Brendan Llewellyn asks: Do you know any firm or person with genuine ‘followability'?
It's not that most other industries have notably strong leaders, or that there was a time in this sector when leaders strode the land, it's just that, given how things are in this sector at this time, it would be good if a few likely candidates stepped up to the mark.
We know the basic requirements: a clear vision, preferably coherent and sensible, and that essential quality of ‘followability'. If you're not followed, you're not a leader. The closest thing we have to a leader at the moment is Martin Lewis. Some might find this uncomfortable, but consumers follow him; he represents the modern, savvy, deal-alert consumer.
It's odd that few major players baulk at the term ‘market leader', yet how many can really lay claim to offering leadership? How many offer up new ways of doing things; initiatives that leave rivals scrambling to catch up? It's true that, in the financial services world, there are some inherent barriers to innovation. For one thing, financial products cannot be patented in the same way as physical products. Then there's regulation, but I'm sure the FCA would claim that relevant innovation is exactly what it wants. We must also look at the practice of advisers. If, to take one example, a new exciting fund is not supported until it has a number of performance years under its belt, then new ideas are hardly likely to flourish.
Where have our leaders gone?
There are positives of course: a commitment to innovation can inspire a whole business (you set a timetable for launch, establish an agenda and change the goalposts when you want). But, given the reputation of the sector and the profusion of so-called ‘gaps' – from protection to pensions to savings to advice – the case for real change is strong. What we don't need is a barrel full of trust campaigns. Show, don't tell.
So, essentially, the onus of responsibility to lead rests with individual companies, particularly the larger ones. What really counts is when a behemoth makes its move and forces the whole market to react. Ideally, the behemoth's representatives stand up in the wider financial services community and make themselves heard.
There are shafts of light: the PruHealth message seems credible and motivational – and I was very impressed with its plethora of product enhancements. Aviva also seems to be showing signs of life with its attempts to galvanise the protection sector.
But, for 2014, how about a new set of objectives for those with the potential to be standout leaders, whether they currently sit at the top of an ivory tower or not; objectives which our new leaders can look back on and point to their success and the swelling throngs of their followership?
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