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Decent Bloke: an interview with Lifesearch founder, Tom Baigrie

23 August 2017

Tom Baigrie loves fine wine and cigars, but his biggest passion is a career that has brought business success and helped countless clients to protect themselves.

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UP CLOSE WITH TOM BAIGRIE

Tom Baigrie loves fine wine and cigars, but his biggest passion is a career that has brought business success and helped countless clients to protect themselves, as Jennifer Hill found out

Back in 1981, Tom Baigrie started out as a salesman for an insurance company. “I was able to start without qualifications and enjoyed the chance to make a decent living persuading people to do the right thing for their future and family,” he says.

Some three years later, he became an IFA when the term was invented and co-founded financial planning firm Baigrie Davies alongside Arthur Davies. Another three years on he married “the divine” Alison, with whom he has three children, one a post-grad student, another well into his first job and a third doing A-levels.

Baigrie Davies was acquired by Standard Life’s financial planning arm, 1825, in August of last year, enabling it to establish its first London office. While Arthur stayed with the business, Tom left to concentrate on his other business – direct and mass market protection adviser LifeSearch, which he established in 1998.

“On a global level, the most notable events during my career are the fall of the Berlin Wall (how old am I?) and 9/11, but on a personal level it would have to be the raising of three kids and two businesses all at the same time,” says Tom. “My golf went to pot.”

MARKET SHARE

LifeSearch has grown into the UK’s largest protection intermediary with a market share of around 6%, but for Tom there is much still to achieve.

“When I saw what banks were charging for life insurance compared to the prices I could see on the exchange I reckoned if I could just get people to pay attention they’d do their business with me instead – and I was right,” he says.

“LifeSearch’s purpose is ‘to love getting far more people than anyone ever thought possible to protect themselves, their families and their businesses, in a way we know is best for them’ and that’ll keep me going until I go ga-ga.”

The business opportunity for advisers who take the time to help people understand the benefits of protection are huge, according to Tom.

“The opportunities are vast as few consumers reject the idea of protection, even if they don’t readily pursue it. Apart from regulation, the challenge is to find a way that suits your scale and skills to reach customers when they are OK to engage with the risks they are forcing their family to take by not protecting themselves. Your own customer base will have a year or two’s worth of turnover for starters.”

Once consumers understand their needs they become less reluctant to take out protection, though many still remain optimistic about their future health, he says.

“Not enough buy who should. It takes a good adviser to help clients fully understand the risks and options available to them. Advisers need to get the customer to paint their own picture of what life would be like after a health catastrophe for themselves or their family. After that it’s just admin.”

BUGBEAR
For Tom, it’s “a joy” to be able to focus on a single product area. “You can swiftly learn more about it than just about anyone else and that reveals opportunities galore: focus is a deadly weapon,” he says.

“In theory I’d love to be a one-stop advice shop, and in theory it’s possible, but the joy of escaping COBS [Conduct of Business Sourcebook] regulation is one I never want to risk. And besides, modern consumers are inclined to pick and choose rather than trust all to one.”

Regulation remains a bugbear, with Tom citing the PIA, Financial Conduct Authority and its predecessor, the Financial Services Authority, as having the biggest influence on his career.

“They have made it far, far harder than it should have been,” he says. “It takes a long time [to achieve success], but playing it straight and true does work in the end, though the regulator is a dab hand at using hindsight to change what straight and true means.”

Countless changes over the years mean that consumers generally have a far better deal today. “ISAs are a truly useful invention, but regulation has been enforced in a bureaucratic and totalitarian manner, so that advice has largely become the privilege of the rich, and that does society no good at all,” laments Tom.

PASSIONS
Tom attributes his success to being a “decent communicator” and his efforts to be “honest and caring”.

“That makes me lovely to clients and colleagues and quite often horrible to product providers,” he says. “But I’ve grown more understanding of their challenges as I’ve got older and now try hard to help them do things better, rather than just shout when they make mistakes.”

Chief among his passions outside work is “convincing my wife and children I’m not utterly useless, though I am that at golf and love driving myself mad with it”, he says. “I have fun doing charity auctions for wonderful causes and I love fine wine and cigars too much.”

Despite his 36 years in financial services, it is still a profession that Tom (who describes himself as “56, bald and still not quite grown up”) relishes.

After rising at 6.30am, rowing 5,000m in 20 minutes on his Concept 2 and doing 30 minutes of Tai Chi, he motorbikes into work from Wandsworth (“as close as I can afford to the centre of the universe, which is somewhere between Shoreditch and Chelsea I reckon”) for 8.30am and spends all day “making sure everyone’s happy and fulfilling our purpose as a business”.

“I then quite often get carried away and join whoever’s going for drinks, so Uber home and catch the train in the next morning, and then bike home that evening.”

If he could change one thing about financial services today he would ban the concept of people making ‘non-advised sales’ over the phone. “Online consumers know it’s their call, but if they are talking to someone who seems to know what they are on about then any consumer feels advised, even if they’re told different.”

Nevertheless, he appears positive on the potential for D2C and robo-advice. “All models that simplify life for consumers will play a big part in protection’s future,” he says “Robo-advice will soon be with us. The trick will be in getting technology to enable consumers to envision their need for protection.”

Jennifer Hill
is a former deputy Money editor of The Sunday Times, personal finance correspondent of Reuters and personal finance editor of The Scotsman

Tom’s top tips for promoting protection

1. Set an example
Don’t preach (do as I say not as I do). Talk about your own protection and encourage clients to be equally financially responsible.

2. Ask questions
Income protection is much easier to sell once the client understands how impossible their life will be without their income. Ask them about that.

3. Relish the good that you do
Properly arranged protection delivers cash when it really is needed most. And that saves lives in a way, it helps keep families together and off the state and that makes it good for society and even the economy. Tell claims stories and be proud.

Quick fire Q&A...

The financial advice profession today is...
A beleaguered but vital national resource

The best piece of business advice I’ve ever received is...
Do right by your customer

And the worst...
Go with your gut instinct. Heed it sure, but double check it out big time too

When I was young I wanted to be...
A spy. But I talk too much

I’d tell my teenage self...
Get out of your room and live life on the charge, it’s so not about you, but what you do and say

My biggest extravagance is...
A beach house in Africa

Favourite book...
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – never read writing like it

Favourite car…

A Triumph Tiger motorbike – it makes London travel fun

Favourite drink...
Chateauneuf du Pape

Favourite app...

Let’s be controversial, Uber is not an evil. For drivers it is one of the best ways out of poverty ever invented, and for riders it just works at every level

The thing or person who makes me laugh is...

My daughter Carolina – she can dead pan world class, as she might put it

The charity closest to my heart is...

Childline, for the sheer scale of good it does. And Nordoff Robbins for the individual care it bestows on the autistic

If I was prime minister for the day I would...
Abolish regulation and spend one-third of the money it costs on educating everyone as to how to avoid being defrauded, and one-third pursuing fraudsters. That would lose us a few million impossibly complex rules and leave us with a few billion for better causes

I’d like to be remembered as...
A decent bloke who cared