THE MONDAY INTERVIEW DAVID JONES: Dreams of a nation of shareholders

A clash with the Stock Exchange has not dimmed the ShareLink chief's vision of equity democracy

With his cropped hair, lively mind and forthright manner, you might be forgiven for thinking that David Jones, the chief executive of ShareLink, one of Europe's leading discount stockbrokers, could be a bit of a bruiser.

He talks forcefully and passionately about a desire to extend share ownership. He enthuses about change and says he loves intellectual challenges.

Mr Jones' aims would appear to be those that would win him the hearts of the City establishment. But instead he has rocked their boat.

Last year he resigned from the board of the London Stock Exchange after only six months. There were stories of bad blood and personality clashes. When I saw him this weekend he was busy dealing with the consequences of his latest skirmish with the Exchange.

Last week Mr Jones provoked a writ for defamation from his former boardroom colleagues for comments he made about the Exchange during a radio broadcast. These concerned the Exchange's last-minute decision to bar a joint venture formed by his firm from distributing share price information via the Internet.

Careful interpretation of his lawyer's briefings prevented Mr Jones from speaking about the writ, except to say: "It would be in the interests of the whole industry if we could all get on with the job of developing investment in the UK." It is a subject about which Mr Jones is passionate. "If every adult put pounds 500 on average into equities we would raise billions of pounds for British industry and simultaneously we would help to solve the long-term savings problems of the UK," he says.

Mr Jones is not a likely proponent for the virtues of share ownership nor does he look an obvious stockbroker type.

He took a degree in psychology at Swansea University and worked as a social worker for almost a year. But the work did not appeal, and so in 1976 he joined an aluminium company in south Wales as a sales administrator.

By 1982 he had been invited to join British Telecom where he created a new division that ultimately was expanded to handle the telephone inquiries for BT privatisation and subsequent privatisations. That gave him the idea for ShareLink, a no-frills private investor share-dealing company which he formed with the backing of BT and Birmingham stockbroker Albert E Sharp in 1987.

A subsequent flotation of the business and then the sale of it to the Charles Schwab Corporation of the US made Mr Jones a wealthy man. When his company was sold he made about pounds 6m from the deal, but he still works just as hard.

"I like an intellectual challenge. I like to achieve collective goals and I like to see something develop from an idea into reality. But I also like to see that the reality has a value, that it is something of importance and in the case of share ownership it is important that we let ordinary people do what was previously the preserve of a privileged minority.

"I get kicks from all the compliments we get from providing an easy to understand and easy to use share-dealing service. That's what makes it worth turning up to work for."

There is perhaps an impatience with some in the financial services industry who see their task as one of ensuring that London retain its competitive edge as far as the institutional investors are concerned, while being less concerned about the private investor.

"We don't have a national strategy for the development of a private investor base in the UK," he says. "And we need it for those who would participate in it and we need it for the sake of British industry. But it needs everybody working together."

New technology throws up potentials. "The private investor can use computers and the Internet to access information cheaply and quickly.

"I'm looking for schemes that will tap into the masses. I want to make investment in equities part of everyday life," he adds.

Mr Jones would like to see people taking a more active role in planning their own pensions. "Pension schemes miss out the issue of looking after one's investment. There are all sorts of structures in the way. Most people hand their money over and see it after 40 or so years later. But they're not involved in the process of investment for all that time."

Mr Jones argues that there is much scope for the development of financial products that are available on an execution basis only. "That takes away the control from the professional, from the supplier and puts it into the hands of the consumer," he explains.

He thinks that the next government, whichever party it is, might be more interested in opening a dialogue than the current administration in its last year or two. "I would be happy to open a dialogue with a Labour government or a Conservative one," he says. "One group calls it shareholder democracy, the other calls it worker participation."

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