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Profile: Openwork’s new chief on the dearth of advisers

When Openwork chief executive Mark Duckworth speaks about the drop in adviser numbers since the late 1980s the figures sound astonishing: 285,000 advisers serving a UK population of 50 million in 1989, compared with 23,000 advisers available for 64 million people today. Put another way, there are currently around 200,000 consumers for every adviser when, in Duckworth’s view, each adviser can realistically handle no more than 200 clients.

“It has created a huge advice gap,” says Duckworth. “I’m not saying all 64 million people in the UK need advice but even if only half do we still need five times the advisers we have today.”

However, Duckworth sees financial advice as a ”fantastic” career for graduates and people from other professions to enter.

“It is a rewarding career that can be lucrative but the industry needs to see that it is not best served by 23,000 advisers. Openwork itself has 650 businesses and it’s important to me that we work to the relationship model in how we bring through new advisers. The Ocademy [Openwork’s graduate programme] will have more than 100 people passing through it later this year. They tend to be between the age of 21 and 27, and have just come out of university or are looking for a career. “

Duckworth says he would be delighted if his own children were to go into financial services. He feels that with four times more solicitors than advisers, and 10 times more accountants than advisers, young people would have a greater chance to shine in financial services rather than competing with so many in other professions.

Duckworth’s pull towards the industry is apparent in his own experience of starting out in financial services. He began his career as a professional footballer with his local team, Stoke City, but was forced to quit through injury. He then became a professional squash player but injury struck again, ending his career at the age of 21.

Looking for a temporary stopgap that would enable him to decide what to do next, Duckworth took a job with Wesleyan Assurance as a sales consultant in 1992. Having a father who was an IFA was useful in that Duckworth always had someone to debate industry issues with, but it was not the deciding factor in his stopgap becoming permanent. He enjoyed the work at Wesleyan and after 18 months was given the Shropshire branch to run. By 1995 he had moved to Legal & General as a sales consultant but moved a year later, having been headhunted to become a broker consultant at Commercial Union.

“Over time, once you understand business owners and advisers, you start to think about how you can help them achieve their goals, how you could help them grow their business,” he says.

A brief spell at M&G in 1999 was Duckworth’s first foray into pensions and he begun to shape his career by taking professional qualifications. A year later he was pensions development manager at Commercial General Union – created by a merger of his old firm, Commerical Union, with General Accident. Following spells in sales management at Scottish Amicable and Axa, Duckworth found himself at Prudential. As distribution manager there, he was responsible for Europe and the Middle East and gained insight into global markets as diverse as Belgium, Italy, Dubai and Qatar.

By 2008 retirement income was at the forefront of his thinking and he set up Living Time with some of his fellow directors at Prudential. The firm introduced the fixed-term annuity to the UK. 

“The rationale for Living Time was that the annuity market was dominated by standard annuities. What was a concern was that it was a one off decision at age 65 – there  are very few financial decisions you make and can never change for the rest of your life.

“But people’s lifestyles change between the ages of 65 and 85 and the income profile of annuities was flat, they didn’t adapt to a change in lifestyle or health. So with fixed-term annuities we were saying: if you are healthy now we will pay you the same as a standard annuity but if your circumstances change after the fixed term you can buy anything else you like. “

Duckworth says trying to change the annuity market for the better was a ”galvanising force” but not easy. ’”We were up against 200 years of history and companies with vested interests,” he says.

He is pleased pension reform has shaken up the annuity market but still sees annuities as a core component. “They will still have a place for most people, whether fixed, enhanced or impaired life annuities, and deferred annuities will come to the market. The market has got to innovate and I expect more innovation in the next two to three years,” he says.

Duckworth left Living Time in 2010 and joined Openwork as commercial development director. “Distribution was where I wanted my career to move to,” he says. “It has been a good decision to join Openwork. The reason it is a great distributor is its balance between mortgage and wealth business. We have an independent business, 2plan, and took on MetLife’s protection advisers last year. We have a balance and spread of profit centres.”

Openwork’s businesses are appointed representatives rather than directly authorised, which Duckworth sees as important because there can be unknown risks within DA firms. This distinction explains his views on whether networks can survive in the light of Sesame pulling out of investment to focus on its mortgage and DA businesses.

“Network is an all encompassing phrase for large entities but business strategies are fundamentally different and networks are not all the same. Openwork is conversant with risk that is diversified across 3,000 advisers. We help advisers through the process of giving advice and professionally irespective of whether the client is buying their first home or has more complex needs. It is more challenging with independent businesses when people are doing as they like and you have to aggregate them and grow together,” he says.

Five questions

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?

To enjoy the journey and deal with people openly and honestly.

What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?

Pension freedoms. It is the greatest opportunity for financial advice that I can recall.

What keeps you awake at night?

Not too much; just making sure my children are happy.

If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…

Look to bring more people into financial services to fill the advice gap.

Any advice for new advisers?

Stay committed, take professional qualifications and aim to be chartered within five to seven years.

CV

2015-present: Chief executive, Openwork

2011-2015: Managing director, distribution and marketing, Openwork

2010-2011: Commercial development director, Openwork

2008-2010: Distribution and partnerships director, Living Time

2005-2008: Distribution director, Prudential

2003-2005: National sales manager, Axa

2002-2003: Regional sales manager, Scottish Amicable

2000-2002: Pensions development manager, Commercial General Union

1999: Pensions consultant, M&G

1996-1999: Broker consultant, Commercial Union

1995-1996: Sales consultant, Legal & General

1992-1995: Wesleyan Assurance, sales consultant then branch manager

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