Despite a first in maths from Cambridge and his actuarial training, HBOS chief executive of life and investments Phil Hodkinson says he did not really understand figures until he helped a headmistress to manage her school budget.
Now that he looks after much more comfortably bolstered coffers at Clerical Medical, Halifax Financial Services, Esure, St James's Place and Insight Investment, he has not forgotten the lessons he learned in helping the school to balance its books.
Hodkinson was headhunted last summer from Zurich Financial Services, where he was chief executive of Zurich UK Life. The change of jobs saw Hodkinson, his wife, 11-year-old son and six-year-old daughter relocate from Berkshire to Harrogate in Yorkshire.
Former work colleagues says he is the kind of person who always remembers to send a little note of thanks. But they also remember him as being one of those annoying people who seem to do everything well, while being so nice that others are denied the gratification of disliking them.
Hodkinson himself says the thing he really dislikes is office politics. His swift rise up the ranks attests to his ability to deal with personalities as well as issues.
His wife, too, seems cut from this cloth. As well as running her own personnel training company, Jane Hodkinson is a world-class triathlete. Hodkinson enjoys being part of her support crew and says the family is looking forward to setting off to Cancun, Mexico, for the world championships later this year. He says he does a bit of running and cycling, too, but nothing to his wife's standard.
Later this year will also see the publication of new rules for the depolarised regime and the subsequent shake-up of the industry will mean that the brands under Hodkinson's management will need careful handling. Does he see Clerical Medical, now a purely IFA office, taking on a changing role? While he thinks distribution through Halifax bank is unlikely – the group has Halifax Life as a vehicle for that – all he can say is that it is likely that Clerical will remain the intermediary brand, be it IFA or multi-tie.
Given the varieties of distribution at his disposal, it is not surprising to find Hodkinson fairly neutral on the issue. He believes that IFAs will continue to have a rosy future. “There will always be a place for intermediaries who can offer a high level of service and advice across a whole range of products. IFAs will continue to be highly successful, especially with pensions where they are well placed,” he says.
But he does urge the regulators to be as clear as possible about what the new landscape is going to look like and remove the uncertainty to enable intermediaries to make more informed decisions about their future business plans.
IFAs looking for a fat cheque should not waste their time sending their prospectuses to Hodkinson because he says he believes buying up intermediaries à la Aegon is “not sensible”. “I would rather compete on fundamentals than get out a chequebook,” he says.
In June, Hodkinson was appointed chairman of the Insurance Standards Group, the life industry's self-accreditation body for the Raising Standards initiative. He calmly deflects criticisms of the initiative, claiming that it has led the debate on issues taken up the FSA and the Sandler report.
He says: “Raising Standards is at the start of the process of translating the benefits of the scheme to intermediaries and customers. It is not yet a 'must have'.”
Hodkinson says Raising Standards will continue to reflect changes in regulation. He points out that its first task is to get the majority of the industry on board and only then can the rest of the work follow in earnest.
Unlike many of his competitors, Hodkinson is not discouraged by a 1 per cent price cap for the new safe-haven products proposed by Sandler. While he denies an inside track to the Government or the regulator, his company was chosen by the Treasury to pilot the saving gateway – the initiative to offer incentives for savings for the lower-paid.
He has just overseen the rebranding of the group's various investment arms into Insight, which he sees as sitting as an investment engine inside other products, much like an Intel processor inside a computer.
A current project of Hodkinson's is the migration of all the group's pension business on to the systems which Halifax bought from Equitable Life. He claims these are still the envy of the industry. Clerical's creaking systems led to an embarrassing withdrawal from the group stakeholder market last year but now the company is set to make a return on the back of Equitable's systems. The process will take up to three years to complete, he says, and could allow room for third-party administration.
As well as managing the investment and life sides of the recently assembled HBOS stable, Hodkinson chairs its charitable arm the HBOS Foundation. A stint with Seeing is Believing, part of the Prince of Wales' Business in the Community programme – where he was helping the headmistress – left him convinced of the benefits of working outside the business and he wants to be more involved in charitable work after retirement.
Lives: Near Harrogate
Education and qualifications: Wimbledon College. Read maths at St John's College, Cambridge
Career to date: Actuarial trainee at Duncan C Fraser; actuary at Hambro Life; executive director at Allied Dunbar; managing director of Allied Dunbar Bank; chief executive of Eagle Star Life, Zurich Life and Sterling Assurance; appointed HBOS chief executive officer (insurance and investments) in July 2001
Career ambition: To make HBOS's insurance and investment business the leading UK group
Life ambition: To have made a difference, to do more work in the charitable sector
Likes: Good company, fine wines and spending time with his family
Dislikes: Business politics, people who cannot work together to make things better
Peers say: “A smart cookie. For a highly intelligent person, he has unusually good interpersonal skills. Knows his stuff.”
Car: Lexus LS420