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Mark Polson

The principal of The Lang Cat says the RDR is leading to massive change in the industry and the aim of his business consultancy is to act as translator between advisers, providers and their clients

Interview by Gregor Watt

The RDR is forcing industry change at a blistering pace, with IFAs having to make numerous and dramatic changes to their businesses. Product providers have not been insulated from change either and many are having to overhaul how their products are priced and distributed to make sure they still fit with the new world.

A number of consultancies have sprung up to help businesses meet the changing demands of businesses but Mark Polson, principal of new financial services consultancy The Lang Cat, says there is still an obvious gap in the market.

While there are many specialist consultancies willing and able to tell businesses how and why they need to change, Polson says not many companies adequately explain these changes to customers.

He says: “Even when advisers have gone through some of the basic work, there is still a need to articulate it in a way that a client can understand and value.”
The Lang Cat will be offering consul-tancy services to three sectors – the finan-cial services industry, IFAs, product providers and non-financial companies – pitching their services to the long-term savings and investment industry.

For IFAs, Polson will be offering a way of translating what the business is up to and communicating this to its clients. It will also help firms get more out of their marketing budgets. For product prov-iders, he says the challenge is slightly different. Many companies can spend time and money developing an intricate strategy at a very senior level but this is wasted if it ends as a PowerPoint presentation in the boardroom.

“The strategy is often plonked down in front of a marketing team or a sales team but between the creation of the strategy and what people end up out and about saying often ends up quite different. I can help act as a translation engine between the two.”

Polson says non-financial companies pitching for business is another potential area of business, helping to ensure that companies are well prepared to meet the specific demands of the financial services business.

Polson has spent the last 15 years working in a range of life companies in a variety of roles and says this has made him well placed to understand the differ-ent sides of the business but he very nearly did not go into financial services at all.

As a graduate, he was keen to pursue a career in the theatre but after sending all his applications, he had one copy of his CV left and on the spur of the moment sent it to Scottish Widows’ graduate programme. A couple of weeks later, he had two job offers and says the decision to go for financial services was driven almost entirely by the salary on offer.

“The grad scheme paid very nearly twice what the theatre paid and I sold a little bit of my soul and took the money,” jokes Polson. Fifteen years later, he says he has never regretted the decision and that at least now he can afford to pay for the tickets for something he wants to watch.

From the graduate programme, Polson went south of the border to work for Scottish Widows’ individual pension business based near Preston. There followed a short stint with Virgin Money’s ill-fated foray into the group stakeholder market.

He says once Virgin worked out that it could not make any money, he decided to head back north and move into the marketing side of the business and joined Scottish Life. He spent six years with the company before moving to Standard Life to head the marketing of its wrap business.

But having taken his turn in the “Edinburgh dance”, where people move from one Edinburgh-based financial company to the next, Polson says he is enjoying striking out on his own.

Having spent the last few years in marketing roles, he says the name for his new firm was chosen specifically not to sound like it was dreamt up at a brainstorming session. “The number of consultancies that I see with names that sound like the team names from the Apprentice, Synergy Consulting or Thrus-ting Consulting. I am not like that.”

Instead, he says the name is taken from the title of a song from folk musician James Yorkston and while it does not mean anything in particular, it is enjoyable explaining where the name comes from.

Polson says he is experiencing many of the usual issues with start-up busin-esses. One questions that most start-ups encounter is whether their will be suff-icient demand for the services they offer and Polson says he is no different.

The first signs for the business are good. The Lang Cat only officially launched this month but Polson says he is already working on a couple of projects involving life companies and wrap providers and he sees plenty of scope in the IFA market.

“IFAs do an incredible job every day helping clients with their finances and this makes them very busy people. They have all kinds of extra demands on their time. It is hard to find time to spend on what you might regard as the softer stuff and as a result the industry probably is not as good at marketing its services.”

He says the key to making his business a success is to know where to concentrate his efforts. “Where a lot of folk go wrong is trying to offer everything to everybody and as a start-up you are never going to manage that. It is about having the guts to say no, that is not me. I want to let the business transition experts work with IFAs and then there is this bit just after that which is, ’how can we market this really effectively for you?’”

Born: Edinburgh, 1974
Lives: Edinburgh but I have been away in between
Education: School in Edinburgh, studied English at the University of Aberdeen
Career: 2010-present: principal, The Lang Cat; 2007-10: head of trading, Standard Life; 2002-07: head of corporate pensions, Scottish Life; 2001-02: workplace relationship manager, Virgin Money; 1996-2001: business development manager, Scottish Widows
Likes: Theatre, music, film, art, things that are good for your soul and bad for your waistline
Dislikes: Grubby, grasping people. I don’t enjoy that political side to life
Drives: Mazda MX5, with a baby seat on the passenger seat
Book: God Knows by Joseph Heller
Film: Grosse Pointe Blank
Album: Rain Dogs by Tom Waits or South of Heaven by Slayer
Career ambition: I would like to be a person of significance in the industry while retaining what small vestiges of my soul there are left
Life ambition: I would quite like to be popping up to replace Dave Gilmour on top of the wall when Roger Waters plays The Wall next year at the O2.
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be…Probably working in a theatre somewhere

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