Of Departures and Innovation

The departures of two high profile individuals in the financial services industry caught my attention recently. Trevor Slater and David Haak have both stepped down from their respective roles to “look at other opportunities”, to use the euphemism of the corporate spin-doctors.

Slater’s departure, in my view, leaves FSCL considerably less attractive to financial advisers.

I state this under full disclosure as I serve on the Fairways Advisory Council and stress that any opinion expressed here is entirely my own personal view and not in any way reflective of the views of Fairways or anyone employed or connected with that organisation.

As Managing Director of AIA in Melbourne, I inherited some disputes which ultimately felt the impact of Slater’s capabilities at FICS, the Australian industry’s dispute resolution service. These knotty issues, which were a significant irritation to the new MD, resulted in acceptable solutions being agreed, and produced a win/win outcome – or at least the perception of same.

From experience, lawyers are trained to be adversarial, seek to apportion blame, and have one party to a dispute ‘win’ and another ‘lose’. I found this ‘win/lose’ approach far less palatable in the financial services world, as there were always residual consequences to be borne from aggrieved parties who felt that they had ‘lost’.

So when it became apparent that Slater was to join the newly formed FSCL in the wake of the new regulations, I made it my business to recommend to the members of Brokers Independent Group, to whom I was consulting at the time, to sign up with FSCL almost before it was incorporated.  As membership of a dispute resolution service was now required before being allowed on the Financial Services Provider Register (FSPR), Slater’s presence in the nascent FSCL services offered easily the best value for money available.

Having access to a dispute resolution service is perceived as important by regulators and consumers, and an irritation from an advisers’ perspective.

In reality, it is akin to insurance – best to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

But dispute resolution services providers haven’t exactly been inundated, and the several initiatives that FSCL, and in particular Slater, provided to advisers to understand and to leverage dissatisfied client relationship issues were invaluable.

It remains to be seen to what extent subscribers to FSCL will regard Slater’s departure, but from an advisers’ perspective a valued - and valuable - resource has been lost.


Some 20+ years ago I hired David Haak as BDM for Sovereign in Waikato Region. With the fundamental shift in Sovereign’s philosophy over the years, Haakie’s ‘stickability’ has to be admired.

All those years ago, Haakie and I had arranged a discrete breakfast meeting in the old Mon Desir in Takapuna, and I had almost decided to make the man an offer.

As the Liberty Group members, who were holding a planning meeting in the hotel that morning, trooped past our table nodding and winking knowingly, I concluded that I had no choice but to hire him!

Remaining in the pivotal role as Head of Distribution with its changing strategic priorities for this long must be a record – certainly in NZ, maybe even beyond these shores also.

I didn’t always concur with Haakie’s approach to distribution strategy.

The establishment of Sovnet provided AIA with an ideal opportunity to question the nature of the adviser relationship with Sovereign and the company’s evolving attitude toward independence presented by such an initiative. The response from the Adviser market accelerated AIA’s growth considerably, with record levels of premium income which would otherwise have gone to Sovereign.

In particular, I believe that Haakie’s rejection of aggregators and dealer groups merely opened the way for every other product provider to offer terms and attack Sovereign’s market share, the impact of which is still evident today.

However, anyone who has been in middle/senior management knows that decisions are made in an imperfect world where information and foresight are frequently distant partners.

Haakie's ability to remain at the helm for all these years has caused a significant number of advisers to be thankful for his presence. Maybe a couple of exits could have been better managed, but on the whole, Haakie''s contribution to Sovereign over the years would certainly be approved by the shareholders.

Hopefully, we haven't heard the last of either of these two industry figures.

Finally, congratulations to www.volo.co.nz for a genuine innovation in the design and delivery of personal risk cover - excellent!