Your IndustryMar 23 2012

The big interview: Sir Mark Weinberg

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ByJanet Walford

Jane Walford OBE talks to Sir Mark Weinberg, one of the most prominent people in the life assurance market in the past 50 years.

You’re one of the few people who have been around for 50 years. Do you think the market is much better today than 50 or even 25 years ago?

Incomparably. The difference between the sorts of people that we employed at Abbey Life and that we have in SJP, they’re very, very different.

Each time you start a new company you say, “I’ve got a clean piece of paper, what have I learnt that I wish I had done before?” And the most important thing that I’ve learnt on both occasions is that it all depends on the quality of the sales operation that you’ve got.

Particularly the move from Allied Dunbar to SJP was very much an opportunity to say, “we’ve now got the Rothschild name, that will draw people to us and give us a brand” and we have to protect that brand particularly strongly.

So the standard of advice and integrity you get from someone today I know is incomparably higher than it would have been 30 or 40 years ago.

You were involved a lot in regulating the industry in the past. Would you like to comment on that?

The Government decided that the city and financial operations need to be regulated and at first the emphasis was on the wholesale markets. I was brought in alongside and what followed was called the Securities and Investment Board (SIB) in draft and then there was the Marketing and Investment Board (MIBOC), which was the retail end. And I was made chairman of that and spent about two or three years working on it.

The great issue was to get transparency and to avoid conflicts of interest - how could the public know whether it was getting independent advice or not? And in those days Allied Dunbar, which I represented, had brokers as well as tied people [selling its products] but the tied people at least described themselves as being salesmen.

The brokers called themselves brokers but there were so many side deals going on - they were getting their rent paid etc. So the question was how can you get a really independent source of advice for people who really wanted it? We struggled with that, until one weekend I came up with this one word ‘polarisation’ - which was quite controversial at the time – and meant that an adviser should either be totally independent or declare themselves as not independent.

Do you consider that to be one of the greatest contributions that you’ve made to this industry?