open architecture. The changes have not been as big as some might have expected, my role was in research and media relations. The job is not just about Norwich Union funds as the group is linking to other groups and investment houses. On the life and pension side, we do link to other funds – the role is still very research-based.”

Dalby believes NU has plenty to offer investors. “It is a strong property fund and fixed-interest provider but where it does need improvement is in the equity space.”

The JP Morgan and Schroder managed funds offered by NU – Norwich UK special situations and Norwich UK growth & value respectively – were launched this year and Dalby says this is a step in the right direction.

“But we will look at other spaces. In equity income, we have a good proposition with Dan Roberts’ fund, Norwich UK equity income, but it is a competitive space.”

He explains there has been a review of the Morley managed UK equity fund and alterations to the management process. He expects to see change. “If numbers improve next year, people will take notice the following year.”

Dalby left school at 16 and went to work for an accountancy firm, David Newton & Co, where he prepared accounts for small firms. He moved on to General Accident and worked in the unit pricing section before joining Bates where he took his adviser exams. “I did the usual Financial Planning Certificate and Securities Institute investment advice certificate.”

In terms of his move to NU, Dalby says the environment, while very different, has not thrown too many surprises his way and he has no regrets in regards to the switch. “There are many more stakeholders and more people to work with, answer and report to but I went in with my eyes open and this has not been a surprise. I knew there would be a lot of meetings to attend and committees to go through.

“I am now touching on lots of different areas. At Bates my role was more focused. I have been dashing about for the past seven months and it takes time to get to grips with.”

He relishes the challenges that come with working for such a big organisation and says “it is an important business to intermediaries.”

The group is looking to build on its property proposition. The Norwich property trust has been running for 15 years, and Dalby notes there was a time when there were few funds available to advisers.

“We need to continue to be a player in the property market and broaden the range.”

Part of that play is the imminent launch of a European property fund this month.

“Possibly, at the end of this year or the beginning of next, there will be the launch of global property and property fund of funds. We have taken the arrival of Reits into account as it certainly broadens the number of property options we could deliver.”

Weekends are for spending with his partner and two young children, aged five and two. “The weekend is about the children. We just started swimming lessons. I am not a sportsman, I have a passing interest in motor racing, and that is pretty much it.”

Born: 1972 in York

Lives: York, with partner Clare and two sons, Jack, five, and Sam, two.

Career: April 2006 to date: head of fund propositions for Norwich Union Life in York; 1999-2006: research and media relations for Bates Investment Services in Leeds; 1999-91: unit pricing for General Accident Life in York; 1991-89: Trainee accountant at David Newton & Company, York.

Likes: People who are passionate about what they do.

Dislikes: People who over-complicate issues.

Drives: Vauxhall Zafira.

Favourite Book: Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island.

Favourite Film: The Shawshank Redemption.

Favourite Album: Catatonia’s International Velvet.

Life Ambition: To retire early enough to travel the world a few times.

Career Ambition: To drive the investment fund industry forward.

If I wasn’t doing this job I would be…Pretty bored, actually. Probably involved with cars or motorbikes.

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