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Mike Warr

When Royal & Sun Alliance closed its books to new business last

year, its corporate business director may have predicted that

difficult times lay ahead. Little did Mike Warr know that a new post

was waiting for him a short walk across Liverpool&#39s dockside area.

From his new desk in the Royal Liver building, a construction that

has dominated the waterfront skyline since 1911, Warr looks on his

old Royal & Sun Alliance office with mixed feelings.

Taking over as Royal Liver director of IFA operations and development

– and two months later adding the role of chief executive of Park

Row, the IFA group it recently bought for £16.7m – offered Warr

the perfect way out of a work environment that he describes as the

worst of his career.

Late in 2001, he was given responsibility for tying up the many loose

ends of R&SA&#39s pension review, which saw the life company being

hit with the biggest-ever fine for pension misselling. At

£1.35m, the fine was more than double the £600,000 paid by


Warr says: “Taking over the administration of the pension review was

the worst thing I have had to do in my career. I took charge of the

review from late 2001 and saw it through to the finish. That was not

an enjoyable experience – not something I would want to repeat.”

The fine was severe because R&SA had already been fined

£225,000 by the PIA for pension review failings in 1997. The

£1.35m fine came in August 2002, around the time that

beleaguered group chief executive Bob Mendelsohn, who has since left,

was announcing 1,200 job cuts.

The experience is something he is not at liberty to talk about in

detail, other than to say it involved an exhausting and lengthy

process of negotiations with the FSA. Warr says: “There are books

that could be written about the pension review but I want to put it

behind me.”

At the end of a bleak year, which culminated in the closure of

R&SA&#39s life book to new business, Warr was understandably open to

decent offers. He was approached by Royal Liver chief executive Steve

Burnett in classic financial services fashion – on a golf course.

Warr, who had known Burnett as an operator in the group risk market,

leapt at the chance.

Warr sees Burnett, the first Royal Liver chief executive not to have

risen through the ranks, as the driver of change at the 150-year-old

friendly society. Burnett has brought in Warr to develop Royal

Liver&#39s distribution channels and buying Park Row is a large part of


Warr becomes chief executive at Park Row, taking over from Rick

Abbott who has moved to the role of chairman. Park Row made a

£9.3m loss in the 15 months to December 2002 but Warr says it is

on target to move into profit by the end of the year.

He sees Park Row remaining independent and says he does not want to

interfere with its business model because that is why it was bought.

With Royal Liver looking to develop its protection products, Warr

will find a distribution channel in Park Row&#39s strong mortgage arm.

Warr is not ruling out further IFA acquisitions but any firms he buys

are likely to be absorbed into the Park Row operation. “We are being

approached by IFAs all the time. Park Row will remain our IFA brand.

We don&#39t want to buy little stakes in firms so anything we bought

would have to come into Park Row,” he says.

Warr wants to see Royal Liver&#39s large existing book work in the

Sandler environment. The friendly society has five million live

policies and still maintains a direct salesforce of 300 and a further

250 home-service agents, with an operation of a similar size in

Ireland. Warr can see the potential of making all these people

“Sandler sales staff”.

He says: “In the UK, we are one of the few organisations with the

opportunity to sell Sandler products. Royal Liver has this huge

client bank. At present, the 250 home service agents only collect

money and the people they talk to are the target market for Sandler

products. These agents could become salespeople for the new Sandler


He sees Park Row expanding its adviser numbers to 550 by the end of

2005 from a current level of 300. He acknowledges that this may

include second-tier advisers in the new regulatory environment but

argues that it will be good for the industry in the long term.

“It is silly to say you will not look at multi-ties. The model has to offer

options for people coming into the industry. You can see a new career

path developing where staff start off as Sandler salespeople, then

become multi-ties and eventually move up to IFA.”

Warr&#39s career path shows that the home-collection agent of yesterday

can make it to the top. After leaving a Bristol comprehensive with

five O levels and without, in his own words, covering himself in

glory, his first interview was at Phoenix Assurance. Thirty years

later, he has achieved his career goal of becoming a chief executive,

having only had one more interview.


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