Firing line: Steve Groves

Firing line: Steve Groves

Steve Groves had a big decision to make in early 2016: what to do as the company he founded, Partnership Assurance, merged with its rival Just Retirement?

He took a decision to step back from an executive role, and has since landed two chairmanships - at Key Retirement and Retirement Bridge - despite being a relatively young age of 43.

It was a turbulent period for the former chief executive of Partnership. The company he founded following a management buyout went public in the summer of 2013. In March 2014, as George Osborne announced pension freedoms, the share priced tumbled 55 per cent in a single day due to its exposure to the annuity market.

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Just Retirement, its long-time rival, witnessed a similar fate and plans surfaced to merge the two companies shortly after.

Mr Groves still dismisses pension freedoms as basically tax driven, and "going to end in tears", but maintains that both Partnership and Just Retirement could have soldiered on.

"Pension freedoms set us back three years in business volumes. There was an option of sitting back, but the option of doing a merger put you forward two years if pension freedoms hadn't happened.

For the benefit of shareholders and customers, both Partnership and Just Retirement decided a merger would secure their future. But ultimately, there can only be one chief executive running things, and Mr Groves took the decision to step down. 

He said: "It was my choice. I've been doing the job a long time and ultimately I looked at it and what's at the end of it is many more years of what I've just done. I was happy to leave and it opened up the choice to do other things."

It is possible that he may go back to a full-time executive role: "My wife thinks I will, but it will be when I get religion; to go back to a new role and start a financial services business when I really want to change the market."

For now he has two chairman roles and several other interests not related to financial services.   

Despite his relatively young age, Mr Groves believes he has a lot to offer, having been through some extreme times at Partnership.

He said: “I bring a few grey hairs and experience of managing a business over the longer term. My job at Key Retirement is to choose the chief executive and manage the board; the board sets the strategy, and [chief executive] Simon Thompson’s role is to manage and run the business.”

He said equity release has become a distribution business – with plenty of funds to lend now Solvency II means insurers have greater clarity over equity release loans. For the advice side of the business it is all about lead generation – equity release after all is not necessarily a repeat business – and so the company is looking at social media and other digital formats to increase their brand recognition.