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Tony Vine-Lott

The director general of the Tax Incentivised Savings Association has come from a structural engineering background and is now building a structured argument at Tisa on tax issues over the RDR, child trust funds and pensions Interview by Gregor Watt

From structural engineering to IT to financial services, Tony Vine-Lott has had an extremely varied career. The director general of the Tax Incentivised Savings Association needs no introduction in the world of financial services, having served as the figurehead of Tisa through its various incarnations over the last nine years.

Before that, Vine-Lott spent nine years with Barclays in various different roles, including launching Barclays Stockbrokers and becoming its chairman.

He started his career in engineering and says his training has stood him good stead for the whole of his career. But after encountering the world of IT through computer-aided design, he found the world of computers stimulating despite the limits of the technology employed at the time.

“In those days, they probably had less computing power than you did in a watch, certainly in a Blackberry,” he recalls.

The financial rewards in IT also proved a lure away from engineering. Vine-Lott jokes: “I also found it a lot more lucrative. As I had a daughter who had just been born, it seemed like a very good idea.”

However, when technological develop-ments in IT started to change the nature of the business, Vine-Lott says it was time to start looking for an alternative.

“There is a lot of difference between selling or marketing equipment that cost £300,000 or £400,000 and something that cost £3,000 or now £300. I thought we were turning more into a logistics company than an IT company.”

A stint as managing director of a cons-ultancy specialising in financial services led to his initial encounter with Barclays and he joined the bank to run the loss-making back-office broker services division but his success turning it round meant his role was expanded to encompass the front office as well.

Under his guidance, the bank launched Barclays Stockbrokers which he grew to be the biggest retail stockbroker in the UK, a title it has only recently lost to TD Waterhouse.

Vine-Lott’s career took another swerve back into IT at this point. As well as joining Tisa as non-executive treasurer (or the Pep Managers Association as it was then), Vine-Lott also served as chief executive of two internet companies during the dot.com boom years. As the head of zy.com, one of the pioneering companies in web design software, Vine-Lott says his company probably provided the web design for many of the internet firms launched in the technology boom.

Since 2001, Vine-Lott has served as director general of Tisa and he says his job is to help build a consensus on the issues affecting tax-incentivised savings and investment.

“What we try and do is to use our position of going across the industry to draw all the various interested parties and sector bodies into the debate.”

But with such a diverse membership and range of interests, he says this can be challenging. “We are a broad church of membership, which makes creating a unified view or policy on anything quite interesting at times.”

Top of Tisa’s list at the moment are the RDR and the scrapping of child trust funds and there is also the small matter of pension tax relief and the various issues with platforms.

Tisa is spending a lot of time on the future of child trust funds. Vine-Lott says the success of CTFs has been considerable and the perception of the product within the industry does not tally with the exper-ience of many people. Combined with the effect that they could have had in encouraging engagement with and understanding of financial services and he says their loss is considerable.

He says: “At the age of 18, 100 per cent of our society would have had direct engagement with the financial services industry and have assets that would interest it. Financial exclusion just goes out the window. I do believe the coalition Government appreciates the fact that there needs to be something in its place to make sure that we do not lose the social benefits.”

Vine-Lott says there are several options that could be introduced. A child Isa is one option or the vouchers to be re-introduced when the economy is in better shape. He says: “We are in negotiation.”

Vine-Lott is ambiguous on tax incentives as the best form of inducement for big parts of the population. He suggests that with big sections of the country paying no or low amounts of tax, using tax relief as an incentive is very ineffective. Using cash matching instead would, he suggests, be a far more effective way to increase savings among people not currently saving.

Vine-Lott says the success of Isas is one issue that is beyond dispute but he says there is still work to be done to ensure this savings vehicle is not tinkered with by the coalition Government.

“At a time when people claim that not much is going into savings, Isas are becoming a bigger and bigger success story all the time.”

He says Isas have averaged £30bn a year of new assets and this increased to £35bn in 2008 and then £45bn in 2009 and this proves it is a vehicle that people like and trust.

“We are obviously trying to reassure the new Government that this is an effective line of travel. What we don’t want to see is just because we have moved from one government to another that they feel there is a need to re-invent everything.”

Tax incentives for pensions savings are another issue on the Government’s agenda and Vine-Lott says the whole system needs tackling. “The existing pensions system is run with string and sealing wax.”

Vine-Lott seems passionate about advancing financial inclusion and he says the decision to scrap the Savings Gateway is regrettable. He says: “I would rather have seen the Government cut the matching than cut the scheme.”

This chopping and changing of regulation is at the centre of what Vine-Lott sees as the biggest problem for financial services. With responsibility shared by HMRC, the Treasury and the DWP and with each new government seeking to make their mark on the system, he says the resulting fragmentation is not helpful to savers or the industry.

He says: “The main thing for us is to have a cohesive savings and investment strategy for the Government. We need to have a cradle-to-grave savings strategy that supports people in their financial requirement from birth to death.”

Born: Paddington, London, 194
Lives: Near Epsom
Education: Macclesfield, Cheshire, HND in structural engineering, Sheffield City Polytechnic (now Sheffield Hallam University
Likes: Building and growing things, whether that is people, businesses, plants or children. Hobbies include sailing, golf, gardening and travel
Dislikes: Lack of integrity
Drives: BMW X5 diesel
Book: A voracious reader but no favourite book
Film: No favourite film but The Good, The Bad and The Ugly reflects industry pretty well
Album: No current favourite. I was a big fan of The Kinks when I was younger
Career ambition: My ambition from school was to move into management as quickly as possible and stay there
Life ambition: The only ambition I had was to have a comfortable life throughout the whole of my life and well into retirement. So far, it has worked out well and I am optimistic for the future
If I wasn’t doing this, I would be….I would wish to do something that supported consumers

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