In another life, Iain Clark would have been a racing driver. A keen motorsport fan, the new distribution and marketing director at income protection specialist British Friendly has driven the iconic Brooklands to Monte Carlo rally in Ferraris and Porsches, and, as he casually informs me, is “usually in the top three” when he takes the wheel on driving days.
On and off the track, Clark is clearly a man who responds well to targets. He started out on the road to British Friendly at Legal & General and was the insurer’s youngest top-selling business development manager by the time he was 20, out of a 200-strong salesforce.
He progressed steadily through the ranks of management before being called in the late 1990s to work with the project team at L&G’s flagship (and now ill-fated) headquarters in Kingswood.
He says: “The first big deal L&G did in the tied agency market was with Barclays. I worked on the Barclays project for two years, and we developed, designed and delivered stakeholder pensions to their salesforce. Then we transferred the other elements of the business, first investment, then protection. Then, when Barclays acquired the Woolwich in 2000, we went through the same process.”
Clark stayed at L&G for over 20 years. He was promoted to IFA sales director and bank and building society director along the way, working with lenders such as Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester, brands that have since been gobbled up by Santander.
In 2008, he was approached by rival provider PruProtect to help bring the proposition to market.
“PruProtect was a game-changer at the time. I felt that was what the market needed. Right from the beginning there was the Vitality rewards programme, which was a case of ‘if you look after yourself, we’ll look after you’. Nobody had thought of doing that in the UK until then because everybody was so entrenched in what they were doing. It was a very appealing role, and it’s really good to be at the beginning of a company. Hard work though.”
Clark helped get the PruProtect distribution model off the ground, before L&G managed to lure him back to the fold.
But it was not long before he felt the pull of wanting to be involved in something new, and in 2011 he joined LV= as managing director of protection. Clark was enlisted to boost the profile of protection in a business that was known for general insurance and annuities, and achieved the target market share set over four years within 18 months.
“I was at L&G for a long time. I only really started to move around the market in the last 10 years or so. When you’ve been with an insurer for 20-plus years, it is quite bold to make that first move, but then it gets easier to take the opportunities rather than worry about them.”
Clark was at LV= for four years, but personal issues and the strain of working away from his family for three or four nights a week began to take their toll. He says his new role at British Friendly, which Money Marketing revealed in August, manages to deliver the work/life balance that he needs, but also the continued challenges of being part of something new.
“Protection is a market that needs to be exciting, and it isn’t really. You’ve got to find a way of igniting it and that is difficult, due to the constraints associated with how customers buy our products.
“I have the opportunity now to develop British Friendly’s specialism in income protection, and I have some ideas about how to do that.
“But I also have an opportunity to look at diversification. Innovation is really important to me – I don’t want to just sit behind a desk and get even more grey hairs and while away the time. I want to put something back into the market, which sounds great in theory but in practice is really difficult to do.”
Clark believes the starting point for shaking up what can be seen as a slow-moving market is education, mainly in relation to consumers but also to some advisers.
He points out one of the stumbling blocks to gaining greater traction with IP is advisers would sooner sell life or critical illness cover because that is what they are used to.
“Critical illness is an emotional sell, perhaps because advisers have had a friend or relative go through something similar. IP is a reality sell, in that if you don’t protect your income and something happens, you won’t have any income left.”
Clark praises the work of the Seven Families campaign, the industry-backed initiative that provides income for one year to seven households affected by serious or long-term illness or disability. He says this has helped boost awareness of IP but admits he would like the project to achieve even greater reach.
“The campaign makes a difference to our industry in pushing the argument out to the market that people do need IP. The only thing is that people internally can see it, but the wider view hasn’t materialised.
“Things like getting our spokespeople onto breakfast news, that could take the campaign to another level. That would be the next step. We have accomplished what we set out to do in making the product more prominent, but we have to engage the public at a deeper level. You need money to do that, and a lot of money. We now need to shout a bit louder and get the Government to understand this is something they need to look at.”
Clark wants to turn around what he sees as an “education lapse” over recent generations where consumers have failed to realise the importance of financial planning at an early enough age.
“I know too many people who have got into their mid-thirties or forties who realise they haven’t paid into their pension or haven’t secured enough protection. It’s the natural time to start thinking about it, but it’s also the wrong time. By then, you have lost the impetus of how much value it brings you.”
What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
Information is king. Having the most up-to-date and relevant information to hand around the issues and challenges you face puts you in a stronger position.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the past year?
It has to be the pension reforms. The ramifications for both financial services firms and their customers have created both opportunities and challenges.
What keeps you awake at night?
When my 19-year-old comes home at 2.30am.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…
I’d try to help the decision-makers to better understand and appreciate the role advisers play in delivering the best outcomes for consumers, especially around protection, which should underpin financial planning.
Any advice for new advisers?
Listen, adapt and never stop learning.
September 2015–present: Distribution and marketing director, British Friendly
2011–2015: Managing director for protection, LV=
2009-2011: IFA sales director, Legal & General
2008-2009: Head of sales, PruProtect
1986-2008: Various roles including IFA sales director and bank and building society director, Legal & General