When you describe an actuary as funny, normal people would assume you mean funny peculiar not funny,ha, ha. The anorak-averse breed of actuary being a rare species indeed, some might even argue a myth. But Aegon Individual Protection managing director Janet Wyles succeeds where many have failed dismally. She can boast an impressive ability to number-crunch with a sense of humour which does not rely on Christmas crackers for its inspiration.
At only 38, Wyles has an impressive CV. Graduating from Glasgow University in 1986 with a first-class honours degree in statistics, she went on to become a trainee actuary and equities analyst at Prudential Portfolio Managers. She moved to Coopers Deloitte (as it was then) but she says she missed the continuity of working in-house. “Dipping in and out of companies doesn't let you get down to the nitty gritty of the company concerned. Plus I like to see things through to the end and consultancy work doesn't give you that control.”
Ask any of her colleagues and you will hear that Wyles was born to be in charge.
“There is a definite culture shock when I move into a department. Doing something adequately is simply not good enough, you have to go for absolute best. I expect a lot from those around me, but I've found that they react well to it.”
Luckily for Wyles, her feeling of “personal responsibility towards the business and the people in it” is well catered for by the work culture at Aegon. “Our company motto is 'make money, respect people and have fun' you can't really go far wrong with that, can you?” She was brought into the Aegon fold initially through Scottish Equitable in 1991. After a five-year stint in London, she moved back to Scotland where she became head of life product development. She was promoted to personal investment product development manager of Graham Dumble's marketing management team and was responsible in 1995-96 for ScotEq International's product launches.
In 1997, she moved from managing the Scottish Equitable personal investment business to join Aegon group finance director Otto Thoresen's group development team as a founder member.
As part of her remit, she has been exploring alternative distribution for the IFA-only company but she is quick to defend the move. “Advice needs to be opened up to a broader market. I don't think the defined-payment system proposed in CP121 would achieve this but a two-tiered system sounds interesting. I believe you can sell protection with a lighter advice touch so we have been looking into that.”
The options being considered include partnerships and going direct. A few years ago, Wyles admits that she would have had to justify looking beyond IFAs for distribution but she believes firms are big enough and strong enough these days not to see the move as a threat. Tellingly, she adds: “It is only when you look elsewhere that you realise why the IFA market is so attractive.”
Wyles attributes the increased IFA take-up of protection products to the pressure being exerted through the squeeze of commission caps and the radical changes in the mortgage market. Protection is one of the fastest-growing areas of personal finance. Aegon's protection business started life as Scottish Equitable Protect in January 2001 with a range of three menu products and Wyles has been at the helm from launch. Under her guidance, the business has captured 7 per cent of market share but she is scathing of those providers solely after market share. “I want this to be a gold-standard protection business – the first place that people turn to. You need to compete on more than just price to achieve that.”
Competition seems to be a recurring theme in both her work and private life. The mother of two says she used to find Formula One incredibly boring until she became hooked on the extreme competitiveness of the sport. By her own admission, she is now a bit of a fuel-strategy anorak when it comes to the grand prix. After her family, F1 is her greatest passion.
“Thankfully, my husband likes it too but he is not as fanatical about it as me. My ultimate ambition is to watch the Monaco Grand Prix from a hotel balcony overlooking the course, with the commentary on the telly.”
A road accident in February this year, which saw her car plough into the crash barrier on the M6, proved to be a “road to Damascus” experience as far as her own driving is concerned. “I used to tear about in my car but since February I've changed my habits.”
Since her car was written off, Wyles has been using a fleet car but she says she has on order a Nissan XTrail four-wheel drive. Not quite Formula One, but a lot more robust and, after all, protection should start at home.
Lives: Corstorphine, Edinburgh with husband and two young sons Born: 1964
Education: Schooled in Cowdenbeath, Fife.First in statistics from Glasgow University 1986.
Career to date: Three years with Prudential as trainee actuary and equities analyst. Two years with Cooper Deloitte in actuarial and benefits consultancy. 1991 to present: Scottish Equitable/Aegon.1991-94: head of life product development. 1995-96: personal investment product development manager. 1996-97: manager of personal investment businesses. 1997-2000: part of Aegon group development team. 2001: managing director Scottish Equitable Protect/Aegon Individual Protection.
Career ambition: “To do something that I enjoy getting out of my bed for.”
Life ambition: “To enjoy life and foster the same attitude in my kids.”
Likes: Formula One and David Coulthard
Dislikes: Aggressive drivers
Peers say: “Janet is very driven and can be quite fearsome. She leads by example and is honest and open. Things are very much black and white, there's no grey where Janet is concerned.”
Car: Fleet car – Volvo