View more on these topics

Mark Wood

Given his position at the helm of Prudential&#39s £70bn with-profits fund, there is a sweet irony in Prudential UK&#39s chief executive Mark Wood having a father who produced paper for the printing of bank notes.

Under Wood, the Pru has undergone a radical reorientation in the last year, from a company whose closure of its direct salesforce removed one of the cornerstones of British identity and social history to a company that essentially focuses on higher-net-margin business sold with independent financial advice.

Wood emphatically rejects the idea that, under him, the Pru&#39s distribution strategy and product line-up is defined more by what it will not do rather than what it will. “I do not agree with the analysis that our long-term strategy has been unclear. I think we have been a lot more explicit about our long-term strategy than nearly all our competitors,” he says.

Pru will play to its strengths with its annuities and with-profits bonds. In the event of depolarisation, Wood believes that many distribution deals will be done on a best-of-breed basis, in which case he is confident that a focused strategy will pay dividends.

Wood also denies any lack of commitment to the pension market but says the Pru has concentrated on bigger schemes, which is where it can see money being made. The Pru is open in its belief that other companies are writing uncommercial business. Wood smiles wryly at the suggestion that he is standing back and watching competitors such as Standard Life and Norwich Union slug it out over stakeholder and do each other damage. He believes the economics for single stakeholder and group stakeholder for smaller companies simply do not add up without compulsion.

Many people in the industry are asking in puzzlement what the Pru got out of its purchase of Scottish Amicable, after getting rid of most of its staff, shutting down virtually all its functions and rebranding the dregs that remain. Wood&#39s answer is quite clear – ScotAm gave the Pru IFA distribution capability.

Wood blushes at the mention of his nickname, Chopper Woods. He ascribes it to his Axa days and “journalistic licence”. During his stint at Axa, Wood oversaw the merger of Sun Life and Axa Equity & Law, which saw many lose their jobs. The controversial distribution of Axa&#39s orphan assets also took place under his aegis and many are waiting to see the outcome of Prudential&#39s interminable discussions with the FSA over its orphan assets.

Wood speaks with an amiability and directness that confounds his reputation. Brought up in Darlington, County Durham, he now lives in Chelsea. He and his wife have three children, a teenage son and daughter and a 21-year-old daughter studying “cocktails and clubbing”.

Early this year, he was embroiled in fatcat accusations when remuneration packages of eye-watering proportions for group chief executive Jonathan Bloomer and himself had to be abandoned ahead of the Pru&#39s AGM through shareholder pressure.

Wood responds to the fatcat accusation with an air of composed resignation. He says the package was based on the company meeting some very ambitious performance targets and was fully in line with practices in other industries. Nevertheless, the Citroen 2CV he says he drives with much pleasure is unlikely to be as a result of having no money.

Wood&#39s responsibilities take in Europe as well as the UK but he sees little promise in the EU&#39s declared aim of a single market for financial services by 2005. He believes there will be very few economies of scale and it would require tax harmonisation of the member countries to be meaningful. However, developments in Pru&#39s European operations will be felt in the UK.

While Wood believes his strategy is CP121and Sandler-proof, the jewel in the company&#39s crown – the Prudence Bond – will have to meet the challenges of Sandler&#39s recommendations. Declaring himself to be supportive of with-profits reform, he says: “With-profits is not a particularly helpful name.”

In a sign of the propaganda battle that could ensue in the wake of Sandler&#39s proposals for different rules for mutual and proprietary companies, Wood says: “The mutuals could also present an issue in the reform of with-profits.” He mischievously suggests it is ironic that a mutual&#39s with-profits offering could be the higher-risk product.

He says any changes to the Prudence Bond would follow the format of the Pru&#39s European Vie Bond. “This is very much the model going forward,” he says. The Vie Bond is a translation of the Prudence Bond for the French market. Apart from being denominated in euros and having a charging structure adapted for the local market, it is a 100/0 fund, where there is an annual management fund from which shareholders derive profit, as opposed to the current 90/10 structure of the Prudence Bond.

Do Wood&#39s responsibilities keep him up at night? “No, I am too tired by the time I get to bed,” he says. But Wood clearly relishes the turmoil the industry is undergoing and believes he has picked a winning strategy. He says: “The present time is the most exciting in the 30 years I have been in financial services.”

Born: July 25, 1953 in Darlington, Co Durham

Age: 48

Lives: Chelsea. Married with three children

Education and qualifications: Degree in economics from Cambridge College of Arts and Technology, now Anglia Polytechnic University

Career to date: Qualified as an accountant with Price Waterhouse; subsequently with MAI in New York, Barclays and Commercial Union; managing director of the AA&#39s insurance and financial services businesses; 1997 became chief executive of Axa UK; June 2001 appointed chief executive of Prudential UK & European insurance operations

Career ambition: To continue to be chief executive of Prudential UK

Life ambition: “I am not sure I have one”

Likes: Tennis, golf, classical music and jazz

Dislikes: “Questions that make me sound stupid”

Peers say: “You know where you stand with Chopper. He is very focused. There are no soft touchy-feely messages but blunt, broad strokes – not that it&#39s any consolation for those that have been chopped”

Car: Citroen 2CV and a 27-year-old MG

Recommended

Floated shares in Misys network business could go to existing shareholders

Misys could offload its interest in its IFA networks entirely in a flotation bound to cause a scramble for stakes by product providers.But it has not yet decided whether it will keep any shares in the newly floated company or how the flotation will take place.Unlike an open market offering, a demerger would allow Misys […]

Britannic gives up on finding a buyer

Britannic Group has accepted defeat in finding a buyer for the business as a whole blaming current market conditions.The announcement opens the door to individual buyers being found for Britannic Asset Management, Britannic Retirement Solutions, Britannic Money and Britannic Assurance.Britannic Group chairman Harold Cottam says: “As part of our strategic work we have explored a […]

Loan service targets non-specialist IFAs

Mortgage broker Belvins Franks Group is offering a loan-placing service for IFAs which do not specialise in mortgages.Just A Mortgage offers IFAs up to a quarter of the procuration fee for loans placed through the service.It aims to provide IFA clients with advice from authorised consultants. IFAs will also be offered exclusive mortgage deals and […]

Grave implications

It is an obvious truism that, with the exception of sole proprietors, every business is owned by at least two people although not necessarily in equal proportions. Yet the owners of only relatively few of these businesses have ever given serious thought to what might happen when one or more of the owners dies.Financial planners […]

Newsletter

News and expert analysis straight to your inbox

Sign up

Comments

    Leave a comment

    Close

    Why register with Money Marketing ?

    Providing trusted insight for professional advisers.  Since 1985 Money Marketing has helped promote and analyse the financial adviser community in the UK and continues to be the trusted industry brand for independent insight and advice.

    News & analysis delivered directly to your inbox
    Register today to receive our range of news alerts including daily and weekly briefings

    Money Marketing Events
    Be the first to hear about our industry leading conferences, awards, roundtables and more.

    Research and insight
    Take part in and see the results of Money Marketing's flagship investigations into industry trends.

    Have your say
    Only registered users can post comments. As the voice of the adviser community, our content generates robust debate. Sign up today and make your voice heard.

    Register now

    Having problems?

    Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3712

    Lines are open Monday to Friday 9:00am -5.00pm

    Email: customerservices@moneymarketing.com