The following interview first appeared in the September 2017 edition of Informed, our client magazine.
One of the delights of my job is the amount of tea and biscuits I share with clients when we meet. This afternoon in sunny Wisborough Green was no different.
In the garden of the lovely home of Informed Choice client Gaynor Waterman we sat at the patio table, shaded by a large umbrella to shelter from the sun. Gaynor has been a client for 7 years and I asked her to tell me something about her successful career in financial services.
Born and growing up in Birmingham, not far from the airport, Gaynor was raised in a family with two older brothers by her mother. She delights in telling me what a great job her mother did.
“My mum had quite a tough time bringing the three of us up. My brother was 18 and going off to college, leaving myself at 6 and and older brother at 14, so mum worked really hard and took in lodgers to support the family finances.
“Sadly my father did when I was just six. He worked at Jaguar Cars in Coventry, but I don’t really remember much about him. We were a very working class family.”
I ask about her education and, whilst she doesn’t brag about it, I suspect she was a pretty good student. “I went to school to get my O and A levels, and then left school to go for work at age 18.”
Gaynor applied for jobs and was accepted by Mercantile & General Reassurance, better known as M&G.
“I got an interview with M&G and they took me on. I started working there when I was just 18, and before I had even got my A Level results. I hadn’t a clue about insurance. I didn’t even know what a reassurance company was!”
It must have worked for Gaynor because whilst working there she studied for her professional exams and became a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute by the time she was 24. Readers may not know but that is a pretty special achievement requiring a great deal of study and multiple examinations which are not easy.
“M&G was really good at supporting people so you would have a half day where you could go off to college. I started working in the Actuarial Department but quickly realised that I had to move on becuase I was never going to become an Actuary! An opportunity came up to become an Underwriter and I moved into the Underwriting Team, and progressed through the ranks.”
By 1985 Gaynor had become a Senior Underwriter and was fully qualified. But to progress her career and become involved in the management side of the business she needed to move to a larger firm.
Gaynor applied for a job with Schroder Life in Portsmouth and became an Assistant Underwriting Manager. She stayed with Schroder until 1993. A short stint on a project working with an American software company didn’t work out so Gaynor decided to return to her true profession, Underwriting.
An advert in a local paper led her to apply to Direct Line. The job though wasn’t in Portsmouth but Croydon, so a further move was needed.
Gaynor became the first employee of Direct Line Life which was a very innovative company and became the first to carry out underwriting of applicants over the telephone, rather than use a paper based application process.
Direct Line’s determination to amalgamate various parts of its operations and move them to Glasgow forced a further job move on Gaynor.
A senior colleague from her time at M&G made contact and asked if she wanted a job with a new reinsurance company called Liberty Re. and so Gaynor landed on her feet, yet again!
Unfortunately this company closed when its American owners sold out, so Gaynor left to work with Barclays Life in the City. Eventually Barclays Life also closed to business.
In my usual sarcastic attempt at humour, I point out to Gaynor that firms she joins tend to close not long after! She agrees, “Exactly, yes!”
“You could say that it was a bit of a chequered career but every time I was made redundant I went on to a better position and, of course, I had the redundancy money as well!”
“It really wasn’t my fault I was being made redundant but it kept meaning that I had to keep looking for another job and start over again.”
The next job in 2002 was for a small firm called Pension Annuity Friendly Society or PAFS. PAFS was created by an Actuary who suffered ill-health and felt that consumers in ill-health should benefit from higher annuity rates than those in average or good health.
This was a highly innovative approach, one that we pretty much take for granted today. PAFS had a lot of good data about life expectancy and business was brisk.
So brisk in fact that in order to grow the business they needed to acquire a lot more capital and private equity money was needed to fund the continued growth of the operation.
This required the firm to demutualise (cease being owned by their policy owners) and become a private company. This change had two very profound impacts upon Gaynor’s life.
The first was that she was required to put some of her own money into the enterprise and become a shareholder. The second was that the small demutualisation payment she received was required not to be kept by her but to be paid to a charity.
That payment she used as part of the sponsorship money that she needed to raise in order to walk the Inca Trail for the British Heart Foundation.
Whilst doing the charity trek she met her partner Dave. So as well as supporting a good cause she also found her new partner. They bought a house together in Coolham and since moving to Wisborough Green have kept that as an investment property.
The investment that she had to make as a director of the new limited company, Partnership Assurance, also paid off handsomely. In 2009 the original private equity firm sold on to a further private equity firm and then later the firm merged with another specialist annuity provider and became a listed company.
Despite huge changes to the annuity market during that time Gaynor’s financial position became secure because of the investment she had made originally.
Since then she carried out an interim role, as Chief Underwriter at another City based reassurer whilst the incumbent was on adoption leave. Gaynor is also a Trustee of the Direct Line Pension Scheme.
“The scheme had written to members inviting applications for the role of member nominated trustee and I thought that might be quite an interesting job to do.”
“I was lucky enough to get offered that position and I will have been doing that role for two years in September. It is very much part time though.”
“It’s a bit of a corny phrase but it enables me to put something back because you are protecting the interests of the members. I also really enjoy it.”
I ask Gaynor what else she does with her time. “I love travelling. We have had really good holidays in the last year. We’ve been back to South America last Christmas and went to New Zealand before that.
I’m doing another charity trek in October for Cats Protection, walking in the Himalayas in Northern India. I’m working on a tiger conservation programme as part of the trip.”
This brings us onto the subject of cats one of whom has been sunning himself on the patio. “I’ve always had cats except when we lived in Coolham because we lived on the main road. I do love my cats!”
I point out to Gaynor that she had told me about the cats bringing in mice and baby rabbits but this doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm for her pets.
“I never had children I was always very much a career girl.”
I ask what else she does and unsurprisingly walking is one of the things she describes. “I walk with the Sussex Sunday Walkers. The group has recently changed its name from the Society of Sussex Wealdman.
It was my idea for the new name because it came with the same initials. It was originally established in 1926.”
Gaynor is also their events secretary and organises weekends away and social activities. “I like walking in the Surrey Hills and of course the South Downs. The Seven Sisters is quite beautiful but challenging. We have a really big programme of walks.”
“On Thursdays during term time I volunteer at Riding for the Disabled in Cranleigh, helping to tack up the horses. I don’t ride now but I like being with horses. I used to ride a lot up until about three years ago when I had quite a nasty fall. It’s an opportunity to do something for people who aren’t as lucky as I am, who have got physical and mental disabilities.”
Parked in front of Gaynor’s home are two what I would describe as “sports cars”. “I’ve just bought a Porsche 718. I’ve had a series of convertible sports cars, I used to have a Mercedes SLK and a BMW Z4 and more recently an Audi TT. I finally hit the dizzy heights of a Porsche. Which is lovely!”
“It’s not a massive engine or anything like that, it’s only two litres but it is turbo charged when you turn it on it sounds a bit like a Formula One car!”
Gaynor tells me about the fact that when you buy a Porsche you get a driving experience around Silverstone.
“You get an afternoon there. You go up and have lunch and then someone will take you around the track. The guy who took me was an ex-traffic cop so that was quite good fun. I was quite nervous to start with but by the end I was flying around. For the last ten minutes he took the car and I sat while he drove. It was amazing, absolutely amazing!”
Gaynor spends time at the gym on a daily basis. That morning she had done 2 classes, indoor cycling and Body Balance. “I like to stay healthy. I think that’s the most important thing because without your health you can’t do any of the things I love.”
I ask Gaynor what someone like her gets from a Financial Adviser. Bearing in mind all of her financial services experience why does she need a Financial Planner to work for her?
“When I suddenly had assets which needed to be looked after, I realised I needed a financial adviser. It wasn’t just money that I could pop into a savings account and forget about. I was working as a non-executive director of a firm called Annuity Direct and I asked the Managing Director to recommend a financial adviser.
That’s when he gave me your name. He was very complimentary of your business and explained your Chartered status. That’s going back quite a bit now because that would have been 2010.”
“We had a meeting and I was very impressed by your business, the way it was set up and what you could offer me. Although I have always worked in the financial services sector since I was 18, investments is not my area of expertise in any way, shape, or form.
I don’t know enough about that side of the business to be confident in managing my own investments. I thought that the process we went through in establishing my level of risk, carrying out of a full fact find of my financial situation and what my long term goals were, was very helpful. It was a really good service that you offered.”
“I like the fact that Informed Choice is a family business. I get on very well with you, Martin, Andy and the team. It just seems like a great match. I get twice yearly review meetings with you, which I like.”
Gaynor has a retreat in Spain, a duplex on the Costa Blanca and gets there about four or five times a year so as well as that, the travel further afield, the cats, the cars, the walking, the gym, oh yes and of course her partner Dave she is living a busy and productive life.
I ask her what else she wants to do.
“Just keep doing the same stuff really and spending the money, because you keep telling me to spend it! I like having the security of knowing that I am not going to run out of money!”