Turning The Exchange into more than an IFA quote engine is the challenge for managing director Sue Summers. Achieving the goal of full end-to-end processing for intermediaries would mean success for the woman who has spent 22 years working to smooth out the sales process.
She says she often thought her career would take her to The Exchange. “The Exchange is a company I had watched from a distance and I often envisaged myself working here. It has incredible reach in the IFA sector and a huge opportunity in the growing market as providers and IFAs push to squeeze costs out of the process.”
After leaving school at 18, two years at the Midland were enough to convince Summers that banking was not for her. From 1981, she spent five years in business development at Bupa, showing people how to sell a product that the public did not think they wanted at the time.
She thanks her parents for instilling a determination to make something of her career. She says they brought her up with a strictness that has put her on track for personal success. “I went to a girls-only grammar school so I had no distractions and was able to develop as a focused, single-minded person.”
Her father, who was in the catering industry and ran the local Conservative Club, encouraged her to go to the top. “When I signed my first deal as a salesperson, the first thing I did was ring my dad to tell him.”
In 1986, she moved to Misys, then a fledgling company with around 70 staff. “When I joined Misys, it was just an office next to the unemployment office in Worcester. Kevin Lomax was in an office in the next room. I had five good years there and it certainly helped me with my career.”
She started at Misys as a business development executive but soon triumphed on the sales side. “When I joined there was no territory for me but after six months I moved into sales and was soon top salesperson. I remember one occasion when I closed seven deals in one day.”
There followed a spell with Intuitive, dealing with life companies, and two years as global sales director at Dublin-based internet technology firm Allfinanz, where she had to get a grip with her fear of flying.
In 2000, she joined The Exchange as managing director before its acquisition by Marlborough Stirling in 2001.She was brought on board to take The Exchange beyond a simple quotation service and to develop its potential as a provider of back-office and compliance services to IFAs and other intermediaries as the market develops. This new direction has started to gather momentum with a number of high-profile deals to provide services to big IFA groups.
L ast December saw The Exchange's technology replace Bankhall's existing IFAengine quotes and new business services in a deal that also sees Bankhall's 6,000 RI members targeted with The Exchange's Officeweb back-office solution. “The providers think that because we are powering Bankhall it means another portal is out of the way, which makes business development easier going forward.”
In January, The Exchange announced a multi-million-pound deal with the Tenet Group for a straight-through processing platform for its 2,250 advisers.
These deals are significant in the rush to stake out the new technology territory but their potential will only have been realised if significant numbers of advisers within the groups adopt the Officeweb back-office system.
The Exchange is still in the lead position when it comes to quotations, with 89 million quotes provided to IFAs in 2001 and 54 million in the first half of 2002. No other quote system comes close. The challenge for Summers will be to capitalise on the relationship that already exists with the vast majority of IFAs in the race with Misys to roll out back-office solutions.
With this in mind, Summers is bringing on board former Assureweb director David Child to strengthen her team as chief operations officer. Child's decision to leave Assureweb for its near-neighbour – both The Exchange and Assureweb offices are in the same street in Cheltenham – means there are now no pre-Misys directors on the Assureweb board.
When talking about what she hopes to achieve, Summers is clear about how she is going to get there, both in her work and personal life. At 41, she is not thinking of retiring but she knows what she will do with her time when she does.
Summers, who once represented herself in court – and won – in a dispute with a furniture company over household goods, says: “When I retire, I will do a part-time criminal law degree. I find the law absolutely fascinating. In another life, I would have fancied putting on the gown and the wig but it will be enough for me to have that degree in my hand. For my own personal satisfaction, I am absolutely determined to do it.”
Lives: Cheltenham, with husband
Born: September 1961, Birmingham
Education: Lordswood Grammar School for Girls, Birmingham
Career: Midland Bank clerk 1979-81; Bupa business development manager 1981-86; Misys sales executive 1986-91; Fame business development director 1991-94; Intuitive sales team head 1994-98; Allfinanz global sales director 1998-2000; Exchange FS managing director 2000 to date.
Career ambition: To be the first woman director of Marlborough Stirling Likes: Fast cars. “I am more of a Porsche 911 woman than a Ferrari type. I like cars that make people look at you.”
Dislikes: Fools. “I don't suffer them gladly.”
Peers say: “She has a phenomenal amount of positive energy that excites people and rubs off on them.”
Car: BMW X5. “It's a bit of a tank but Posh and Becks and Jamie Oliver have one.”