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Jo Parker

The managing director of financial marketing agency Teamspirit, Jo Parker has a passion for communication and believes the financial services industry is being hampered in getting its message across due to unclear and heavy-handed regulation, says Sam Shaw

Jo trained as an actress, then worked as a speech therapist before moving into financial services but she says: “It is all about communication.”

Today, she uses her skills as managing dir- ector of financial marketing agency Teamspirit. Since joining the agency a year after it was set up, Parker has seen a growing understanding of the role of marketing among financial services firms. She says it is becoming a science closer to the areas of retail and fast-moving consumer goods, focusing more on the consumer’s end needs rather than financial products.

Parker’s original ambition was to tread the boards as an actress but after studying drama at St Catherine’s School in Guildford, Surrey, her parents persuaded her to get “a real job” as a speech therapist. However, after several years, she found herself becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of red tape in the public sector. “I was not happy with the way the NHS was going. I like to get things done and that was proving difficult.”

She was offered a job at National Mutual – now GE Life – and has never looked back. Her ultimate goal is to set up a stage school but in the meantime she is focusing on growing business at Teamspirit “but not too much – we do not want to get too big.”

Parker now finds herself struggling in the face of onerous regulation that she says inhibits her creativity as a marketing professional. “I think it is increasingly difficult to communicate to consumers. The layering upon layering of regulation is getting in the way of progress. It is not helping with what it is supposed to do, which is making life clearer and easier for the end-customer.”

Apart from tobacco, she says there is no other industry that is subject to the same level of restrictive regulation.

Parker is particularly keen to stress the relationship-driven aspect of financial marketing. She admires brands such as Nationwide and praises many of the other building societies for focusing on retaining customers. “Nationwide is great for the way it treats its existing customers. I think a lot of financial institutions should be focusing more on this area. I think the majority of marketing budgets have been spent on acquisition, whereas it needs to be more about rewarding loyalty and looking after your existing customer base.”

But Parker believes that financial marketing requires a two-pronged approach in which intermediaries are equally important as the end-customer. “Within the industry, particularly with the product providers, there is a large amount of neglect of the role of advisers. It requires balance. Of course, you need to talk to the customers but advisers are just as important.”

She points out that while IFAs are clear about the role of marketing, they do not like mass marketing and she avoids using blanket direct-mail campaigns when targeting them. “We need to get smarter when it comes to marketing to IFAs. It is a relationship-driven industry and we need to treat it as such.”

Teamspirit works with clients from the pension, investment and banking sectors but Parker would also like to apply her skills to areas such as credit cards and loans.

She says if she could have one wish realised in financial services, it would be for more clarity of regulation. “We are seeing regulation on both products and distribution. I think it is time for the Government to decide overall what needs to be regulated. From a practical day-to-day point of view, it is leading to essentially an anti-competitive nature for firms.”

Parker says she is lucky to be able to work long hours thanks to an arrangement with her husband Simon, who works part-time as a plumber and part-time as a house-husband, looking after their nine-year-old son.

She also serves on the UK committee of the Slow Food campaign, an anti-fast-food movement which originated in Italy and is committed to the enjoyment of food and development of local producers and non-commercial eateries.

This year, she also produced a book of short stories to raise money for the Sight Savers International charity.

She has overcome a personal fear by learning to dive, being taught by her great uncle, who became a diving instructor at 65. This year, she received her advanced diving certificate.

Parker is not one to run from fear, believing that financial services needs to accept that we do not live in a risk-free world.

“One thing the regulator does not allow us to talk about is the risk of not taking any risk. We do not live in a risk-free bubble and it is too difficult to engage with consumers with clarity if we are being too tightly restricted by regulation.”

Born: Nuneaton, WarwickshireLives: Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Family: Husband Simon, son Jack

Education: University of London BSc Hons, CIM

Career: 1988/89 Cornhill Insurance, 1989/92 National Mutual Life, 1992/94 City Financial Marketing, 1994/97 AMLtd and lecturing work, 1997 joined Teamspirit, 1999 became director, 2002 became managing director

Likes: Diving, writing, Slow Food movement, theatre especially Alan Rickman

Dislikes: Apathy

Car: Sunbeam PPS Series 5 Alpine 1967

Favourite book: The Magus by John Fowles

Favourite album: The White Album by The Beatles

Favourite film: Hear my SongHero(es): “My team – they are the best”

Life ambition: To write a good book

Career ambition: For Teamspirit to be the most effective marketing agency in the sector with the best and happiest team

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