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Simon Wombwell

If Scottish Widows Investment Partnership head of UK distribution Simon Wombwell ever tires of life in financial services, he always has the option of applying for the manager’s job at his beloved Sheffield Wednesday.

The Swip supremo has passed his grade two FA coaching badges and is always ready for a new challenge.

He certainly took one on when he joined Swip 18 months ago with a brief to turn it into the premier league performer it really should be, given its size.

The strength of the brand and the potential of the business tempted Wombwell out of a 12-month break from the industry which he had taken after leaving Newton.

He says when he first joined Swip, it did not really have a retail business but parent group Scottish Widows was recognising, like many other life companies, that the growth of open architecture meant its asset management arm needed to be able to compete with the pure fund management houses because it no longer had the captive distribution of the old model.

“The reason I joined Swip was because I felt it offered a fantastic opportunity because of the way the industry is changing. Companies such as Swip and others owned by insurance companies have got to stand on their own two feet. They need to embrace change, develop and grow their external assets.”

Wombwell was all too aware of the somewhat negative reputation that life company fund management arms often have but was not deterred by this because he was confident that senior management of the life company was fully behind the changes he planned to make.

“You are seeing the rapid evolution of the investment arms of insurance companies through necessity. They have significant amounts of money under management. The advent of open architecture means the quality of our products needs to be able to compete in the marketplace.”

Wombwell says the reputation issue also spread to life companies’ ability to attract and retain top talent but again he feels Swip has proven capable of doing this.

“The criticism levelled at organisations such as our own is our ability to attract and maintain good investment people. We have managed that with the likes of Nigel Bolton and Robert Waugh, though.”

Wombwell says the fund management arm is pretty much autonomous on a business level and completely so when it comes to how they run money.

Responsibility for Swip sales had always laid with Scottish Widows salespeople so one of the first changes he effected was to bring in his own retail sales team of six along with a broker support unit.

The product range also had to be radically overhauled. The minimum investment levels on the funds was brought right down so more investors could access them and the firm started paying renewal commission for the first time.

Wombwell says the decision to pay trail was easier for Swip because the firm had so little IFA business on its books.

Next up, many of the funds had to be reclassified because they were either not in the right IMA fund sector or they were not listed at all, meaning that they were not even seen by many advisers when they were carrying out their sector screens to pick out the top performers. The marketing material was also overhauled to focus more on IFAs.

Wombwell had his right-hand man, head of third-party relationships Scott Dakers, ensure that all Swip’s funds were available on the main platforms such as Cofunds, FundsNetwork and Selestia. The changes have delivered significant sales volume growth.

Wombwell says: “A combination of the product development, sales support and wider availability of the funds has seen it go from a very small market share to 3.5 per cent and that is continuing to increase dramatically.”

“On the investment performance side, a lot of that had been done before I joined. Now we have very highly rated UK and European equity teams, which complements our historic strengths in fixed interest and property.”

The launches have looked to harness these skills. Swip has in the past year launched a suite of absolute return funds and a global Reits portfolio, which has the management split between Swip UK and European property and long-term partners Frank Russell, which runs the Asian and North American portion of the fund.

“The absolute return funds in particular have been very well received. We knew that there was a demand for these types of products but we did not appreciate the breadth of that interest. Overall, we are ahead of where we want to be and year on year we have seen a sixfold increase in fund sales,” says Wombwell.

He accepts that there is a lot of hard work still ahead such as the need to maintain the improved fund performance and win over advisers still wary of life company fund management products.

Born: Lincoln, 1961

Lives: St. Albans with wife and two children (daughter 12 and son 10)

Education: Trent Polytechnic, Nottingham – BA (Hons) business studies

Career: Swip – head of UK distribution, Newton – managing director retail, Confederation Life – account manager, Hannover Pensions IFA.

Likes: Playing sport, particularly football, tennis and golf, Sheffield Wednesday and foreign travel.

Dislikes: Bad manners – and the band.

Drives: BMW

Favourite album: American Idiot by Green Day

Favourite book: Anything by David Gemmell

Favourite film: Any James Bond film

Hero: Bill Gates and Warren Buffett – both are very successful but give a lot back – and Lance Armstrong for his courage in overcoming adversity.

Career ambition: To keep doing new things

Life ambition: To be happy

If I were not doing my current job, I would be… Anything on a sunny beach


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