Jeremy Warner's Outlook: Cowdery recruits former FSA boss for new venture
Wednesday 10 September 2008
Round at the Financial Services Authority, John Tiner is still referred to as "the lucky regulator" on account of the timing of his departure as chief executive. He managed to hand over to the present incumbent, Hector Sants, literally weeks before the Northern Rock balloon went up, and thereby largely escaped the public opprobrium heaped on the City watchdog since for its apparent failure in adequately regulating the banking sector.
Timing is all when it comes to business and political reputation, and Mr Tiner seems to be an expert at it. His previous berth was at Arthur Andersen, which again he managed to leave just before disaster struck. Andersen was completely destroyed by the Enron scandal shortly afterwards.
Now he's popped up as chief executive of Clive Cowdery's Resolution Mark II. Since he's just beginning, we must assume that a golden era awaits. It's when he leaves that you have to watch out for. But seriously, few people know their way around the financial services industry as well as Mr Tiner, so, for the type of venture envisaged by Mr Cowdery, he's an excellent catch. The team is further bolstered by Phil Hodkinson, formerly finance director of HBOS.
Mr Cowdery hopes to capitalise on his success in rationalising the life insurance sector by raising £1bn from an IPO this November to wade into the myriad of opportunities he believes the current crisis has created to do the same thing with other parts of the financial services industry – notably banking, asset management and general insurance.
The plans are at present quite vague and, in more frothy times, would have reminded me of the defining prospectus of the South Sea Bubble, where investors were invited to stick their money into "an endeavour of great advantage, only nobody to know what it is".
Yet this is the bottom of the market, not the top. IPOs have become as rare as a successful housing sale, so he can hardly be accused of cashing in on a bubble.
Mr Cowdery's track record is an impressive one. Resolution produced a 28 per cent per annum rate of return for its original investors over the four years it was around. What's more, his purpose is the partly altruistic one of trying to salvage something from the wreckage of financial services value destruction for the publicly listed sector, rather than allowing all the upside to be snapped up by vulture funds and private equity.
In any case, Mr Cowdery has a top-drawer City fan club, led from the front by Prudential and Standard Life, and he won't be short of backers for his new venture. My one concern is that the original Resolution was a very focused animal, concentrating on the opportunities of just one bombed-out bit of financial services – life assurance.
There are obvious parallels between the way life insurance looked back then and the state banking is in today, but the "son of Resolution" proposed seems to want to go off all over the place dabbling in all manner of sub-sectors, each with their own complexities and challenges. Still, it would be churlish to do anything other than wish Messrs Cowdery and Tiner well. Even in a downturn, the entrepreneurial spirit still burns bright.
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