Oldest hand is still setting new trends

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The Independent Online
Donald Gordon is just about the oldest hand around in the life insurance and pensions industry. As head of Liberty International, he boasts that after 40 years at the top he is the longest-serving chairman of anything, anywhere in the world.

He was one of Sir Mark Weinberg's earliest employers and then his partner in 1962 when they founded Abbey Life, now part of Lloyds Bank. They set off a revolution in the way life assurance is marketed, not always for the better if you look at the slick sales tactics the newcomers pioneered, and others copied. But when Mr Gordon says he is on to something, others in the industry take it seriously.

His new joint venture with Hermes, manager of the BT and Post Office pension funds, plans to exploit two new trends. The first is the move to money purchase pension schemes, which is accelerating rapidly as companies find the old final salary schemes too expensive. Hermes Liberty International Pensions will seek new business with a handsome dowry to start with, in the form of pounds 1.5bn of funds under management transferred to it by the BT pension fund, which owns Hermes.

The BT fund will also take a 10 per cent stake in the new company. Other big-name fund managers will be brought in, and this new flexible structure - a fund manager that farms out fund management - could prove an attractively low cost operator.

The other trend Mr Gordon has identified is the direct marketing of personal pension schemes, which Liberty is to launch in the UK next year from a base in Peterborough. Mr Gordon wants to do for pensions what Peter Wood of Direct Line did for motor insurance. Let's hope the quality of the products matches up to the marketing techniques.