Sesame group chief executive Patrick Gale started in the IT industry in 1986 and saw the IT boom and bust from start to finish. It was an experience he believes put him in good stead to run the country's biggest IFA network in a way he believes networks have never been run before.
He believes the key is in the different outlooks of the respective industries. Like many people who worked in IT, Gale says he has the ability to look at any other industry as a marketing opportunity rather than getting bogged down with the “widgets”.
He says: “I came up through the sales and marketing side of IT rather than developing software. In financial services, it is good to be someone not steeped in the jargon, products and attitudes to risk, which lets me bring a slightly different approach.”
Gale also believes that at the core of any network is the need to know how technology fits in as a solution to business problems. “Technology is only useful when it fills a need. It is not the be all and end all. I have a lot of scars on my back from where I have marketed technology in the past and it has not worked. You learn from these mistakes. Technology is the key to providing a lot of solutions both today and in the future.”
He says until recently networks have only seen themselves as purveyors of compliance. “I don't see Sesame in this light. Compliance and risk management is just one service. What we are about is providing our customers with a range of services.”
Gale believes marketing is very important, which is why he has put the emphasis on the Sesame brand.
He believes technology and branding are the keys to Sesame advisers being “so different” from other advisers. He says he is keen for them to embrace technology at the point of sale. “We are the only people doing that on our own. All the other networks are buying off the shelf, which meanthat by delegating responsibility, they think they do not have to worry about it.”
Gale reasons that this means Sesame's level of ecommerce is far higher than any other network. He says: “Ask any provider and they will tell you that Sesame advisers use internet portals and extranets a lot more than any other advisers in Britain.”
But even his background in jargon-heavy IT did not prepare Gale for what he found in financial services. “I struggled with the jargon when I first arrived. There is a tremendous amount of jargon that is sometimes too much for the adviser and the consumer.” This was part of the reason why he published The Naked Adviser – an A to Z of personal finance for advisers and consumers. “The industry was lacking a resource like this and it also helped me to come to terms with financial services speak,” he says.
Unsurprisingly, Gale is a supporter of the plain English approach to financial services. “One of the problems that our advisers face is taking all this jargon and making it half-sensible to the consumer. Things like The Naked Adviser, the research we do and our plain English approach to everything helps them greatly.”
But he does not rate the Raising Standards initiative. He says: “We are miles ahead of Raising Standards – at least three years ahead of them in plain English and risk paragraphs and a year ahead of where the FSA will finally get to with financial capability.”
G ale admits it has been a hard road getting Sesame advisers on board with the network's branding, literature and technology changes. For the past few years, it has been losing members but recently it believes it has staunched the flow. “We have been in a period of stabilisation for a number of months and members are now much happier with us.”
The Sesame brand came under intense criticism when it was launched last year and Gale has been tracking the sentiment of members. He says it has improved quarter on quarter. Additionally, he says with all the regulatory change taking place, members are signing up for more of Sesame services. “In the space of less than two months, we have got over 4,000 members asking us to join our mortgage propositions. There are very few left that have not done it.”
Gale says recruitment has also been higher in the last quarter than in the past two years.
However, many smaller networks are insisting that Sesame is continuing to lose members and that they are stealing large numbers from the company. Gale says: “They are minnows. They are not touching us at all.”
He says many smaller networks are simply hunkering down and waiting for the FSA to find them. They are doing the absolute minimum rather than taking a proactive approach. “While our proactive approach may be costly – we have invested millions back into the business – we have still remained profitable and this is an industry where many distributors remain unprofitable.”
Gale says many of the smaller networks are struggling to make money and this will eventually be their downfall. He believes most of the smaller networks will not exist within the next few years. “They simply do not have the size or weight to make it in the marketplace and very quickly their members will realise that service and safety is only to be gained from a big, influential network.”
Much of Gale's preoccupation these days is on the direct-authorisation front. “This is the big growth area. Our direct-authorisation operation is growing at a tremendous rate – we are up to around 1,500 already. In the future, although small networks will evaporate, there will be plenty of growth in the direct-authorisation market.”
Gale's main driving force in life has always been his relationship with his family and religion. He believes the three most important things in life are God, family and career: “Getting the balance right is key.” He has always been impressed by the great Christian missionaries for their devotion to their faith and their courage.
He is also a keen traveller, having spent over a decade in Hong Kong and Singapore as an expat. “These times were truly exciting and have left me with a fascination for different cultures.” He decided to return to the UK at the turn of the millennium to continue raising his family close to their roots. “I was the typical expat. Being away so long it was entirely conceivable that I would never return to the UK. But both my wife and I felt it was worth coming back and being with the rest of our extended family.”
Born: Manchester, 1960
Lives: Milton village, Oxfordshire
Education: BSc management science, University of Manchester Institute of Science Career: 1981: loan officer, Bank of America, 1986: sales manager,BIS Software,1995-1999: Misys regional director for Asia Pacific, 1999-2000:marketing director, MKI (Misys' biggest banking and securities software house), 2000-2002 chief executive, Mifa, July 2002 – chief executive Sesame Group Career ambition:To see Sesame become more of a success
Life ambition:Maintain a good work/life balance
Hero: CS Lewis
Likes: People to be straightforward and give solutions, not problems Dislikes: People who procrastinate and are unclear in what they ask me and my company. Negative views on life.
Drives: BMW 320