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Valuable lessons

If children are asked: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” not many would say “I want to work in insurance.” I certainly didn’t – my childhood dream was to play professional cricket for Surrey. Later I thought about flying in the RAF or possibly some kind of career in physics.

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

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