An AA man to the rescue. How many of us have experienced that little moment of salvation, stand-ing next to our car in the pouring rain?
It is precisely these powerful and reassuring images that AA Insurance and Financial Ser vices managing director Kerry Richardson refers to when talking about AAIFA.
Asked why the AA has chosen now to move into the IFA sector, he says: “There is life in the IFA market now. It was heading the way of the dino saurs a few years ago but has come back strongly.” He sees a clear opportunity for an immediately identifiable and trusted nationwide IFA brand.
Richardson believes that AAIFA can take advantage of the fragmented nature of the IFA sector and the recent dent in consumer confidence following the well-publicised misselling scandals.
These have ultimately had a beneficial effect on the IFA sector, says Richardson, bel ieving it has “improved enormously” as a result of the ensuing regulatory tightening and increasing professionalisation of IFAs. “The power of the AA brand, with its emphasis on trust and first-class customer service, can be mapped directly on to the services that AAIFA will offer,” says Rich ardson.
With relentless optimism, Richardson says that within five years AAIFA will become the number one IFA brand in the country. He does, however, quickly qualify this saying that it is in terms of customer satisfaction that he will judge the success of the venture.
Not that Richardson is lacking in confidence: “I am imbued with a winning spirit. I don't plan to fail. I can't get off a winning ticket.”
While calling itself an IFA, the service offered by AAIFA will differ considerably from that offered by other IFAs, especially in the first phase of its development.
Confusingly, AAIFA will start out not by offering tailored financial advice but by targeting existing AA members with financial products preselected by the AA as the best in the market.
Not only does Richardson have the reassuring associations of the AA brand to draw upon but also its sizeable customer base. He announces with pride that the AA has just celebrated the arrival of its 10-millionth member.
Richardson joined the AA in 1989 as group manage ment services direc tor, coming from ICL, which he had joined as a graduate trai nee.
AAIFA's initial range of products will include annuities, mortgages, Isas, and savings and investment bonds. “We have researched the best products. We will not being researching the particular requirements of individuals.”
Transactions will be done by phone. This will be accompanied by what Richardson carefully describes as internet support giving “information, not advice”.
Given that AAIFA will seek to market itself primarily in terms of trust, Richardson seems remarkably unconcerned that phase one, by not offering financial advice, will itself cause consumer confusion or a weakening of the brand.
The question of the app ropriateness of the IFA tag for the service that AAIFA will initially provide is shrugged aside by Richardson. He says that AAIFA is being launched now primarily for the purposes of facilitating internal development. “It is to help me and the business int ernally,” he says, almost conspiratorially. AAIFA will be marketed to the outside world at a later point, he explains.
Only once the internal consolidation is complete does Richardson envisage AAIFA going into face-to-face financial advising as part of projected phase two. But this would be in partnership with another IFA. Richardson is reluctant to be drawn on who this partner will be, saying only that there are many people “knocking at the door”.
As Richardson admits to impatience, we will no doubt be seeing results soon. Phase one should be up and running by the second quarter of this year, with offering financial advice as a part of phase two by the end of the year.
AAIFA has begun recruiting externally and internally from its 1,600-strong insurance team. Richardson says his staff will work in an environment that values “openness, equality and freedom”.
Asked about the people he admires, again the corporate man shines through. No particular individuals spring to mind but he does admire people who achieve much from humble backgrounds.
He studied business studies at what was then Bristol College of Comm erce and followed that with by a dip loma in marketing at Kingston Polytechnic.
He speaks with pride of his position as deputy chairman of gov er nors of a Basingstoke school. His 14-year-old daughter attends a school in London.
With his birthday only one day before another saviour – Richardson came into the world on Christmas Eve 1948 – what does he believe he can personally contribute?
“I can bring to the party a clarity of vision, the values of the AA brand and the wherewithal to make it actually work.”