Lives: Bristol with wife Janet and four children
Born: Lowestoft, Suffolk, 1951
Education: Lowestoft Grammar then Kingston Polytechnic, BSc Honours degree in Economics
Career: 1973 to 1975: junior analyst with merchant bank Guinness Mahon, 1975 to 1976: analyst with stockbroker Messell & Co, 1976 to 1979: fund manager ICI Pensions, 1979 to 1982: manager of investment department RoyalWest Trust International (Nassau), 1982 to present: managing director and then chairman of Whitechurch Securities
Career ambition: To never retire
Life ambition: To enjoy family and working life
Likes: Radio 4, particularly plays
Dislikes: Inconsiderate road users
Car: Isuzu Citation
Peers say: He has 1,000 ideas a day – only one of which is usually useful. He can talk his way out of a paper bag
I had a dream that I was running a successful company called Whitechurch and when I woke up I remembered the name.”
Now for most people this may seem a bizarre way to come up with the name for your future company – but not for Whitechurch Securities chairman Kean Seager.
“I thought churches are solid and the good guys in cowboy films always wear white,” explains Seager.
Perhaps that explains why he has started shooting from the hip and is looking to become embroiled in a gunfight with the big networks over the value of services they offer members.
Of course, he has a motive for such a showdown – he set up his own network, the Whitechurch Network, a year ago and has not really shouted about until now.
“None of us mind someone making a reasonable profit but to my mind these networks are the fat cats dining on the cream,” he says.
Seager believes the bigger networks are milking IFA firms in charges, with the firms getting little in return.
“Years ago, we were all hit by the compliance tidal wave and very few had the facilities to cope. Many IFAs had very little choice but to join a network. They had us over a barrel.”
He accuses the big networks of painting a picture of the regulator as the big bad wolf while implying that the IFA is lucky to be within their protective fold. He claims he has always found the regulator reasonable and helpful.
Seager also believes recent developments such as the Misys purchase of DBS mean that many smaller IFAs now view themselves as very small cogs in an ever-growing wheel, which is contrary to the principles of why they became an IFA in the first place.
“The word independent in the term IFA means more than not being tied to one group. Most IFAs are independent by nature,” he says.
This is where Seager says his network differs from its mainstream rivals. Not only does he claim Whitechurch provides the same compliance benefits cheaper but it does not charge fees on renewals and advisers leaving the network do not have to pay for run-off professional indemnity insurance cover. This is why, he claims, the network has attracted nearly 50 firms in the past year despite the fact it has not even marketed itself.
Seager says he is now in the position to start banging the drum and promote its existence as well as that of his newly launched Whitechurch Associates, which aims to provide IFA support services at a more cost-effective price than its rivals.
The main message of his marketing for both businesses is that IFAs should take heed of their own mantra and shop around to get the best deal. “Advisers should do exactly what they encourage their clients to do. They should shop around, ask for discounts and, if not satisfied, look elsewhere.”
S eager counters the argument that his attack is just a marketing ploy to steal members from the existing networks so that he can join the fat cats himself.
He says: “Yes, it is a business. I earn a good living and I am very happy with my lifestyle. But I am not and do not intend to become a fat cat. I do not think anyone will begrudge someone making a good profit if they offer a good service at a good price.”
Seager started Whitechurch in 1982, coming from a fund management background – unlike many of his counterparts at the time, who had come from the direct-selling schools of financial advice such as Allied Dunbar.
He started the business in his back bedroom, concentrating initially on providing advice to private investors on direct equity investments, although he ran a sideline offering advice on products such as unit and investment trusts. Before long,the direct equity side of the business fell by the wayside as he concentrated on financial planning.
The expansion of the business led Seager to offer his “ski bum neighbour” – one Mark Dampier – a job over his back fence. Dampier disputes this, claiming it was on his mum's front doorstep.
Thus began an enduring friendship, with them becoming best mates as well as godfathers to each other's children – despite Dampier leaving the firm in 1995, citing the problem of not being allowed to take any equity in it.
Seager still keeps a tight rein on the business although he now owns only 95 per cent of the firm,with his son Ben holding the other 5 per cent.
He admits the firm has seen a few ups and downs, especially in the stockmarket crashes of 1987 and 1992 but he compares these to running a Lowestoft boarding house – you have to make money when the sun shines: “The only difference is in this game it is more difficult to predict when winter is coming.”
He does not rule out a potential float of part of the business one day but says he will always maintain a controlling interest and is unlikely ever to retire.
“I want to be like young Mr Grace in Are You Being Served, wheeled in by a young, leggy nurse and secretary,” he says.
One thing is clear, Seager is not afraid to stick his head above the parapet even if it means people will take a few pot shots at him. Whether it is for obtaining a list of Equitable Life's membership and writing to them – which drew much criticism from rivals – or his latest attack on the networks.