It would be difficult to question the new Autif director general's credentials. Richard Saunders worked as a civil servant in the Treasury for 20 years, including a stint as former Chancellor Norman Lamont's press secretary, before leaving the department in 1995.
In 1986, he was responsible for the passage through Parliament of the Building Societies Act, which expanded the scope of business of the mutual organisations.
Luckily for Saunders, he left the Treasury directly after the 1992 election. So he missed out on the scandal of Black Wednesday when sterling fell out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, which eventually led to his boss Lamont's resignation from the Cabinet.
From there, he headed the Private Finance Unit and also spent two years as head of the Economic Department at the British Embassy in Washington.
He remembers being with then economic secretary Tony Nelson, the job that Melanie Johnson now holds, on Black Wednesday and counting his blessings he was still not in the firing line as Lamont's spokesman.
When he got back from America, Saunders moved into the PR world, becoming director of development and communications at the firm MAI and subseq
uently United News & Media. From there he became director of financial PR firm Cardew & Co.
At the Treasury, Saunders was heavily involved with events at the European level, which bodes well for Autif as it adopts a more aggressive attitude towards the Continent. As he puts it: “I am very passionately pro-European. The overarching issues at that time were the ERM and the run-up to the Maastricht Treaty.”
He was involved with both events, and so has an intimate understanding of the inner workings of the European machine.
Both Saunders and Autif are determined to represent the UK retail fund management industry as it moves into Europe. They see the European member states, especially Germany and Italy, as untapped.
His lengthy experience moving in Government circles has left him with strong relations with many of those who decide the path of regulation of the industry.
He counts among his friends Paula Diggle, the senior civil servant in the Treasury responsible for home financial services, and FSA chairman and chief executive Sir Howard Davies.
He tells the story of how, when working at the embassy in Washington, he managed to sneak the then CBI director general Davies into the Supreme Court for a high-profile tax hearing.
Saunders also recounts how, when he started in the Civil Service shortly after graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, one of his colleagues was a young woman named Mary Brown. They became fast friends and still are – and Mary Brown, now Mary Francis, is director general of rival trade association the ABI.
This could mean a repairing of the rather fractured relationship between the two trade bodies.
On numerous occasions Francis and outgoing director general Philip Warland have shared a lively public exchange of views on issues affecting the industry.
When first approached by Autif chairman Alan Ainsworth about the position, Saunders says he did not know that much about the trade body.
“The first thing I was impressed with was how different the association was, I mean much more professional than its predecessor the Unit Trust Association I had dealings with in the 1980s. I was won over by the enthusiasm of the way they saw the industry in the future.”
Saunders readily admits he has a lot to catch up on the issues that are dominating the industry at the moment. But he is confident that once he officially steps into his role in May it will not take much time to get up to speed.
In regard to the apparent efforts of the Treasury and FSA to move towards scrapping polarisation, Saunders says: “The debate will continue but it's clearly a matter of how, not whether, it goes. But we have to make sure the 'how' makes sense.”
He calls IFAs absolutely critical and says he consults one himself. But, perhaps wisely, given that a large number of Autif's membership use a variety of distribution channels, Saunders quickly makes the point that he is not trying to decry those that sell products direct.
Saunders attended a grammar school in Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, before heading to Cambridge where he studied maths. While there, he was active in sports, particularly athletics, running in sprinting and hurdle races on behalf of the university.
He lives in South London with his wife and two teenage boys. He likes to keep active, regularly working out in a gym and enjoys playing chess.
When looking generally at the state of the UK retail fund management industry, Saunders points to the US, where mutual funds are much more prominent. He says the US market is about five to 10 years ahead of the UK, which is in turn two to five years ahead of the rest of Europe.
His first plan of business when he takes office is to go out and individually speak to members to see what their concerns are. He wants to get a feeling for what they think Autif can do to help them out.
Saunders believes that consumers have come to accept they must save for their pensions, but there is still much work to be done in other areas of savings. “It is important consumers see the industry that promises these products as one they can trust.”