L ike John Prescott, Ken Davy started out on cruise liners. As a photographer on round-the-world liners, to be exact. However, he does not have the bruises to show for any encounter with his fellow Yorkshireman.
For the chairman of DBS Management, too, politics have been an abiding passion. Davy became Huddersfield's youngest borough counsellor and by the age of 33 had stood as Conservative candidate in three general elections.
The need for a career which would support his wife and four daughters while enabling him to continue his political ambitions led Davy to become a direct salesman with Abbey Life in 1970. He had considered law and accountancy but, with a young family, the training periods for both were impractical.
As this was before polarisation, Davy was able to bec-ome the company's top salesman even though only half his sales were placed with Abbey. As Abbey's contract became too restrictive, Davy set up on his own as a financial adviser in the late 1970s.
However, his past and that of so many DBS members leaves him with a lingering loyalty to direct salespeople. He says: “I get annoyed by the comments that are made about persistency rates of direct salesmen. There is a confusion about what a salesman is. You cannot be successful by just selling products but by providing solutions to real problems and providing continuing service.
“I would rather my widow was advised by a properly trained IFA than by a properly trained direct salesman. But I would rather she saw a properly trained direct salesman than an improperly trained IFA.”
Davy says not all IFAs are able to deliver the high standards he would like but he has seen a dramatic improvement in the last decade, particularly in the area of training.
As we speak, Davy is preparing to attend the funeral of a client he has known since his days as a direct salesman. He points out that this friend died only five days after his 75th birthday, on which he was obliged to buy a annuity. Lack of reform in this area, and Labour's stance in particular, is a real frustration for him.
If there is something on which Davy prides himself, it is his strategic thinking. In the early 1980s, he felt change in the air as leaks emanated from the Gower report. So, in 1983, he set up Director Benefit Services to provide support services to financial advisers. It has since grown to become the biggest of the networks.
“For my sins, I am the father of the networks,” he says.
His position as industry stalwart, as well as his experience in politics, is reflected in the many roles he has performed within industry bodies. He was a founding board member of IFA Promotion, then president of the LIA in the early 1990s. Davy is also a founding director of Aifa.
Describing himself as someone who works too hard, Davy is also chairman of Huddersfield Rugby League Football Club.
H is political past stood him in good stead during the period in the 1980s when Parliament was considering the Financial Services Act that formally created independent financial advisers. He says: “I remember going down regularly to the House of Commons to bite the heels of MPs.”
At that time, too, the predictions were very gloomy about the future of IFAs. But IFAP and the networks were, in his opinion, responsible for ensuring the survival of IFAs.
He now feels more confident than ever about the future for IFAs. “People are voting with their feet for IFAs. Especially if polarisation is retained in some form, it is a tremendously exciting time to be an IFA,” he says.
However, Davy is a realist. “If, as it seems, polarisation is weakened, it will be the consumer who is harmed,” he points out.
He is disappointed in the line the Conservatives have taken on the issue. “I would have preferred them to have been more clear on polarisation. I do not find anything to get very excited about in the present election at all.”
His stint on the PIA board was responsible for what he accepts was the lowest point of his career. During the pension review, he recounts how DBS was pilloried for appearing to have more cases than the other networks – unfairly, in his opinion, as it was the biggest network. “Given that DBS had been disciplined, I felt it appropriate to stand down from the PIA but was very disappointed to do so,” he says.
Davy cites as testimony to the network concept that no DBS member went under as a result of the review. Of the network's current achievements, he is particularly proud of its technological developments, in particular, Assureweb and the productivity gains it offers.
Regarding the rumours about DBS putting itself up for sale, Davy just says the shares of any listed company are for sale. DBS was listed in 1996. “We are a public company so if anyone comes knocking on our door we have a responsibility to listen.”
Given Davy's clever strategic moves and success as a salesman, the industry and DBS members will have their ears cocked for future developments.