Ian Ackerley is a man with a mission. A year ago he became the new Chief Executive at NS&I and has been working with his team to build stronger relationships with professional advisers. He’s been talking to Sue Whitbread about what changes have already been made to help advisory firms and how future plans are shaping up
How has your first year as Chief Executive at NS&I been? What was your experience up to that point, which led you to the role? Have you had experience of dealing with the adviser market in the past?
It has been a busy and enjoyable first year. We’ve launched two new products: Investment Guaranteed Growth Bonds and Junior ISA; and brought two products back on sale: Guaranteed Growth Bonds and Guaranteed Income Bonds. We have also made good progress on improving our infrastructure. NS&I has a great culture – very welcoming, focused on doing the right thing for the customer and with a real drive to improve our proposition and service.
I have had substantial experience of the adviser market over more than 20 years. I started my career in UK financial services at AXA Sun Life where I went on to be Managing Director of Sun Life International – a business which was entirely focused on the adviser market in the UK and selected overseas countries. Since then, I’ve worked at a number of life offices with a strong adviser channel focus. Financial services is complex and it is clear that advisers have a key role to play in helping people make the right decisions.
How important is the adviser market to NS&I? How are you planning to develop stronger relationships with advisers, planners and paraplanners for the future?
We currently have around 700,000 customers with over £50,000 invested with us and more than 8,000 of these customers have over £1 million invested. Clearly, many of these customers will have sought financial advice.
If you add up the value that these 700,000 customers hold with us, this equates to around 40% of the money invested with NS&I. Therefore, it’s fair to say that advisers could have influence over a significant amount of NS&I funds, so it’s easy to see why they are important to us.
In the past, NS&I used to have a more distant relationship with financial advice firms. However, NS&I’s unique 100% security guarantee and products like Premium Bonds are important features that generate interest from advisers and their clients. For all these reasons, it’s vital that we continue to strengthen and deepen our relationship with professional advisers and their teams.
In recent years we’ve launched a new dedicated website for advice firms (nsandi-adviser.com) and have had our Adviser Helpline (0800 092 1228) available for a number of years now. We have also stepped-up our engagement on social media and increased the number of events we exhibit or speak at, including being the headline sponsor of the PFS awards for the last two years. All of this has resulted in an advocacy score of about 8/10 (‘how likely are you to recommend NS&I?’). This is the highest it’s ever been.
However, the future is where it gets more interesting. The engagement activity is all very well, but it won’t mean much without a good service offering to advice firms. Some advisers have told us that they find our service poor in comparison to other providers, with processes that cause frustration for them and their clients.
The good news is that we now have specific plans in place to significantly enhance our service to advice firms:
- By March 2018 we will be launching access to information on clients’ NS&I holdings via the Adviser Helpline. This will enable all staff in an advice firm to find out information like valuations, maturity dates, confirmation of transactions processed, etc. To enable this new service, at the same time we will be launching an indefinite Client Letter of Authority template as well as a new Terms of Business agreement between NS&I and each advice firm.
- In September 2018 we plan to launch online access to information on clients’ NS&I holdings via a secure log-in on the Adviser Centre website.
Looking longer term, we will give serious thought to transactional access and connectivity with platforms and advisers’ back office systems.
In addition to the servicing enhancements, we are looking to grow our Intermediary Relationships team and get out into the regions a bit more, meeting with advice firms face-to-face.
Which resources do advisers and paraplanners tend to find most useful?
Generally speaking, our dedicated website for advice firms, the Adviser Centre (nsandi-adviser.com).
However, we have about 8,000 advisers, planners and paraplanners who have registered to receive our news updates via email. We tend to send out about one a month, reserved for the most important announcements, and advisers and their colleagues can register for these on the Adviser Centre.
Advice firms also like using the ‘NS&I Quick Guide’ – a handy one page overview of our product range. This can also be found on the Adviser Centre.
When it comes to NS&I products, which are the most popular with advisers?
In terms of the products currently on sale, Premium Bonds are the most popular (74% of advisers say they recommend them), followed by Income Bonds and Direct Saver – the latter two mostly because of their high maximum investment limits.
Other products that are very popular when on sale are Guaranteed Growth Bonds and Guaranteed Income Bonds, Index-linked Savings Certificates, and of course 65+ Guaranteed Growth Bonds were hugely popular (82% of advisers said they recommended them).
Can you talk us through your new phone service for advice professionals? How do you see it helping advisers and paraplanners?
At the moment, when advisers and their colleagues wish to find out any information on their clients’ NS&I holdings, they have to do everything by post and it could take 2-3 weeks for a response. In addition to this they have to supply a new Letter of Authority, signed by the client, every time they contact us for information.
The new phone and online services becoming available this year, and the new indefinite Letter of Authority and Terms of Business agreements, will ultimately result in almost instant access to the information, and result in an improved service to the advice firm and the end customer. Also, all staff in a firm will have access to these services, not just the advisers.
All of this is designed to make NS&I much easier to do business with but there is still more to do.
As use of platforms continues to grow amongst the adviser community, is there any possibility that NS&I product range might one day become available via online platforms?
After we have launched the servicing enhancements this year, and registered the vast majority of advice firms for these services, we will then turn our attention to access via third party platforms and back office systems.
We know that the vast majority of new business that advisers conduct is done through platforms and currently NS&I is not included in this channel, so we know it’s something we need to give serious thought to.
Some further research needs to be carried out on this subject first though, as it is a fast changing world and Open Banking could potentially make some of it easier – certainly in terms of making information available. However, we will also consider transactional access as part of this too.
What does the future hold for NS&I? What is your vision for the group going forward?
This is an exciting time for those of us working in the savings and investments industry. Open Banking brings the potential for substantial change with new propositions that will make the sector more competitive. The prospect of further base rate rises should create an environment in which the reward for saving will increase and this is important given the impact of changes to pensions rules which is resulting in people converting their pension pots into cash. Expectations of customer service (for both customers and advisers) are rising all the time, often driven by their experiences in other sectors (e.g. online retailers).
For NS&I, this means we have to continuously improve our service to customers and advisers to make it easy and convenient to do business with us. In terms of our core proposition, we have to innovate to make sure it remains relevant and attractive so that we can retain our existing customers and attract new ones. That’s lots of change but we must also maintain the trust of our customers and make the most of our strengths including Premium Bonds and our 100% HM Treasury backed guarantee.
About Ian Ackerley
Ian became Chief Executive of NS&I in March 2017. Immediately before that, Ian worked at Barclays which he joined in 2011 as Director of Investments and where he was responsible for Barclays’ UK retail investment business.
Ian has over 20 years’ experience in the UK retail financial services industry. His previous roles include Managing Director of Investments and Pensions at Virgin Money, Managing Director of Sun Life International and working as a consultant with McKinsey & Company.
Ian has an honours degree in Psychology (BSc) from St Andrews University and holds an MBA from London Business School. He began his career with Royal Dutch Shell.