Schroders Pensions dir ector of business dev-elopment Robert Noach is a sociologist by trade.
While studying for his Masters at Warwick Univ ersity, the 50-year-old South African took a particular interest in the problems facing the aging population of industrial societies.
It is a theme which has carried through his professional life since he stumbled into the life and pension industry after completing his MA.
He says: “I have always been interested in how people would cope with living longer and that is very much a question which stays with me in my current work.”
That work features his personal and professional objective of getting Schr oders recognised as a premier name in the definedcontribution pension market.
Schroders announced last week it is to throw its hat into the stakeholder ring by targeting its existing client base of medium to large companies for stakeholder and defined-contribution pensions ahead of stakeholder's April launch.
In spite of the rumblings in the national press, Noach is calm in the face of a reportedly stakeholder-ignorant corporate community.
He says: “Our clients are generally reasonably well prepared because they take the provision of retirement benefits seriously. Our market is more aware than others.”
The laid-back social scientist was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1951. His mother was a tea cher and his father a solicitor. He considered following his father into law but chan ged course when he won his scholarship to study in the UK.
As a young man, Noach had been keen to leave South Africa, saying that he was “not optimistic about the longterm future” of his troubled country at the time.
“Initially I had planned to follow in my father's footsteps and become a lawyer but I decided I wanted a more general education. Law was too specific and would have res tricted me to South Africa. Once I had completed my studies, I thought again about law but I decided against it again because I did not want to do any more studying and was keen to get out into the big wide world.”
But through his studies Noach maintained his links with South Africa. At War wick, he was able to explore his interest in black trade unionism and develop a gre ater understanding of South Africa's struggles.
“Most people think the growth of the trade unions in South Africa is whites-only but the history of black trade unions goes back to the 1920s and 1930s.”
Noach says he immediately took to Britain, expect for the lack of sunshine. Though he is rooted to Brit ain, he has far greater hopes these days for the future prosperity and stability of South Africa. Nelson Mandela is his personal and political idol.
Cricket-mad Noach says he loves London, largely because it has both the Oval and Lords. He lives with his wife and two sons in Croxley Green near Watford in Hert fordshire. His sons share his passion for cricket.
Another passion for Noach is something of a crusade for fee-based advice.
Marietta Johns, his boss while at American Express subsidiary Acuma, is Noach's professional mentor.
Noach was Acuma region vice-president between 1989 and 1993 and it was under Johns' influence that Noach developed his commitment for fee-charging over commission for financial planning.
“Marietta Johns was instrumental in my development and helped my understanding of the power of fee-based financial advice. My seven years in sales was a real eye-opener. It is not about the hard sell as people will tell you. People need to be helped in making financial decisions and commission-based advice creates an atmosphere where the adviser needs a sale. I am pleased that more and more advisers are working on a fee-only basis and at Schroders we only deal with fee-based advisers.”
Although he never initially intended to work in pensions, he says he has no regrets so far. But he regrets not being more closely involved with asset management earlier in his career.
Noach held a position similar to his present role at Liberty Pens ions which was acquired by Schroders last year. Has the transitional stage following the acquisition been tough?
“It was surprising how little there was in terms of cultural differences between the two companies, compared with what we might have anticipated. Everyone's thinking at Schroders revolved around investment issues, where as we saw investment management as a part of the mix with communications and administration. Schroders was very receptive to this as the acquisition of Liberty was a strategic move.
“The biggest personal challenge I face is keeping all the relevant balls up in the air. There is the PR, the detailed marketing and our relationships with consultants and clients, so it is challenging just to co-ordinate all these.”
Noach is optimistic, both about Schroders' chances of meeting its objectives in its new target market and for his homeland, while acknowledging there are challenges besetting both.
“I am much more optimistic about the future of South Africa than I was 10 years ago but I am still concerned about the constant emigration of skilled people.It is a brain drain that the country can no longer afford.”