I a cynical world, Nick Bamford, the new chairman at Sofa, is a rarity. It seems the Informed Choice managing director is universally liked. It is easy to see why because Bamford is a thoroughly nice man.
If it were not for Sandhurst giving the 17-year-old “long-haired son of a milkman” the brush-off for “not having the right background”, then financial services would be short of a gentleman.
As it turned out, Bamford “fell into financial services” after leaving school in Bristol with just one O level. “I was swayed by the wages, I have to admit,” he says of his choice of first job. He is philosophical about failing to get into officer training school: “I don't know what appealed about the army really, particularly as I am pretty much a pacifist.”
The young Bamford cut his financial teeth in the underwriting department of Phoenix Assurance in 1973. He moved to Scottish Equitable in the Midlands as a life inspector. Other positions saw him move on to Gloucester where he joined Trident Life, which became Lincoln National. And then to Merchant Investors in Croydon. “Everywhere I've worked so far has been sold on. I hope to be able to say the same for Informed Choice one day.”
On April 1, 1989, Bamford decided become an IFA – he leaves you to draw your own conclusions as to the significance of the date – with Weybourne Financial Services.
He has not looked back since. “I am the luckiest man alive I think. There is never a day goes by when I don't enjoy going into work.” His favourite aspect of the job is dealing with clients face to face and building long term relationships with clients.
Bamford is commonly regarded by his peers as one of the foremost pension advisers in the country. Before the launch of stakeholder, Money Marketing ran 20 questions on the new Government-endorsed pension with 20 model answers supplied by Bamford. At the time, he said that if you could not answer the 20 questions correctly then you should consider yourself unfit to advise on stakeholder. The MM readership took this to heart and Bamford's answers proved to be one of the most popular pages in the feature section of the paper.
He is very clear about what it means to be a financial adviser – and about remuneration. “I don't think it matters whether you charge fees or commission. The main thing is to do a professional job and I don't think the FSA's proposals in CP166 will have an impact on advisers' businesses. The FSA is about the detail, not about how we deal with our customers.”
He was 34 when he became an IFA and he readily admits it took him until he was 45 to get the AFPC. He is, however, sure that the future for all advisers lies in professionalism. “It doesn't matter whether you're an IFA or tied agent, you have to be professionally qualified. That is something that is core to how I'd like to take Sofa forward.”
Bamford sees his role as Sofa chairman as acting as the figurehead. This year, Sofa has a managing director and Bamford believes this new addition will see the role of the chairman change. “We now have an MD at Sofa for the first time so the role of chairman is very different. I also have two former chairmen on the board so I'll have plenty of help should I need it.”
He says he has a simple target – to improve the lot of every one of Sofa's members. “I also want to grow our membership. Sofa is a body for all advisers, we need to remember that.” He is keen to show his understanding of the tied and direct sides. “I have been impressed more and more with the quality of direct-sales professionalism.”
But it is as an IFA that Bamford is happiest. At the end of 1994, he and his wife set up Informed Choice and now their 23-year-old son Martin has joined the family business as a consultant. Bamford says he would like to see his son take over the reins in around 10 years, when he himself starts to “work less but not retire outright”.
His son should be ideally placed to do just that – he has had plenty of training. At the age of seven, Bamford devised multiple-choice tests on financial services products for his son to do.
Could this be the first sign of a chink in the niceness? At the very least, an accusation of being a pushy father? Sadly no, he never forced his son to do the tests, it was more of a game to encourage his natural aptitude. Bamford is in a constant state of enthusiastic interest. Get him on to the subject of his family and he glows. This is not a show, it is genuine appreciation and pride. “My wife Andy is amazing. There is nothing that she can't do, she runs the whole show at Informed Choice. She's incredible!”
The pair met at school in Henbury, Bristol and Bamford says that it wasn't so much a case of her following him into business but of the two making a go of it together. “She was right there with me from the very start.”
His son is described as a “lovely young man” and “very intelligent” – which he modestly attributes to his wife's genes.
Besides his family, Bamford's other great passion is football. His greatest ardour is for Bristol Rovers (languishing near the bottom of the Third Division). Here at last is a downside – Bamford cut short his honeymoon so that he could watch Bristol Rovers play Newcastle United in the final of the Watney's Cup. When any respectable man would have hung their head in shame at such a confession, Bamford chimes in with “Rovers won” by way of explanation. I'm sure that made it all right then for the newly wed Mrs Bamford.
“She knew what she was letting herself in for,” he says.And she has had reminders of her lot ever since. This obses-sion with football reached a particularly low point one Sunday when she came across her husband engrossed in a Portugal France under-21s game being played on a parched pitch somewhere in the Portuguese hinterland. “It was at that point that she said I had a problem,” he admits.
Born: March 15, 1955
Lives: Cranleigh, Surrey, with wife and business partner Andrea
Education: Secondary school in Henbury, Bristol
Career: 1973-79:life underwriter, then life inspector, Phoenix Assurance, 1979-80: life inspector, Scottish Equitable, 1980-83: pensions marketing consultant Trident Life, 1983-85: pensions sales manager, Merchant Investors, 1985-89: corporate pensions manager, Cannon Assurance
April 1, 1989: Pensions director, Weybourne Financial Services November 1994: started Informed Choice with wife Andrea
Career ambition: “To leave Informed Choice in a fit state for my son to take over.”
Life ambition: “I want to catch a 40lb carp – 28lb is the best I've managed so far.”
Likes: Fishing, classical music, books on history and Bristol Rovers
Peers say: “He is a progressive thinker and a thoroughly nice man.”
Car: Shares the Renault Megane with his wife”I'm not really a car person, I tend to judge them on whether or not my back hurts when I get out of it.”