1 What was your first fulltime job – and do you remember what you were paid at the time?
“I was paid £1,100 e1,600 a year as a trainee actuary at Friends Provident. I’d always been fascinated by investments, I followed the stock exchange from the age of 14, wondered how I could make a career out of it and when I discovered at university that the ‘Man from the Pru’ had £1m a week to invest, I thought ‘I’d love that job, how do I get it?’ I took a holiday job at Legal & General investment Practice and when I asked the chap in charge, Louis Ginsberg, ‘how do I get your job?’ told me ‘first, you’ve got to be an actuary and second, you’re not clever enough to be one’. He was wrong on both counts. It turned out that I didn’t have to be an actuary to manage investments but I couldn’t have done the consultancy job without that training.”
2What was the best piece of advice that anyone gave you career wise and did you take it?
“The best piece of advice was from Colin Lever, former head of actuaries, Bacon & Woodrow, to only fight battles that I could win. And did I take it? Well, most of the time, or rather I certainly bore it in mind when I launched into the next battle, and I learned to back down when I was going to lose.”
3How did a nice person like you become involved in a pensions career?
“I found Friends Provident’s paternalistic management style very stifling, and Abbey Life too concerned with commercial success. But having been attracted to the British Rail pension fund by the size of the funds, I found myself much closer to the beneficiaries. The tangible responsibility of looking after savings people were making for their old age, people I knew, gave me a real sense of purpose – up until then had been little more than a game. That kept me in pensions.”
4What was the most satisfying achievement during your career?
“I’m proudest of the long-term investment consulting relationship that I developed with a sizeable UK company pension fund whose trustee body had a significant workforce representation and who had been long-term equity investors since the inception of the scheme. The benefit showed in the speed with which they responded to a significant change in the structure of the corporate by the sponsor and an-up-to date actuarial valuation. In an hour’s meeting, with minimal paperwork and no prior warning, the board decided to switch 80% of its assets from equities to bonds – about £3bn (e4.8bn) – and did so within six days. This was a reversal of long-held beliefs and difficult to do. The timing was perfect, it happened in the first two weeks of September 2000. If they hadn’t done it then they would have been in substantial deficit now.”
5 And what was the worst moment in your career – and why?
“Being made redundant at British
Rail, and in the same week taking
my son to an interview at an independent school and wondering how was
I going to afford the fees.”
6 How would you sell a career in pensions to a prospective newcomer to the industry?
“I wouldn’t. Not given the current situation in the UK.”
7What would you do differently?
“Not a lot, but I think I got the work/home balance wrong.”
8 Do you have any unfilled ambitions? “I would quite like to have been a craftsman working in wood, but my eyes are too old now and aren’t good enough.”
9 Are you retiring or are you be recycling yourself into some new role?
“I won’t be doing nothing, sitting in the garden. At the moment I’m helping Hewitt work out how to get more involved in the local communities where it has offices. I’m working with the UN, which is trying to establish a set of investment principles. The aim is for them to reflect considerations of sustainability, governance structures etc in investment decision making, recognising that in the long term the way we invest our savings will have an impact on the broader world we will be living in.”
10 Your words of wisdom for those in the pensions industry?
“I think it’s very sad that we in the UK had a pensions industry that was the envy of the world but have lost that position. And more worrying is that we have lost the confidence of the younger generation in saving for the long term. Rebuilding that confidence is a priority not only for the industry, but for the state.
In addition, we need to change our investment practices. The tyranny of the benchmark has stopped investors buying investments they think will show good returns rather than because they think it will make good relative returns. By encouraging this silo mentality we’ve lost a cross-asset class, cross-border perspective and skill set.”