It is an interesting time for Alan Jones to be joining Wesleyan Financial Services, the advice arm of the mutual provider, as managing director.
Other, bigger, institutions have been closing down their advice arms, most notably Barclays Financial Planning, with RBS and HSBC scaling back their operations.
But Mr Jones is optimistic. He said: “After three weeks of service I’m feeling very, very bullish indeed. [Other firms] looked at whether they could make the financials work and not create huge risks.
“Some organisations couldn’t cope with the risks, and didn’t have the benefit of being a vertically integrated firm. My suspicion is that some of these companies will come back, especially as the advice gap increases.”
In fact, the Welseyan is probably better placed than most to benefit from offering an advice service. Wesleyan Financial Services has about 310 advisers, and offers services to the very strictly defined customer profile of the mutual: dentists and doctors, and latterly teachers and lawyers.
The idea is that it will recommend Wesleyan products where they are needed, and advise on other companies’ products that Wesleyan does not support. For instance, it offers protection and pension products of its own, but branches out into mortgages.
Mr Jones said that offering a Wesleyan product was usually prompted by a compelling reason. He said: “We have tremendous insight into what our clients want. We have a huge amount of information that allows us to develop the right product design.
“The financial advising process is generic, but we understand what our core segments want and need, and we’ve designed products to meet exactly what they’re after. For example, the Practice Protector provides absolute protection if a doctor needs locum cover. It provides solutions that are perfectly tailored to that need.”
His plan, so far, is to continue to provide specialist advice into the market that Wesleyan has created for itself. And that market is substantial. There are 100,000 hospital consultants, 60,000 GPs and 35,000 dentists.
On top of this, the new drive into law highlights more than 100,000 lawyers, while in education there are about 580,000 teachers, although there is competition for this market.
However, he will not be resting on his laurels. “I will always be searching for efficiencies in the model,” he said. “I’m looking to improve that in order for advisers to meet more people, but setting targets for individual products is a thing of the past.”
Mr Jones’s own past gives some clue as to why he was appointed. Two years before joining Wesleyan, he helped set up the new direct sales force at Prudential, where he was sales director. He was there for two years, building a division that ran to 200 advisers, to help deal with the back book of policies where people needed advice.
One of the elements he is proudest of at Prudential was the recruitment and assessment process, a key part of which was psychometric testing, which he used pre-selection.