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Robert Graves

Rowanmoor head of technical services and Association of Member Directed Pension Schemes chairman Robert Graves describes himself as ’a small-company guy’ but he has big ambitions and while many in the industry cast doubt on the future of smaller Sipp players, he is confident the RDR will see them come into their own. Interview by Lee Jones

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Robert Graves has a passion for pensions and being in the business for three decades has not dampened his enthusiasm. “Things are always changing,” he says. “That is what keeps the pension industry alive and why I am so enthused even after 30 years. You are always learning new things and can never know it all.”

As head of technical services at Rowanmoor, Graves helps develop and shape products and services for pensionholders and IFAs. He says he enjoys this role because it allows him to do what he does best – communicate the intricacies of pensions in a simple, understandable way.

He learned his skills while on the road for Equity & Law. Starting out on the administration side of group pensions, he was given “a baptism of fire” when given the job of consulting on these complex products to “friendly but blunt” Yorkshire businessmen in the 1970s.

“I have always wanted to stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone. That is how you learn.”

He eventually decided to move over to sales and found himself working for IFA stalwart Nick Bamford at the company that was to become Lincoln Financial.

“It was a small firm so I was able to get really involved. I was immediately thrown into product development and also had to try to describe the products to clients, so it was using those skills again to try and simplify the technical issues.”

When the business decided to sell the sales side of Lincoln, Graves moved to Personal Pension Management Ltd and once again found himself working under another industry stalwart – self-invested personal pension guru John Moret.

Graves stayed with PPML until it was bought by Capita and took on “a big company culture” that did not suit his style. “As firms get bigger, the roles become more contracted and that is not for me. I like to get involved in a lot of different things and have realised I am more of a small-company guy.”

It was for that reason that Graves made the move to Rowanmoor. The business was founded from a buyout of the small self-administered scheme book of James Hay but was temporarily blocked from launching a Sipp under the terms of the deal. When the moratorium was lifted,
Rowanmoor took on Graves to launch its Sipp proposition.

“It was a small company environment again, which I liked, and I think there will always be a place for that type of bespoke Sipp provider. You have the personal pension-type product on a platform on one end that is very process-driven but if you want anything out of the ordinary, they are not going to be able to help. So there is a place for the small guy where the delivery of personalised service is paramount.” Last year, Rowanmoor made the news after the death of its managing director, David Seaton. Graves says the reaction to the tragic event was testament to the quality of the firm and its reputation in the sector: “It did not really affect the business and that is what you would hope for – that no one person is bigger than the business itself.”

Last year’s headlines were also filled with doubts over the future of small Sipp providers but Graves is confident that small players such as Rowanmoor will survive and flourish once the retail distribution review kicks in after 2012.

“Historically, there has been a core of IFAs used to dealing with sophisticated clients in a professional manner but we think there will be an emergence of more bespoke Sipp and SSAS advisers. The products give IFAs and their clients control and flexibility, which are well used buzzwords precisely because that is what they offer. That is
all part and parcel of the RDR.”

Graves also believes 2012 will see Sipp and SSAS sales grow thanks to auto-enrolment.

According to the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority, there could be as many as 750,000 businesses without any work-based pensions and this will create oppor tunities to advise business owners on their own pensions when they address the new legal requirements for their staff.

“There are a lot of potential SSAS clients out there. They are predominantly small businesses with fewer than 10 employees but there is no reason why they cannot work in parallel with the national employment savings trust for those exempt employees.

“It is all about clients understanding why they have a certain product and the uses of that product. They should not have to abandon SSAS and dumb down to a Nest.”

Graves is chairman of Sipp and SSAS trade body the Association of Member Directed Pension Schemes and he has been lobbying on pension issues for six years.

With the 2010 Budget just a week away, Graves says the Government’s proposed changes to higher-rate tax relief for pensions are complicated and damaging” and hopes it listens to the views of the association and other trade bodies that it should be a reduction in the annual allowance rather than a cut in tax relief that helps them save money. He also hopes that any future regulation will resist the temptation to tinker with the rules for self-invested pensions as he believes the current set-up is working well.

“We really need to reappraise pensions and make them relevant for today’s society. In that sense, I cannot see how you would go in a different direction from the way Sipp and SSAS are going. When you have a product that has year-on-year growth of 20 per cent, it is proof they are what clients and advisers want.

“They are all buying into the technology and flexibility concept of the pensions and it would be a real retrograde step if the Government and the regulator took that away.”

Born: Buckinghamshire, 1962
Lives: Verwood, Dorset
Education: Wellesborne
Secondary, ACII qualification, among others.
Career: 2008-present: head of technical services, Rowanmoor Pensions; 2000-08: technical marketing manager, Personal Pension Management Limited; 1987-2000: pensions marketing manager, Cannon Lincoln; 1986-87: pension consultant, Equity & Law, Leeds; 1979-86: administrator, Equity & Law
Likes: Playing the cornet, rugby, smiles, malt whisky
Dislikes: Cheats, negativity, Earl Grey tea, rude and intolerant people
Drives: Volvo V50
Book: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo or maybe Goodbye To All That by poet Robert Graves
Film: Lord of the Rings trilogy
Album: Massive by Jazz Jamaica All Stars
Career ambition: To do my bit to see Rowanmoor Pensions and the member-directed pensions industry continue to prosper
Life ambition: To keep an open mind, continue to learn and become good enough to play cornet in the Verwood Concert Brass main band
If I wasn’t doing this I would be…Doing something more outdoors

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