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Ken Davy

The chairman of SimplyBiz has done a great deal to influence the shape of financial services over the past few decades, despite being a late entrant to the industry.

Leaving school with few qualifications, Davy trained as a darkroom technician and at 19 he became chief photographer on a cruise liner, Oriana. After four years at sea, he set up his own photographic business but his burgeoning career as a local politician and a growing family forced a change of plan.

The long hours worked by a professional photographer were increasingly difficult to balance with the two days a week he was putting in as a local councillor. After standing as a Conservative candidate in the 1970 general election, he decided that a change was needed.

“I started to look for something that would give me more flexibility. I had two young children, with a third on the way, and I had to go into something with the opportunity to generate a reasonable income.”

After discounting the law and accountancy, on the basis that it would take him too long to qualify, Davy opted for insurance.

“Insuring things had no interest for me but dealing with people was something I had a real affinity for, so I took a positive decision to join the life insurance industry.”

Davy’s career at Abbey Life only came to an end when the company restricted the percentage of business that advisers could place with external companies to 15 per cent. Despite being one of the company’s top performers, the decision prompted Davy to go it alone, as he was placing as much as 50 per cent of his business with other companies.

“I wasn’t an IFA but I was certainly acting as a broker,” he says.

After several years operating by himself, he says it was politics that provided him with the spur for his next move. Although he had quit politics in 1974, he retained his interest in it and saw that the Gower report of 1984 would make life difficult for small advisory firms and potentially hand business to the banks and building societies. Davy says he was determined to do something about this and the first network, DBS, was created.

“The answer was to provide small practitioners with the kind of central support that a big organisation would provide.”

He eventually sold DBS to Misys in 2001. However, Davy decided it was not time to enjoy the fruits of his success by retiring.

“When I left, I had no plans to set up a service company or any other kind of business, I just knew I would do something. I left in April 2002 and by the end of June, I was saying I was 100 per cent certain I would do something, I was 95 per cent certain it would be financial services and 90 per cent certain it would be in the UK.”

After much deliberation, he says the inspiration for creating SimplyBiz came to him unexpectedly. “I am a great believer in the power of the sub-conscious mind and I woke up one morning in July, shortly before going on holiday to Alaska, and I knew exactly what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.”

He wrote a business plan on the plane and put it into action on his return. SimplyBiz was set up in September 2002 and was trading by December of that year. It celebrated five years in business last year and now supplies services to over 5,000 IFAs from more than 2,000 firms.

Despite featuring in the Sunday Times’ list of fastest growing companies, Davy says growth is not the main driver behind the business. By being privately owned, he says it is freed from the requirement to grow for its own sake.

“We were not and are not in a race to become the biggest of anything. We are determined to be the best, so our focus is on servicing the financial services sector.”

Davy says there are no plans to take the business public although he adds that he has learned to never say never.

Despite helping to create the IFA network model, Davy has been vocal in predicting the end of the network.

“Networks, as they operate now, really fail to add value and potentially put an appointed representative’s business at risk. If you are an AR, the network controls your authorisations, your agencies and your commission – your cashflow. So it is very difficult to say you have a robust business if someone else controls all those factors. But because the network is taking the risk of the advice you give, it has to charge considerably more than if you are directly authorised.”

Yet Davy is upbeat on the future of financial advice, particularly for small and medium-sized firms, and says the retail distribution review is evolving to their benefit.

“Common sense and logic is breaking through. Putting clear blue water between advisers and sales is very important.”

Davy still believes that IFAs must strive for improvement. SimplyBiz recently set up a not-for-profit training division called the New Model Business Academy. In its first month, it attracted 700 registered users.

“We started planning this before the retail distribution review came along, so it is not a knee-jerk reaction although it does fit in with and meet all the objectives of the review. It is going to help firms adapt to the new climate as business models change and provide specific guidance on how to do it.”

Outside financial services, Davy plays a big part in his local community. As chairman of Huddersfield Town FC and Huddersfield Giants rugby league team, he enjoys helping to provide a focus for the community.

Davy has announced that he is stepping down as chairman of Huddersfield Town at the end of next season but plans to remain as chairman of the Giants.

He refuses to be drawn on how long he intends to remain at the helm of SimplyBiz. “I cannot visualise not being here,” is as far as he will go. For the moment, the industry continues to be at shaped by one of its biggest characters.

Born: Filey, East Yorkshire

Lives: Harrogate

Education: “Not much”

Career: 2002-present – chairman, SimplyBiz; 1983-2001 – DBS; 1979-83 – IFA; 1970-79 – Abbey Life; 1962-69 – ran photographic studio in Huddersfield; 1958-62 – cruise line photographer; 1956-58 – darkroom technician

Likes: People

Dislikes: Curries

Drives: Jaguar XJ Executive

Favourite book: I Can by Ben Sweetland

Favourite album: Elvis’s Gold Records

Career ambition: Always enjoy today

Life ambition: Live life to the full

If I wasn’t doing this I would be… Either a barrister or Prime Minister


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