What was your first job in financial services?
After 10 years in marketing, I went to London Business School to do an MBA and my first job on leaving was as strategy director for Abbey Life.
We identified that direct-sales forces had a limited future and the result was the deal with Lloyds Bank which created Lloyds Abbey Life.
Describe your current role.
I am chief executive of a platform business, which entails managing all functions through an executive committee and board. The latter includes representatives of our owner, Royal London. The executive committee has representatives from IT, finance, operations, programmes, risk, HR, compliance, sales and marketing. Apart from managing day-to-day business, it is important to understand both the market and our customers. I also need a good idea of how the market will develop and how our business should position itself in that new environment.
What is the biggest challenge in your current role?
Deciding how to allocate scarce resources, which are mostly people, time and money. The business is growing rapidly and there is a long list of things we need to do but not sufficient resources or time to do them all. Making the right calls here is the difference between success and failure.
What is the highlight of your career to date?
Breaking even for the business. The nature of platforms is that there is a huge expense before clients are even found. Then the income from those clients is not high and is paid on an annual basis. This is what actuaries call “new business strain” but often in the non-life assurance world it is called a loss! It took us five years to get to the point where our income exceeded our expenses – the feeling was fantastic! We had built a business from nothing to what is now over £6bn of assets, 250 staff and an operating profit.
What is your career ambition?
To get the business to over £17bn in assets and a profit comfortably in double figures by 2017.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Don’t do it! No seriously, always refer to what the customer wants and needs and do the right thing. The industry has suffered because of the imbalance of knowledge between customer and provider. Regrettably, the industry abused that position and we have paid a high price. Now we have a chance to educate and empower customers to understand and “own” their long-term savings. Generally, what the customer wants is to achieve their long-term financial goals with minimum stress – that should dictate what we do for them.
Hugo Thorman is chief executive of Ascentric