The former Barclays banker turned insurance group chief executive thinks he’s found a new direction for LV=
WHEN Mike Rogers first heard about chancellor George Osborne’s plans to scrap compulsory annuities, the LV= chief executive was on a train back to London.
“I’d been to Bristol for lunch with some of the top performers from our call centre, and was scrolling through the Budget highlights on my phone when I got to ‘compulsory annuitisation dropped’ and just thought ‘well that must be a mistake’ – little did I know!” he says.
Though the government is now giving companies an opportunity to express their concerns on guidance for customers and the implications for defined benefit schemes, Rogers says the actual policy was a bolt out of the blue. “It hadn’t been mused,” he admits. “It wasn’t even a rabbit out of the hat possibility.
“People talk about big shocks and sea changes but they don’t tend to happen very often.”
This time though, politicians have dealt what could be a killer blow to some sectors of the industry – in particular to the specialist annuity writers like Just Retirement and Partnership Assurance, both of which suffered heavy share price losses in the days following the chancellor’s speech in March.
LV= competes in the enhanced annuity business, offering alternatives on the open market to pension holders looking to shop around. Rogers says that the broad spread of the business means that despite the annuities shock, he has other avenues down which to tread.
“We’re lucky because we’re quite well diversified – unlike some specialist annuity writers,” he says. “We’re number two in drawdown, and have a big equity release business, and a big Sipp [self-invested personal pension] business.”
Rogers even sees opportunities for his firm in the wake of this shake-up: the £12bn to £14bn per year that has until this point been forced into annuities, but will now be ripe for the picking.
“That’s up for grabs, and that number is going to grow,” says Rogers. “In a sense that’s quite exciting if you’re a relatively smaller player like us.”
The group is also spared investor scrutiny thanks to its mutual structure, which Rogers says allows it to take a longer-term view of the future when planning for growth.
“We’ve got ambitious plans over the next five years in both businesses,” he says, referring to LV=’s life and general insurance books. “We want to grow both the home book and the SME book quite a lot, because that gives you a more manageable portfolio to maintain balance over the cycle.”
Though the majority are run smoothly and with supportive oversight, mutuals haven’t had a great run of publicity recently. The UK’s largest mutual, The Co-operative Group, was slammed last week by an independent report that attacked poor governance and its disastrous takeover of the Britannia building society in 2009. In-fighting on the board is still threatening stability, and former City minister Lord Myners is due to release his own judgement on the business this week.
One of the key criticisms of the Co-op has been a lack of financial expertise among executives, but no one could accuse Rogers of the same thing. A veteran of Barclays, the Cambridge graduate already had 20 years of experience in small business and retail banking when he joined LV= almost eight years ago.
He soon put this set of skills to good use restructuring the group’s flabby and floundering roster of businesses.
“Back then we were 1,500 people, and we were Liverpool Victoria with the old blue logo,” he says. “Just two offices with 95 per cent of them in Bournemouth and a few up here doing asset management.”
Today, that business doesn’t exist. Neither does the bank. When Rogers took the reins, the business was not only losing money across most business lines, but also haemorrhaging around 10,000 customers a month in its general insurance unit.
“There had been a bit of clearing out, and they were looking for a new direction,” says Rogers, who was very much the new broom when he jumped from banking to insurance in search of a new challenge.
“There aren’t many chances to become the CEO of a standalone financial services company, so that was appealing,” he adds. “I loved my time at Barclays and got moved around a lot but insurance appealed to me as a worthwhile thing to do to help people to save and protect things. I loved the small business side of bank lending so it made sense as a next step. Barclays was changing and the stars came into line.
“I think you should always move if you have the chance to do something that excites you and makes you jump out of bed in the morning, and that’s where I got to,” he adds.
Nevertheless, the in-tray waiting for Rogers on his first day at LV= was bigger than he could have anticipated. “It was a bit of a shock really,” he admits, but it quickly became clear that streamlining the business and developing a strong brand were priorities.
“There was an air of defeatism at the start – our customers who knew us loved us, but nobody knew us! Our marketing slogan was ‘the best kept secret in financial services’ – and it was definitely mission accomplished,” Rogers recalls.
His rapidly constructed plan resulted several months later in the change from Liverpool Victoria to LV=, complete with heart-shaped V and lime green branding, a bold choice that bent a few boardroom noses out of shape at first. “The last thing we tackled was the brand identity, and after I presented it to the old board the chairman admitted they hated the colour – but everyone has grown to love it.”
With a pensions book to build on, Rogers inevitably advocates forward planning for retirement. However, while he is clear that much of the UK population is unprepared when it come to pension plans, he is also realistic.
“Models are changing,” he says. “If you look at careers and longevity people are doing everything later – 30 is the new 20 – and so actually it might make sense for people who think they’re going to be working for a lot longer to do their pension saving later and pay off their student loan first, or to save for a deposit for a house.”
Too many people have their heads in the sand about retirement, but when it comes to embracing innovation and planning for a very different pensions landscape in the future, Rogers is clearly very well prepared.
CV MIKE ROGERS, LV=
Company name: LV=, previously London Victoria
Founded: In Liverpool in 1843 by a 36-year-old customs officer, William Fenton
Profits before tax: £156m in 2013
Number of staff: 5,800
Job title: Chief executive since May 2006
Lives: Blandford, Devon with his wife Cheryll and three children – aged 21, 19 and 13. His eldest daughter will graduate from Durham University this summer.
Career: Joined Barclays as a graduate trainee in 1986 and spent 20 years working across its business banking, wealth management and retail banking arms, including a stint in Australia. Was head of small businesses and retail banking.
Favourite film: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Currently listening to: Paolo Nutini
Hobbies: Rugby – though watching only since he injured his knee playing. Golf, working out, and spending time with his family.