This is surprising. The writer of the self-styled definitive IFA guide on long-term care insurance is no academic at all. Surely to write a 180-page book on the minutiae of enduring power of attorney and the finer points of advisers’ professional indemnity in LTC cover, you need to be a bit of a … er … swot?
Martin Telling may be bright. But swot? Hardly. He leaves Clifton College in Bristol after O’ levels with scant regard for A’ levels or university. He tells a dismayed father that the confines of public school are too much to bear. Instead, Telling joins his brother Julian at a national brokerage. “I was a trainee consultant and sold my first life policy at the age of 17,” he recalls. This was 1980, the start of the Thatcher boom. Within three years, the brothers had started their own group, Falcon, which is still strong and recently acquired Interdependence, an IFA network.
Earlier this year Telling grabbed the “perfect” chance to run his own show. He became a director of award winning brokers Regency Group, which has a stake in providing cover for one in 10 households in UK, mainly for brown and white goods. He also became managing director and part owner of advisers Regency Financial Solutions in Weston-super-Mare. He is chairman of the IFA Association working party on long-term care. And owner of two Mercedes sports coupes, one of which is the mouth-watering 420 SL V8.
So at the age of 35, Telling is a successful businessman and expert in the neglected field of long-term care; several radio stations have him as a regular interviewee and he has found time to write a guide.
He attributes his achievements to hard work and persistence. “When I fail, I dust myself off and try again, I don’t get put off easily,” he says. And he has built his business on the basis of providing excellent staff working conditions and investing heavily in technology, a tool Telling maintains is often neglected by his competitors.
The guide – for sale at £90 including updates – has taken at least half his working time over the last three years. “I don’t know if you would call it an obsession, but it has severely affected my business because I have striven to get it right before we get it wrong.”
And Telling is telling all: “In terms of information for financial advisers, there are things in there never discussed before, printed before, or even thought of before.
“For instance personal indemnity. Have you as an IFA informed your PI insurer that you are going to be doing non-regulated business – ie long term care – and have you checked that you are covered?”
Not many advisers have, it appears. Says Telling: “How many IFAs, how many networks, have actually got a client agreement that reflects the fact that they will be dealing in the long term care business and that business is not regulated?”
The guide asks advisers to consider the consequence of a legal dispute with a client in which the court holds that the client agreement does not cover the advice because it concerned an unregulated product and was not mentioned in the agreement.
The guide advises: “Your firm’s client agreement should contain a statement, XYZ Ltd also advises on mortgages, home income plans and various long-term care products which may not be regulated by the Financial Services Authority. It is the company’s practice as far as possible to treat all products as if they were regulated. Telling comments: “It is a very small thing, but no one has ever mentioned it.”
So how did this obsession with the long-term ill arise in a chap who, one imagines, might be more interested in sports coupes than caring? His father is a successful family doctor in Bristol. But even the medical connection does not really explain the LTC Commitment.
Telling recalls: “I am quite fortunate in that some of my clients become my friends. There was an old couple, both suffered from cancer and both had to go into residential accommodation, and the more I found out, the less I realised I knew, and the less information there was available. That is what spurred me to become proficient in long term care.”
At this point enter Viscount Horatio Nelson (1758-1805). From an early age Telling loved boats and the sea – he shares a holiday home in Fowey, Cornwall, with his brother – and the admiral became a lifetime preoccupation. Telling has 75 books on his hero. He was threatening to write a 76th when he decided to turn to the less explored topic of long-term care.
But what does Nelson have to do with long term care? It seems that while the mariner was winning wars, and Lady Hamilton, his wife Fanny Nesbit continued to play the devoted wife and mother-in-law by looking after Nelson’s invalid father.
Telling explains: “There are so many references to Nelson’s wife being a dedicated carer, that this fact, and the elderly couple I became involved with, totally absorbed me.”
It even seems that Nelson led Telling back into academia because he now lays claim to unmasking the Bristol Slasher. The Slasher was revered as Nelson’s right hand man, friend of Nelson’s brother and friend of the Poet Laureate, Telling explains, adding that he enjoyed an heroic reputation for his exploits at Trafalgar and other skirmishes.
But Telling adds that, in reality, his only true talent was a Robert Maxwell-style gift for self-promotion. Telling realised that The Slasher could not be traced in Nelson’s meticulous records and the conclusion must be that he was a poseur.
Telling’s obsession with getting to the truth has had other advantages. He was unimpressed when the all-party Parliamentary health committee concluded that the much-hyped crisis over care of the old could be adequately managed within existing resources. He is not swayed by the subtler point that governments like to talk up the demographic timebomb because the more people make their own provision, the less the state’s responsibility.
“The fact is,” he says, “that a male has a one in four chance of ending up in a nursing home and a female has a one in three chance. Those figures are, I think, pretty powerful and if this isn’t a serious problem I don’t know what is.”
But aren’t such startling data distorted by large numbers of old people spending their last week or two in a home? Telling claims the average stay is 18 months but that even this total does not reflect reality because patients are discharged and then readmitted to other homes.
He adds: “Then you have people with Alzheimer’s; there are 600,000 sufferers from age 55 upwards and they don’t die after a few years, they last 20 years. On top there are lots of people who are very old, extremely infirm and simply can’t look after themselves. They may last six or seven years.
“The Americans took the average stay in nursing homes as a maximum of three years and designed their policies to pay benefits for that period and suddenly they found that a great number, a significant number, were living beyond three years and they had an enormous problem. That is probably why the UK insurance industry has not designed policies with limited payment periods.”
The downside, of course, is that premiums go up. But Telling points to Commercial Union’s 3rd Age product, pioneered by Sandy Johnstone, as one which other insurers could do well to emulate.
“There are some companies who look on long-term care insurance just as a way of swelling their in-house investment funds,” Telling says. This means, he says, that they simply deposit the money in offshore unit-linked funds – and whether the policyholder has sufficient benefits to see him through his dying days depends on stock market vagaries.
Whether it is LTC or Nelson, Telling clearly cares. You could say these passions fill time that other men might need to give to their families – he is unmarried, although has a girlfriend who is a solicitor.
And his strong interest in the care of the elderly is also likely to yield benefits for IFAs. Like the rest of us, he is waiting until the Royal Commission reports next year. And if he feels there is not enough in it to protect the elderly, or indeed, promote the role of private insurance, you can be sure Martin Telling will be on his soapbox.