Work and golf are the two big loves in the life of Towry Law managing director John Simmonds – and work is inevitably going to be time-consuming for someone willing to step into the shoes of the controversial former MD Douglas Black, who quit in December, just six months after the IFA firm's takeover by Australian insurance giant AMP.
Of his high-profile predecessor, Simmonds is quick to point out that his departure was amicable and they are on “very good terms”. He is also confident about the future, despite the deal struck with the Investors' Compensation Scheme for £30m to bail out Towry from its pension misselling mess, angering the IFA community.
His aim is to almost double the number of RIs to 400 from 220. Although ambitious, this is a more moderate target than Black voiced last August, when he announced he was embarking on a drive to recruit 800 IFAs to boost the firm's ranks to 1,000.
Simmonds does not think he will have a problem achieving his target, claiming that advisers are banging on Towry's doors for a job. “We want to recruit high-quality IFAs from a range of backgrounds, including bancassurers. We have people coming at us but we have to make sure they are the right people. They need to be experienced, good advisers, be well rounded and qualified to have a future in financial planning.”
Although Tudor Taylor, a former board director, and several other senior employees have jumped ship over the past few months, Simmonds says Towry has 12 to 15 per cent more advisers now than last June, when AMP snapped it up.
But, as some in the industry are quick to point out, quantity is not quality and it takes time and money to replace experienced advisers that have defected. To help with recruitment, a Towry training “academy” is being considered to bring new people into the industry. If its plans are to be achieved, it is fortunate that Simmonds admits to being a bit of a workaholic. “I work ridiculously long hours so it is just as well I love my job,” he says.
During the little leisure time he enjoys, Simmonds can be found on the golf course or ferrying his children to sporting events, which he says can involve watching hockey for hours on a Sunday afternoon.
He gets up at 6.30am every day and spends a lot of time touring the UK and overseas to visit Towry offices, which he believes is a vital task. As his weekday evenings are filled with corporate dinners, it is fortunate his wife is understanding, having been a successful businesswoman herself.
Having, very briefly, steered off the subject of work, Simmonds is keen to turn the conversation back to financial services and to quell fears that CP121 may destroy the IFA sector. Although admitting the number of IFAs is likely to be slashed, he thinks quality advice will still be available.
“If CP121 comes in as it is, as many as 90 per cent of advisers could go AFA. Towry Law will remain an IFA but, if it is necessary to have two businesses, we will do that.”
After CP121, Simmonds is wishing for “calm waters in regulation” and an end to the wave of industry reviews. But he concedes that the industry has not helped itself much, saying: “I think we have shot ourselves in the foot with pension misselling scandals.”
Simmonds' key business aim is to ensure that Towry is run profitably and expands in the UK and overseas. It has offices in Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Brussels, Dublin and Cyprus and is on course to launch in Spain and Singapore by the end of the year.
He is on a drive to make Towry a well recognised brand and a “bigger and better” one than it is at the moment. He also wants to build the corporate side of the business and is proud of the firm being appointed by Asda to advise its 116,000 employees. This is a win that he hopes will help Towry towards achieving its target of increasing corporate business to 50 per cent of turnover from its current level of between 30 and 40 per cent.
On competition, he says although Towry comes up against bancassurers, accountants and local IFAs, it is not a concern. “It is such a big market we do not trip over one another. There are opportunities for everyone in a robust IFA sector.”
Despite his efforts to avoid what can classed as “consultancy speak”, it does tend to crop up when he discusses initiatives in place designed to help Towry drop its recently tainted image. He talks of the 60 “brand champions” among his staff who intend to improve the firm's reputation. This is part of its “releasing potential” programme to get the most from its staff.
He says nothing is ruled out for the future. Although the focus is on growing organically, he does not dismiss the possibility of AMP making more acquisitions or taking stakes in IFAs if that looks like the best approach.
Simmonds might not have the flamboyant approach of Black but, in a steady and pragmatic way, his quiet confidence for the future of Towry is clear. It looks like he might have even less time to spend on the golf course.
Lives: Cambridge, with wife and two children.
Education: BA in business studies from Manchester Polytechnic, sponsored by British Aerospace.
Career: 1979, left college; 1981, joined money brokerage Mercantile House; 1984, IFA sales director at Equity & Law; 1990 managing director at Sun Life Financial Associates; 1995, director of marketing at Pearl; 1998, became director of general insurance; June 2001, appointed managing director of Towry Law in December 2001 following its acquisition by AMP in June 2001.
Career ambition: To make Towry Law a trusted financial services brand worldwide.
Life ambition: To get his children through education.
Likes: Golf, rugby, nice wine and “any food”.
Dislikes: Moaners and bureaucracy.
Cars: Mercedes S Class.
Peers say: “I think he has got a hell of a task on his hands. He needs to change a lot in the organisation to make it work. He is very quiet and not particularly dynamic.”