As it happened, my first job was in the research laboratories of British Aluminium. Metallurgy, using electron microscopes and testing new alloys, had a certain fascination but there was one major snag – after a year, I had a pay rise from £7 a week to £7 12s 6d a week – not very much even then.
My uncle, who was a branch manager with an insurer, said there were good careers in insurance. After interviews with Legal & Gen-eral and CM&G, I accepted the offer from CM&G – mainly because £450 a year was better than £375 a year.
CM&G made a great impression on me and the standards and attitudes that I learned there have stayed with me ever since – pride in good service, in the company and in the industry plus integrity in all things.
In my second week, a policyholder called wanting a purchased life annuity. I asked a colleague for the rate. He said our rates were not good and a specialist annuity office would be better. I relayed this but the client said he preferred to stay with us. I was told to re-emphasise that our annuities really were not good at all but the caller insisted that we had always given excellent service and the rate was not that important – so in the end we offered the contract.
I took two things from this – the importance and value of good service and the principle of considering the best interests of policyholders. In my CM&G days, treating customers fairly was truly an inseparable and indistinguishable part and principle of normal operations.
After six years in the West End, my move to National Mutual was quite a cultural change although core attitudes of high prof-essional standards and integrity were the same.
Accepting an invi-tation to head the pension division at Merchant Investors in 1979, I entered yet another very different environment – a young unit-linked office with both broker and direct sales divisions focused on marketing.
A new experience and appreciation of direct-sales operations followed – so too did experience of being a senior executive of a subsidiary of a major world wide insurance group – Nationale Nederlanden. Visits to the group head office in the Hague opened the door on operations in other countries and general corporate planning and management in a diverse group. This experience has proved invaluable in my current role.
I had always had a hankering to run my own show and because of uncertainty about the future of Merchant Investors following its sale in 1988, I decided to start a new company – essentially a specialist pension consultancy providing services to others in the industry.
A chance meeting with Robin Ellison resulted in the formation of another company providing specialist wholesale Sipp services. Shortly after, we raised the capital to form a new insurer – London & Colonial – specifically to offer the new self-invested open annuity product that we had developed.
This became hugely successful and now, having consolidated the various companies into a coherent group, we are expanding the product range and evolving distribution in other jurisdictions.
So, where to now? Retirement plans? Not on the agenda – I have ambitions for the group and there is a lot to go for – oh yes, and I am enjoying it all too much to stop now.
Ken Wrench is CEO of London & Colonial