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KEITH BALDWIN

Keith Baldwin must be one of the great survivors.

Throughout the turbulent history of Allied Dunbar – it began as Hambro Life, was bought out by BAT, joined umbrella group BAFS, became a single marketing group with Threadneedle and recently saw its parent merge with Zurich – many have come and gone.

Clever men such as George Greener and Steve Melcher have been ousted or resigned. JRA founders Keith Carby and Mike Wilson also left. But Baldwin is still there, now as managing director and deputy chairman.

He began, after short periods with Investment Annuity Life and Hill Samuel, as a sales associate in 1974. He was appointed South-east regional manager in 1987 and joined the board as sales director in 1991. He is now responsible for the 3,500-strong salesforce.

A former colleague says: "He has tremendous commitment and determination. That is his innate nature but the job is enormously stressful."

He was apparently good pals with ex-Dunbar chairman George Greener and was known internally as "George&#39s familiar". But BAFS life chief executive Phil Smith and others have grown to respect his endeavour and loyalty.

As an enthusiast, Baldwin thinks the industry is unfairly castigated. Why has it got a bad name? He says: "A lot of you guys write all sorts of stories which have got angles on it."

Explanation is needed. Recent relations between Dunbar and Money Marketing have been interesting, shall we say. Dunbar feels a little hard done by.

Baldwin says: "It does make me mighty damn cross when things get printed that have got a spin on it." But once he has got a few things off his chest, Baldwin relaxes and becomes much better company.

He is keen to recruit IFAs to the salesforce and is a little tetchy at publicity that he regards as less than helpful. Why was Dunbar known as Allied Crowbar? Baldwin blames envy from the rest of the industry.

Dunbar&#39s plan to attract IFAs looks to some like Lions trying to recruit Christians but Baldwin says more and more independent advisers are learning the benefits of being a sales rep.

"IFAs are now starting to come and talk to us. The common message from IFAs seems to be that they are being restricted due to the best-advice panels, the complexity of administration and the speed of service is slowing. They are having to spend a disproportionate amount of their time on administrative processes rather than looking after clients."

Will IFAs give up their much valued independence? Dunbar says it has recruited 32 IFAs so far this year.

"There are an increasing number who are getting fed up to the back teeth with the increased admin load and the increased costs and the fact that they are not getting the things they really crave. The one thing that really distinguishes Allied Dunbar is professional development."

Baldwin gets irritated at suggestions that independent advice is somehow better, more moral, than advice from a tied agent. "I really think that you ought to start writing more about generic advice rather than trying to say that an IFA provides better advice than a company rep or a bancassurer – wrong. Bad people give bad advice."

What is he good at? "Deciding what I am going to do and driving the organisation towards it no matter what the press, regulator, general public or anybody else says."

Driving is the right word for Baldwin, who is 49 and married with three daughters, is a motorsport fanatic. In 1989 he won the classic Formula 3 Championship in his own racing car and still competes in the American Racing Promotions Formula 3 series.

What else has he achieved? "We have turned Allied Dunbar upside down in the last six years in terms of the quality and the way that we deliver service to clients."

But the perception of rivals is that Dunbar is struggling somewhat. In a boom time for the life industry, its own business figures are less than inspiring.

For the first three quarters of 1997, Dunbar&#39s new life and investment business fell by 4 per cent, even though sister company Eagle Star Life saw a jump of 30 per cent.

Some say direct salesforces are history – expensive to run and ultimately doomed. Baldwin thinks the key question is about quality advice rather than the distribution channel. He says: "I don&#39t agree that salesforces are yesterday&#39s news. Poor-quality advisers are."

In his drive for success, Baldwin admits to being a workaholic whose day starts at 5.30am and rarely ends before midnight. He says: "To me, happiness in retirement would be a full diary."

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