This fourth part of my look at the changing face of independent advice starts in 2000. I had worked at DBS since 1995. In 2000 our department got a new manager who introduced herself by demanding: “What’s your problem?” “Normally only drunks say that when they’re looking for a fight,” I replied. That set the tone. A one-to-one meeting followed in which I was advised to find a new employer. Supposedly five years was too long for anyone to stay in the same job and she had “lots of good people she wanted to bring in”.
I could have walked; I had plenty of offers. But the fact she was determined to have me out made me determined to stay. She regarded herself as an unstoppable force. Fine. She had just met the immovable object. I had a drawer full of thank you letters from DBS members and had won the “employee of the month” award three times. I had only had one week off sick with chickenpox and annually I ran a direct offer Isa campaign that brought in some £50m in single premiums. I was going nowhere, except on my own terms.
She spent the next two years trying to make my life a misery. Her tactics were as unimaginative and ineffective as they were vindictive and nasty. I was regularly screamed at in front of colleagues for invented failings. Returning from a holiday I found she had turned my desk to face the wall under a ceiling too low to stand under. Her bulldog-faced bullying contrasted vividly with her simpering and toadying toward her own bosses.
My German friends have a word for such managers: they call them “cyclists”. In the manner of a cyclist they nod to their superiors while treading on subordinates.
She next told providers we would only panel their funds if they stumped up a £100,000 “marketing contribution”. Distraught reps were soon phoning to ask what was going on. “Forget it,” I told them, “I’m doing the panels the way they have always been done. Merit gets you on. Lack of it keeps you off. Nothing else. Don’t pay.”
Somehow her edict leaked to a journalist. As Mario Puzo wrote in The Godfather: “the most humble of men, if he keeps his eyes open, can take his revenge on the most powerful”. I was moved sideways into a non-job so panels could be produced by somebody more malleable.
Then, on my 39th birthday, the entire department was called into her office – but not for cake. Misys had taken over DBS the year before and now we were all being made redundant. After the announcement I was told to remain behind. “I have to admit,” she said, “you’re the only person in my entire career that I’ve not been able to manage”.
“Manage” was apparently her word for “bully”. It was the nicest thing she had ever said to me. The only nice thing actually. I was glad to be going. Ken Davy had gone the year before to found SimplyBiz, and with him went any semblance of independence. In the following years DBS – or Sesame as it had by then become – was bought by Friends Life, seeking like other product providers to “own distribution”.
Neil Liversidge is managing director of West Riding Personal Financial Solutions