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Michael Folger

More than a passing resemblance to Paul Newman, don&#39t you think?” asks FSA

press officer Jackie Blyth as she hands me a photo of director of

investment business Michael Folger, a piece of information which is duly

filed in case he needs to be charmed.

But it turns out that such journalistic tricks are not needed. He is the

one who does all the disarming with a few winks and a steady gaze. Just the

sort of social skills you would expect from a man who has mixed with some

of the most powerful people in the country during the course of his career.

Folger, 51, spent 14 years at the Treasury between 1971 and 1986. As head

of the economics briefing division, he was responsible with coming up with

“killer facts for Mrs Thatcher&#39s handbag” which he delivered to her on a

postcard.

His other major role at the Treasury was overseeing the defence budget –

but that is a subject he cannot talk about for another 30 years under the

Official Secrets Act.

Like a true civil servant, he refuses to be drawn on his political

orientation, saying he “votes for common sense and sometimes the wrapper

changes”.

But the thrill of public office eventually wore off and Folger went over

to the private sector in the mid-1980s when he joined the London office of

investment bank Dean Witter in the Eurobond division.

He says: “It offered a different set of experiences – I arrived in Angola

during the civil war, for example – and the salaries were better.”

In 1991, he was headhunted for the position of managing director at Nirex,

the radioactive waste specialist. Folger says he was chosen for being the

only person in the country who understood a balance sheet, how the

Government worked and basic phy-sics, which he studied briefly while at

Selwyn College, Cambridge, before switching to economics.

IFAs might think his involvement with such a disaster-prone industry stood

him in good stead for his next career move to the FSA.

What attracted him to the role? “I was intrigued by the FSA and thought it

would be exciting to bring together different cultures into one. I also

have to balance statutory objectives and consumer thinking with companies&#39

needs to make a living.”

The FSA&#39s investment business division supervises some 6,000 financial

services firms, including IFAs, on behalf of the self-regulatory

organisations, the PIA, Imro and SFA.

It also has the main responsibility within the FSA for policy on the

conduct of investment business, including polarisation, and preparation of

the conduct of business sourcebook, which sets out the rules and guidance

which will apply once the Financial Services and Markets Act comes into

effect.

Does he share IFAs&#39 view that the burden of compliance is too great at

present? He says: “I hope it is not a universal perception. I am aware that

the pension review was very painful and bruising and we hope to get

busi-ness right first time in future.

“In time, we want a constructive relationship with the IFA sector and plan

to move away from an adversarial one by working with the grain of the

industry. That includes dealing with the rise of the more demanding

consumer.”

But IFAs do not seem too willing to extend the hand of friendship. They

view the regulator as “bureaucratic”, “heavy-handed” and “threatening”

although they do say they look forward to the “FSA in its new shape” or, as

one puts it, “a grown-up regulator”.

Since joining the FSA in June 1998, Folger has led its approach to

specific issues such as mortgage endowments and stakeholder pensions, which

are still high on the FSA&#39s list of priorities.

Folger says one of the biggest challenges with stakeholder is getting

people interested in pensions, a fact borne out by recent research into

decision trees which saw consumers abandon them through boredom.

He says the Government is planning a campaign to publicise the low-cost

product and the FSA&#39s consumer division is compiling an information

package. But he warns that employers will also have to get in on the act if

stakeholder is to succeed.

Folger says the FSA will be publish its findings on endowments in the

autumn after the reprojection letters currently being sent out – three

million so far – have had their full effect. He says: “We are pleased

people are not panicking and cashing in their policies.”

A personal challenge for Folger is finding “25 hours a day”. The 12 hours

he spends working each day are taken up by a constant round of meetings and

reading in order to keep abreast of policy.

His colleagues confirm this, calling him hard working and focused.

Perhaps the nature of his work is why he takes refuge in woodwork at his

home in Dulwich. He explains: “I enjoy working with my hands. Woodwork is

something I can have within my control that does not involve going through

six committees.”

Folger also gets wrapped up in looking after his two boys, aged eight and

11. He is “not currently married” although he has tied the knot twice in

the past and does not rule out a third time.

As for what else lies ahead, he says: “I would like to be remembered as

someone who makes a difference, including at the FSA.”

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