After 18 months' enforced layoff from financial services, Mark Howard, the former managing director of Maddison Monetary Management, aims to mark his comeback with a bit of a splash.
Just back from his honeymoon sailing the BVIs (that's the British Virgin Islands to you and me), Howard is aiming to push the boat out in a big way with the launch of his new venture M2 Financial.
His exile from the industry was the result of his sudden departure from IFA employee benefits specialist the Lamensdorf Group, which he had sold Maddison in April 2001.
The departure, which he diplomatically blames on the “political situation being untenable” came just a couple of months after the sale of Maddison and ensured a healthy spell of gardening leave. Not being the sort to be content pruning the roses, he made good use of the time, observing the market and planning his return.
“If you planned to take a year out it would be fantastic but to have it forced upon you is very painful.”
The launch of M2 is just the beginning of bigger things to come, according to Howard, who claims to have the backing and significant resources from internal and external shareholders to make a big impact in the market.
He will not be drawn on just how big a splash he intends to make but he claims it will be big and hints it could make M2 a top 25 player in a “short space of time”.
With M2, Howard intends to build on the ethos he first learnt at Acuma in the late 1980s and early 1990s and which became a cornerstone for Maddison, of giving the client full financial plan and the best possible service.
“We will be improving and expanding on the original Maddison business model, which we believe will quickly establish a first-class reputation.”
So confident is he that he is already on the acquisition trail for IFAs. “We are looking at small to medium-sized firms, those with five to 25 RIs that are currently left stuck between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to go, too small to interest the big guns but too big to give up.”
Howard is confident that once advisers see the technology platform that M2 offers they will be queuing to sign up. “It will revolutionise the way they do business. It is 10 times faster than rival platforms and brings together every aspect of financial planning into one system and will reduce admin costs by a minimum of 30 per cent overnight,” he enthuses.
He says his 18 months out has enabled him to step back and look at the industry. His observations make interesting reading. “It is the same old issues circulating around. People get so caught up in it that they forget what we do. We do a good job, we have the power to change people's lives.
“The current changes within the industry present a huge opportunity for IFAs. Consumers will not see IFAs disappear because they know the benefits of seeing an IFA.”
Howard views the launch of M2 as the most exciting thing to happen to him in his 17 years in the industry. “I have taken all the successes and disappointments of the past and rolled them into one to launch M2 and I am now stronger and wiser for it.”
M2 is very much his baby and he intends to see this one through to maturity. He hates to be in anyone's shadow, which was indicated by his rapid departure from Lamensdorf where he was marketing director.
Howard's passion for independent financial advice is in marked contrast to his first career, as a chef at the Savoy Hotel in London. He quit the job he quit because of his lack of passion for food – that and working all hours for just £85 a week.
Those days are a far cry for the 38-year-old as he pulls up in a Porsche 911 Cabriolet. “I first got one in 1985 and this is my 10th one now. I know it sounds a bit pretentious but I like it because of the way it drives and the quality of the way it is built. I haven't found a car that comes close, I once had a Ferrari for a month but I sent it back.”
He spends much of his spare time sailing or flying helicopters or, like fellow Norfolk cook Delia Smith, watching his beloved Norwich City FC.
Howard abounds with energetic enthusiasm and seems to command respect and loyalty from his staff, so much so that seven former Maddison staff have already jumped ship to team up with him again at M2. He readily admits he doesn't suffer fools gladly but is very loyal to those who stay with him. But in return he expects them to reciprocate his values and show the same passion and zeal for the industry.
Howard believes that both his new venture and the industry are on the threshold of a bright future and believes the young blood that is now entering the industry will help push independent advice to the public.
Lives: Grayshott near Haslemere, Surrey with South African wife Tammie.
Born: 1965 in Hereford, but grew up in Bawdswell near Norwich.
Education: Studied catering at Norwich City College, leaving at 18 to become a chef.
Career: Worked as a trainee chef, then chef at the Savoy Hotel London until April 1985, then joined financial adviser Russell DeVille in the City of London. Moved to Grosvenor Montague as financial adviser in 1988 then moved to Acuma (American Express) in 1990. In 1997, set up Maddison Monetary Management as managing director, then sold the business to Lamensdorf Group in April 2001, becoming marketing director of the group. Left June 2001.
Career ambition: To make a difference.
Life ambition: To sail around the world in seven years time.
Likes: Sailing, flying, good wine and Norwich City FC.
Dislikes: People who lack integrity
Peers say: “He can be a hard taskmaster but is fair and commands loyalty.”
Car: Porsche 911 Cabriolet.