As a schoolboy growing up in Blackpool, Roger Edwards used to draw cartoons for the local paper. It was an early indication of creativity which later led him into the insurance world, and is a talent he still occasionally puts to use.
Now it is most likely the recipient of a cartoon will be a gift to a retiring or leaving colleague at Scottish Provident, where Edwards now works at product marketing manager (protection).
This is a long winded job title but Edwards has many tasks. He is responsible for marketing products to IFAs, a role he takes very seriously since Scottish Provident does all its business through this channel. He is also – sometimes to the chagrin of his rivals – quoted frequently in the press as both a spokesman for his company and as an expert on the protection market.
At 32, Edwards cuts a youthful figure. But he says this is not unusual at Scottish Provident, a company he describes as having a lively culture and which also encourages staff to take on responsibility early.
Few people make a conscious decision to work for an insurance company, and Edwards is no exception. He grew up in Lytham St Anne’s, where his father was a GP, with a busy practice on the sea-front. At school, he was promising all round academically and he went on to study at Leeds University where he took an economics degree.
Once he graduated, he says he was determined to work in marketing, but having a head for figures, felt a financial services company would be the best option.
Marketing jobs are never easy to come by, particularly with no previous experience. So Edwards decided to gain knowledge of the insurance industry in any capacity and then look to move across into marketing.
He was offered a job at one insurer, which he prefers not to name, as a member of its direct sales team. The reason for his reticence soon becomes apparent as he points out he spent just one day working for this company. Edwards explains at the interview he was promised intensive training. But, on his first day, he was merely handed some keys and pointed in the direction of the car park. Here a car stuffed with brochures waited for him and he was told simply to get on the road and start selling – without any product knowledge or back-up. Not surprisingly he decided this was not the company for him.
Instead he decided to work for Provincial’s life office, based in Kendal where he joined in a technical role. This was a relatively small company, but one which had innovative ideas. He was allowed to indulge his creative instincts and took over the company newsletter and began also gaining experience of product development. Provincial was then taken over by Prolific which became a specialist in protection, being one of the first to market critical illness.
In 1993, Prolific was taken over by Scottish Provident and Edwards left the Lake District for Edinburgh. A key reason for the purchase was to take advantage of Prolific’s growing expertise in the protection market.
Now Scottish Provident is one of the most successful providers of protection products, in particular with its key policy, Self Assurance, which offers term assurance based combined cover.
The company’s reputation in this part of the market was further enhanced when it pulled out of pensions, a move which Edwards says was designed to allow it to focus on a core range of protection products, with Scottish Provident becoming the first to offer these in a “menu” format. This innovation has become a strong selling point for the company and has since been imitated by the competition. As a result, he believes that the products Scottish Provident offers puts the IFA at an advantage, as does the market itself.
This is partly because, Scottish Provident’s products are targeted towards the higher end of the market, and the the IFA customer is often a reasonably wealthy individual. But Edwards adds that while the direct writers are here to stay, many merely offer protection as a “commodity product”. “They are appealing to people who are concerned mainly with price,” he says. “A benefit with an IFA is that they will look at a customer as an individual taking into account different needs and this is why the menu approach is ideal for them.”
Additionally, Edwards is sceptical about companies which merely add new diseases – which are often obscure – onto their critical illness products simply to gain column inches: “We believe our product is already comprehensive. Take CJD for example. This would already be covered by us under the mental deterioration definition.”
He says he is also proud of Scottish Provident’s claims record. “We are a company which wants to pay claims and we publish an annual survey for IFAs which explains what claims we have paid out and also gives reasons for any we have refused to pay.”
As a medium size provider in a highly competitive and acquisitive market, there has been talk of Scottish Provident being bought. Edwards. says the official line is that this is not on the cards: “It is our intention to remain independent and mutual and this was part of our reason to focus on protection.”
Edwards clearly believes in Scottish Provident’s product range and the quality of service it delivers – and– he does much to spread the word. He says he has had no training in public speaking, but is described by those who have seen him as having “infectious enthusiasm” for the protection market. And, apart from speaking at IFA events, he also makes sure he visits IFAs, and spends at least one day a week out of the office to gauge their views on the market and products.
He is equally relaxed speaking to journalists and is frequently quoted in the professional press. In this, Edwards says he was coached by Terry Hepplewhite of Polhill Communications, which remains the insurer’s PR company. His tips to come across well in the press are to give journalists a story rather than total company propaganda or a total spiel on products.
Home and hearth
With the broad spread of his job remit, his public profile and the pride he takes his work and company, it is possible to imagine Edwards working all hours of the day and night. But, in fact, since he is away from home a fair amount, he is not a believer in all work and no play. He says he tries to be home – in Musselburgh on the coast near Edinburgh with his wife, who also works for Scottish Provident – by 6.30 pm.
He is a big fan of the Scottish capital, describing it as “a city which is without the grime and ugly high rise buildings of so many other towns.” And at home he relaxes by eating out and cooking, as well as listening to rock music. He says he has hundreds of CDs, and is not embarrassed to admit Jethro Tull is among them.
So, behind the business suit, and when relaxing at home, he may well be something of a hippie at heart. But Edwards has no intention of taking it easy at Scottish Provident. And, judging by his rapid climb up the career ladder to date, his work looks set to remain centre stage for some time to come.