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John Deane

You don’t fix what isn’t broken, says John Deane, the Royal London executive director with responsibility for IFA business, apparently weary of persistent rumours that Bright Grey and new acquisition Scottish Provident will be merged.

Deane has built a reputation as a deal-clincher and change-maker. In a quarter of a century working in financial services, Deane was behind Old Mutual’s gutsy takeover of Skandia as well as transformation programmes at Laurentian Life and Century Life. He is a man who takes delight in confounding the sceptics.

“The fact that ScotProv is now owned by a company that built its own protection business, so is absolutely committed to the market and is seen as a long-term holder of assets, will give some real stability to the employees of Scottish Provident, the IFAs that work with them and their clients,” he says.

Deane says there are no plans for cost-efficiency savings between the two protection providers now co-existing in Royal London Group although he concedes that they compete in some product areas. He believes the IFA community is broad enough to accept both brands. “Branding is a hugely personal thing. ScotProv is about stability, has been around for a long while and is frankly more of a household name. Bright Grey is recognised as new and a little bit funky.”

He says the takeover represented an opportunity to build sales volume and presence in the market. Deane says ScotProv was beginning to lose market share under Resolution. Now it is time to inject some certainty and vision.

Deane entered the life insurance industry in 1981 at Sun Life, where he qualified as an actuary. He reflects that the decision was prompted partly by a £10 wager with his university professor.

Deane’s ability as a man-manager soon become clear and he left the actuarial side. In 1987, he became director at Laurentian Life where he was put in charge of introducing laptop technology to the salesforce. It was not universally welcomed and he says there was a fear that pulling out a laptop in a client meeting could act as a barrier to the sale but he convinced the staff after a “reasonably vigorous” programme of change.

In 1993, Deane joined Century Life where he oversaw a comprehensive changeover of its computerised systems and processes in preparation for the dreaded millennium bug.

“We had to rewrite the systems for the year 2000 so thought why not completely re-engineer these very old systems?”

In 2000, he left to set up an outsourcing company, Adeptain, before joining the board of Old Mutual. Working from Cape Town, Deane got involved in the sales and product redesign for its South African life business.

Perhaps his most notable achievement at Old Mutual was in helping to secure the acquisition of Skandia. He says it was the persistency of the approach that led to the “quiet satisfaction” of a successful bid. The clinching of the deal was like a game of cards, not so much poker but a round of bridge. He had a hand to play and a bid to match.

“Nobody thought we could do it. Even when we went for it, people did not believe we could do it. We played the cards right, we were consistent in our analysis and thinking and did not panic. And that turned into a deal.”

Deane believes that the industry often overcomplicates terminology and proposition rather than emphasising the strengths seen by the end-user. He says the industry should try to engineer understanding.

“Look at bridges. The thing of beauty about a bridge is that you can use it. Some people are hugely interested in the engineering. That’s OK but do not try to sell the beauty of the engineering to those who want to walk across it, because it will just slow them down.”

Deane is an advocate for a payment mode based on customer-agreed remuneration which he says is “undoubtedly good” for life insurers and shareholders. He claims there is no way that some life companies can sustain the commission payments they are making. He says analysts are questioning how capital is used in life companies, persistency, long-term business and payback periods. It is therefore natural that legislative and financial management tiers are looking at the mathematics of the industry.

“Some of the suicidal levels of commission payments just cannot continue.”

Deane says, four years on from launch, 80 per cent of Royal London’s individual business is now paid through customer-agreed fees while 50 per cent of its group business is on a similar basis agreed through its financial adviser fee system.

He accepts that a change from commission will not happen overnight but is adamant that it represents the future.

“CAR or whatever you call it is coming. It will become the industry norm. That ultimately has to be good for the customer, as they know what they are paying for and it is good for the adviser as it gives clarity to the value of advice. It puts the industry on a professional footing. Financial advice is complex and should be seen to be professional and remunerated in the same way as other professions.”

Born: Cambridge, 1958

Lives: Bannerdown, Bath

Education: BSc in mathematics at Leicester Polytechnic

Career: 2007-present – executive director, Royal London; 2004-07 – corporate development director, Old Mutual; 2000-03 – chief executive, Adeptain; 1993-2000 – managing director, Century Life; 1987-93 – director, Laurentian Life; 1981-87 – actuary, Sun Life

Likes: Bath rugby club, spicy food and good conversation

Dislikes: Red tape, lack of motivation, stuffed marrow

Drives: Audi A3Favourite book: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Favourite film: MASH, directed by Robert Altman

Favourite album: One Chance by Paul Potts

Career ambition: To keep achieving results that people find surprising

Life ambition: To undertake charitable work in South Africa

If I wasn’t doing this I would be…A GP


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