LV= head of protection Mark Jones says he always knew that accountancy was not the career for him. After graduating with a degree in accountancy, he spent two years running the university’s Students’ Union and this experience confirmed to him that accountancy was not the way forward.
“After finishing my accountancy degree, I did two years as the president of Students’ Union, which I sometimes think gave me a better business education than the accountancy. This was back in the 1980s and you’ve got £750,000 turnover and 26 staff.”
His experience at the SU led him directly to his first job in financial services, although, like many people in financial services, he says his career path started off with a dose of luck.
His first job after the Students’ Union was with Abbey Life but he started off in human resources as he says he was seeking to improve his people management skills.
“I thought the weakest part of what I was doing was the people management side of things. With hindsight, it was the fact that they knew that I would be away in two years while they had been there 20plus. But I decided the easiest way to rectify that was to go into an HR function.”
HR did not manage to hold Jones’ interest for long and he soon found himself more interested in other parts of the business. Due to his background and Abbey’s expansion at the time, Jones quickly moved over to the actuarial side of the business and was able to join the actuarial training scheme.
Again, he says his interest strayed into other parts of the business but this interest in how the different parts of the business work and how they all fit together has helped him as his career has progressed. “I had a tendency to be far more interested in the business itself, rather than actuarial exams, which isn’t good for your remuneration but is quite good later on.”
When Abbey Life sold its salesforce and became a closed-book business, Jones decided that it was time to leave and it was Friends Provident that attracted his attention. The business was going through demutualisation and the changes at the business caught his eye. “I quite like change. It gives you the opportunity to improve what you are doing and look at why you do what you do.”
Although he was recruited in an actuarial position, it was not long before his interest in other parts of the business showed itself again and he soon found himself in a different role.
“I again very quickly migrated across to the protection side, probably within about six months. It was not what I was brought there to do but by that stage I had realised what I wanted to do and what I was reasonably good at.”
Jones spent 10 years at Friends Provident, rising to head of protection but joined LV= on the last day of 2009.
He says the ability to innovate and bring new products to market quickly, combined with the potential of LV were the reasons he was attracted to the firm.
“LV= have been able to bring products to market when perhaps some of us were looking on a little enviously at their ability to get to market, about their ability and openness to try different things, adding critical illness to income protection, that sort of thing. The mortgage and lifestyle plan, the product that MPPI always should have been.
“When I was approached, I could see you could make a difference. Nearly everything is in place, bar the fact that people don’t know it is there yet. I think competitors do, I was aware of it at FP and I am sure all the big protection offices are very aware of what LV has and the potential it has. It just has not taken that out into the market yet.”
He says there are several developments planned, including additions to the mortgage and lifestyle plan, but Jones is also keen to look at some of the internal processes at LV=.
But Jones’ main priority is to promote awareness of the full range of protection products. He says the IP and mortgage and lifestyle protection products have good reputations but intermediaries are not as conscious of the other products.
“I am absolutely confident that intermediaries who deal in the protection market look at IP as one of the very few quality products out there. What is not happening is the bleed across to think of LV= when it comes to the rest of the protection space.”
Jones has adopted a realistic approach to raising LV=’s profile in the protection market and says just using advertising is not going to work.
“You are not going to convince an IFA who knows what he is doing to try LV= because of name awareness these are professional people. But what we are trying to do is have a little look, there seems to be a bit of noise about them, let’s have a look and remind myself of what the offering is. It is very different today to what it was three or four years ago and I think they will be very pleasantly surprised when they do start giving LV= the look in.”
Jones says educating consumers is another difficult challenge that faces LV= and the rest of the protection industry. “It is one hell of a challenge but if we don’t the industry will stagnate, wither and die.”
He suggests the industry needs to come up with innovative ways to bring home the gap in people’s perceptions of not just protection but also of the level of state benefits that are paid if people are unable to work.
“When you look back at what has happened to the distribution landscape through regulation, there is a bigger and bigger segment of the population who have no real access to financial advice. It is incumbent on the protection industry to find ways to start engaging.”
One idea Jones suggests is to list the value of state benefits alongside workplace benefits in the yearly P60 statement issued by employers to illustrate their true value.
One thing he says is not really necessary is further radical product development.
“The tools are there. For me, it is more important that we make people aware of their protection need.”
But he says the industry does need to address its internal processes in order to make life easier for the end-consumer.
“Once someone has decided that they need some support, that they need some protection in place, whether it is through intermediated or through someone coming to that conclusion all on their own, we have got to make it as easy as possible to satisfy that need.
“At the moment, there are still too many hoops to go through for my liking. People are used to buying things off the internet, they are used to getting general insurance products over and done within a couple of minutes. As an industry, I don’t think we have kept up with that consumer-orientated, as against easiest for our back office, approach to developing protection.”
Born: Newport, South Wales, 1964
Education: Risca Comprehensive School, Crosskeys College, Huddersfield Polytechnic
Career: 2010-present: head of protection, LV=; 1999-2009: head of protection, Friends Provident; 1987-99: Abbey Life
Likes: Rugby, going to the gym, cycling on the beach, walking in the forest with my family
Dislikes: Getting tied up in bureaucracy and people who give up too easily
Drives: Mazda RX8
Book: The Mabinogion
Film: Pulp Fiction
Album: Never Bind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols by the Sex Pistols
Career ambition: Getting protection on the radar for that part of the UK population for whom regulation has made too expensive for traditional distribution
Life ambition: Love to watch whales in Antarctica or watch Wales win the rugby world cup
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Desperate to find something that provides me with as much challenge and fulfilment as this