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Paul Bradshaw

Sam Shaw talks to Abbey’s chief executive (insurance and asset management) who says working in Italy has given him a cynical view of the UK finance industry which he accuses of ‘xenophobic arrogance’. He talks avidly about working with Mark Weinberg and Mike Wilson and forecasts a wrap explosion in a year’s time.

Abbey chief executive (insurance and asset management) Paul Bradshaw scoffs at the “xenophobic arrogance” of the UK financial services sector, saying its European counterparts are far more sophisticated and that it was the Santander link which gave him confidence in Abbey.

“Santander is a stunning organisation. I was very impressed and it is probably the main reason for me joining,” he says.

The professionalism of the Spanish set-up and his stint working in Italy has given Bradshaw a slightly cynical view of the UK retail industry. He believes the Europeans have nailed the retail financial services industries in spite of facing regulators which he claims are “more fearsome and prescriptive than the FSA ever has been”.

Bradshaw thinks the Italian financial services industry is far more sophisticated than that of the UK, offering a much better consumer proposition. He says: “There is an implicit arrogance and xenophobia in this country, with no objective reason for it and it just does not add up.”

Bradshaw is seen by many of his peers as being one of the true entrepreneurial personalities left in the UK life and pension business but he says he has no ambitions to become chief executive of one of the big financial institutions.

He says: “An entrepreneurial actuary, no less. Now there’s an oxymoron. I am very happy doing what I am doing. I thought about it very carefully before taking this job. I used to look at people like Legal & General’s David Prosser or the Pru’s Mark Wood but that is not true any more. I think as you get older you get more satisfaction out of doing the job well rather than doing more.”

Bradshaw’s entrepreneurial skills have been noted, particularly when it comes to wrap. He is seen as the man who single-handedly developed Skandia’s wrap prop-osition and is taking his knowledge to Abbey.

After leaving Skandia in 1991 following what he says is the single regret of his whole life – selling the 24 per cent manage-ment stake back to Skandia Stockholm – Bradshaw went to join his heroes, Mark Weinberg and Mike Wilson, the founder and the former chief executive respectively of Allied Dunbar, who together set up J Rothschild Assurance.

He joined the duo he describes as “possibly two of the most dominant figures in the industry during the 1970s and 1980s. I really wanted to work with them.”

Bradshaw’s theory is that any direct sales- force in the UK has only ever been successful if it has been run by Weinberg and Wilson. “I think every other direct-sales model has failed,” he says. He believes the secret is simple. “It is about complete respect for their salespeople. It is about complete attention to detail and it is about focus, focus, focus.”

Bradshaw seems to have taken their model and applied it to his entire approach to business, appreciating the opportunities that have been presented to him.

“I think you have these lifetime experiences and they become part of you. There is no doubt that I feel incredibly grateful that I had the experience of working with Mark and Mike just to see the way they operate. I have been very lucky in my career for seeing the way lots of different cultures work.”

Bradshaw entered the industry after studying maths in Nottingham and getting a first-class degree. He met his wife Sheila, who also gained a first in maths and philosophy and their two children have followed their examples by also gaining first-class degrees.

“I finished my degree in maths and someone said you should be an actuary because they give you loads of money for passing exams. So that’s what I did.”

As an actuary, he was misinformed that the pass mark to qualify as an examiner was at least 70 per cent and he worked to gain that grade. It was only after qualifying that he found out the pass mark was 50 per cent but says he was not aggrieved. “Did he do me a huge favour or did he do me a huge favour? It’s all about where you set your sights.”

It seems Bradshaw has his sights set on wrap, particularly with A-Day just around the corner. He feels strongly that A-Day will be the catalyst that will make wrap really take off but believes that people need to be a bit more patient. He says: “Wrap is one of those things that everyone expects to take off tomorrow and it never quite does.

“I think it is because both the customer and intermediaries will find themselves in the situation of essentially selling completely open architecture pensions and they are likely to spend the whole of 2006 completely dominated by that form. That is going to be the defining market next year.”

Bradshaw predicts that this time next year it will be common practice for the market to be calling for online access, for open architecture, selling A-Day pensions as a product. But he identifies that it is not just about product marketing but more about risk evaluation, controlling assets and unless IFAs and consumers can access the products online, A-Day is too complicated to handle.

“That is where wrap comes in. I think it will just about be ready to explode in a year’s time,” he says.

Bradshaw shares the common frustrations with the industry about the Government’s rules on pension simplification not yet being finalised, recognising that IFAs and providers cannot approach IT specialists to implement wrap propositions until the rules are in place.

He remains driven by the constant state of flux in the industry and says he was eager to join Abbey because of Santander’s takeover.

He says: “By its very nature, the industry is constantly unstable. My great buzz is trying to understand that change and trying to provide commercially viable solutions to that change.”

When not buzzing about the instability of UK financial services, Bradshaw is buzzing about town from his Kensington flat or at home in Winchester. “We have a life to envy. I know that,” he says.

He seems to have foregone a taste for Italian cuisine in favour of Indian cuisine. His favourite restaurant is Zaika in Kensington, which is not surprising of a man who so embraces foreign cultures.

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