There appears to be a new spring in his step and a visible difference in the demeanour of Nick Kirwan since he resigned as protection market director at Scottish Widows.
After 28 years in the financial services industry he’s decided to take a break from the daily hustle of life office activity and investigate new opportunities. But in that time he’s built himself a name as a protection expert in the UK, and anyone who has spoken to him over the years knows he is very passionate about the protection market and finding ways to help consumers get practical financial protection.
So while Kirwan says his resignation last week has been a tough decision, the smile on his face suggests this “reasonably private” man, as he describes himself, is looking forward to some time out of the office environment having started his protection career just out of university.
“To be honest, I stumbled into the industry completely by accident but I have always been fascinated by the protection industry since I joined it,” says Kirwan.
“I was working at John Lewis in a summer job when a friend got a job as a company rep with a company car. It was that which got my attention at that stage so I marched across the road into the recruitment agent and they helped me get a job as a life insurance rep at Sun Life of Canada.
“At 21 it was really difficult at first as it’s hard persuading people that you know anything about anything at that age. But I really enjoyed the people side of the job and there was no looking back. So it’s funny how one move can impact your whole life and it is possible I could have been in an entirely different industry. But I’m glad I’m not,” he muses.
Having started at Sun Life of Canada in 1979, Kirwan really gained an interest in the technical, regulatory and consumer-facing side of protection in the mid ‘90s when he was asked by the IFA Association, predecessor to the Association of IFAs, to get involved in Project ‘KING’ - Critical Illness Next Generation – to standardise critical illness definitions. It was this initial foray into industry discussion and lobbying which Kirwan says sparked his desire to use his knowledge for a wider benefit and was then asked to chair the ABI Critical Illness Committee before eventually becoming chair of the ABI’s Protection Committee.
“I learned a huge amount in these roles and met lots of really interesting people from all walks of life. It was one of those roles which was ongoing because medical science never stands still,” says Kirwan.
“I never stop enjoying meeting people and seeing the very positives influences that protection has on people’s lives and it’s a great privilege to play my part inthat. I take a great interest in the claims side, in particular, but try to understand the whole process because from the consumer’s point of view you can make the most impact when they make the claim and help people when they really need it most.”
There appears to be an interesting dichotomy between the image he perhaps has within the industry, as a relatively traditional life office businessman, and the adventure-driven person Kirwan actually is. If you listen to him discuss the protection industry, you get a sense of someone always willing to try new things – his latest crazed venture being to turn his hand to snowboarding during a recent trip to Canada where he actually cracked a couple of ribs – and who seems to see it as his vocation in life to push the financial services industry as far as possible and help consumers gain financial protection when they need it most.
“It’s all about changing people’s lives because when everything else lets you down it is up to the industry to be a safe pair of hands. I have always believed the protection team should be the conscience of the company. You have to do your damnedest to design products which pay out when people expect them to,” he continues.
It’s perhaps why one of the future directions he is also considering much further down the road is a possible move into charity work for organisations like Opportunity International – a charity operating in South-east Asia which helps people build small businesses and infrastructures rather than hand out aid – having also worked alongside the likes of cancer charity Macmillan Cancer Support, among others, in the recent development of critical illness definition changes.
At this stage, however, Kirwan still believes me there is much more work to be done in the UK protection sector.
“I’d certainly like to stay in the protection industry for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to give people the impression I will run away and do something different. My plans for the next five years at least are to stay in the industry. After that time might be the right time to consider following my dreams.
“But there is a lot of exciting stuff going on and lots of opportunities to innovate. We have seen precious little innovation over the last few years and I have some ideas about how we could really transform the protection processes and products.”
Kirwan considers his recent work with Virgin and the Big V protection launch one of the most exciting projects he has worked on to date.
“My Virgin experience was a great one, not least because the Virgin team really understood doing business online. It is just so obvious the web is exploding and is the way forward. And there is no question in my mind the web is the future.”
Having had little time to adjust to life since leaving the life office last week, Kirwan says the short-term projects he has on his agenda will for now ‘help him clear his mind of the work he had been doing at Widows’, such as completing a 10k run in Edinburgh next weekend and preparing for some protection speaking slots he has been asked to consider in the US later this year.
But it’s unlikely he will be out of the protection arena for long as he has already hinted there could be dealings going on which could mean Kirwan is regularly on the protection circuit.
“This period now is a time for reflection and consideration of my future and to have some “me time”. There are some aspects I feel really sad to be leaving behind, and head and shoulders above anything else was my team because they have been fantastically loyal and brilliant over the last 2-3 years. They are a great bunch of people so I will miss working with them a lot and I learned a lot from them.
“Having said that, this is a small industry at times and I’m sure I will be bumping into them at some event or other,” he adds.
Nick Kirwan's CV (start dates):
- 2004 Scottish Widows - Protection Market Director
- 1995 Scottish Provident/Abbey - Head of Marketing & Proposition Development
- 1993 Crown - Marketing Director
- 1985 Axa Sun Life - Technical Manager then promoted to Head of Marketing
- 1984 Albany Life - Broker Consultant
- 1981 Provincial Life - Life Inspector
- 1979 Sun Life of Canada - Sales Representative
If you have any comments you would like to add to this article or would like to speak to its author about a similar subject, telephone Julie Henderson on 020 7034 2679 or email [email protected].IFAonline
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