New distribution director Jackie Leiper on increasing confidence and investment from its banking group parent
The failed Scottish Widows/Standard Life merger grabbed the headlines last month, as reports linked it to Lloyds’ decision to end a £109bn investment management arrangement with Standard Life Aberdeen.
But news just a couple of days later that the banking group is targeting financial planning and pensions in its three-year strategy perhaps provided some context, with commentators assuming Scottish Widows will play an important role.
Lloyds’ plans to boost its financial planning and retirement open book assets by more than £50bn by 2020 and to target more than one million new pension customers. It is to spend over £3bn on the strategy.
As far as Scottish Widows’ new distribution director Jackie Leiper is concerned, there were never any question marks around the banking group’s commitment to it.
Leiper has seen first-hand how the firm has become more closely integrated with its parent group. When she joined Scottish Widows in 2010, it was very much a separate part of the bank; now it is more cohesive, she says.
The latest news is evidence of the group “further cementing” its commitment to Scottish Widows, says Leiper, something that could already be seen from its investment in the firm’s Driving Pension Values programme designed to improve support to advisers, employers and employees
“Lloyds has a huge commitment to Scottish Widows. It has [already] invested nearly £50m in the individual pension proposition and the same amount in the workplace proposition. It is really growing pensions and creating a modern organisation through digital services for employers and employees. If it wanted to sell off the business that wouldn’t have happened,” she says.
Leiper took up her current role in January, leaving her job as protection director to replace Ronnie Taylor. She now covers the distribution of workplace savings, pensions, annuities and protection across the B2B, intermediary, bancassurance and direct-to-consumer channels.
Leiper says that because intermediaries operate various business models with different requirements, Scottish Widows needs to provide different levels of support.
Digitisation can add value for everyone. We give intermediaries tools, research and insight
“Intermediaries are busier than ever because of pension freedoms,” she says. “They have become focused on their place in the value chain and what their business model is going to be. We get models where the employee benefits consultant sees to the employer and the adviser does everything else. We also get intermediaries wanting to do it all themselves and we support them in providing those services.”
Leiper points out that since the removal of commission, everyone has had to get “sharp and transparent” with the client, and that impacts on how Scottish Widows can help intermediaries, who have become more demanding of the provider.
“It’s challenging us all to step up and innovate, but digitisation can add value for everyone. We want to make it as easy as possible and to make sure we are not adding to the cost for the adviser by having a complex process. Part of the problem for intermediaries is how to access innovative technology, information, tools and support so they can use this with clients. We give them tools, research and insight.”
As a woman in a senior role, Leiper believes her appointment shows other females it is possible to get there, even though men still outnumber women in financial services.
She admits she has experienced patronising and sexist behaviour during her career, and says other women she speaks to have had similar experiences. Like the trainee adviser who was advised to take up golf, for example, even though all her clients were women and young couples who did not necessarily want to do business on the golf course.
As a woman you stand out, you can use it to your advantage
“I do chuckle to myself at the macho behaviour and sporting chat that goes on,” says Leiper. “Going to industry events, there are not many women to strike up a conversation with. You have to take a deep breath and make an effort to break in. But as a woman speaking at an event, you stand out: everyone knows who you are. It’s high impact and you can use it to your advantage.”
Leiper fell into financial services while working for Scottish Amicable during her university summer holidays. She was studying business but had been good at French and German at school, so had envisaged a career working for the European Union in Brussels.
However, life in the corporate pensions department at Scottish Amicable back in 1989 soon drew her in. She was promoted quickly and ended up staying put for 18 years, which took her beyond Prudential’s takeover in 2003. So, what was the appeal?
“It was a brilliant environment,” she says. “There were loads of young people, lots of nights out, good training and I was earning good money. It was superb. The chief executive, Roy Nicolson, was forward thinking and saw the importance of equal opportunities. Females were promoted to serious positions. It was all about ability. It didn’t matter if you went to university or not; if you did well, you were rewarded and promoted. And it wasn’t hierarchical; you could make decisions.”
After the takeover, Leiper became head of voice at Prudential, which involved running the firm’s UK and Indian call centres. When Prudential UK outsourced its administration to Capita in 2007, Leiper moved across and spent just over two years there before joining Scottish Widows to get into the life side.
“At Scot Am, we’d look at the Scottish Widows brand with envy. We didn’t have that and being owned by a bank was a bonus; it gave inroads into career opportunities in the broader bank,” she says.
That said, her time at Scottish Widows has not been without its difficulties. Take her first year as director of corporate pension relationships.
“The first year was the most challenging of my career. Most of it dealing with complaints, solving problems and apologising because automatic enrolment had started to run into challenges. But some of the best relationships came out of adversity. Being here in the difficult times is how you build trust,” she says. “A lot of clients have said they are so glad we recovered. It was a challenging time.”
There is clearly a lot on the horizon to keep Leiper busy. However, for now she is focusing on Scottish Widows’ immediate priorities, which includes integrating the UK workplace pensions and savings arm of Zurich.
The deal was announced last October and Leiper says the firm has been busy bringing everything under the Scottish Widows brand and undergoing training on the extended range of products before it all goes live in April.
“Zurich completes our products; we can now support SMEs from five employees to £50,000, with any structure – trust based, for example. This will allow us to increase scale and reach into new and growing segments,” she says.
“There have not been that many overlaps and we are keen to make sure the business we create is better than the sum of all the parts. We will keep the best things from both and on day one Zurich customers will not lose anything that they get today. In addition, we will continue to invest in our digital capabilities and delivering for intermediaries.”
What is the best bit of advice you’ve received in your career?
You work to live, not live to work, so set the boundaries you need to ensure you make the right choices with your family.
What keeps you awake at night?
Apart from my husband’s snoring, I am constantly thinking about what we need to be doing as a business to differentiate ourselves in the market.
What has had the most significant impact on financial advice in the last year?
Defined benefit pensions. This has resulted in a lot of people speaking to advisers who might not otherwise have afforded advice or been aware of the services they can provide.
If I was in charge of the FCA for a day I would…?
Ensure a discussion regarding mortgage resilience and appropriate financial protection forms part of every mortgage discussion.
Any advice for new advisers?
Know your stuff and really get to know your customer.
2010-present: Various roles from head of operations (new business servicing) to distribution director, insurance business, at Scottish Widows
2007-2010: Head of customer response unit, Capita Life & Pensions
2003-2007: Head of voice, Prudential
1989-2003: Customer service manager, Scottish Amicable