Setting the record straight with Phil Loney, Group CEO Royal London

With aspirations of becoming “the Waitrose or John Lewis of the insurance sector”, Royal London group chief executive Phil Loney has certainly had his hands full in the three years since taking the helm of the mutual, which boasts a heritage that dates back as far as the 1860s.

Royal London is mid-way through a rebranding exercise that will see it evolve from overarching seven trading names working on its behalf, to the core and single brand standing firm today.

That’s quite a challenge for any CEO, so for Loney, supported by ‘Man from the Pru’ advertising mastermind Clare Sheikh, how did he find the process of streamlining the brands to collectively signify great quality with value for money – his “strategy of differentiation”?

“We aspire to be the company that is providing the best outcomes and best experiences for consumers, which we believe is rooted in our mutuality,” Loney explains.

“We found all our brands were relatively well-known amongst the insurance industry and reasonably well-known by intermediaries but really poorly known – as was Royal London – amongst consumers.”

Practically, rebuilding seven disparate brands was neither on strategy nor affordable, so Loney set about explaining to the people working at Royal London, RL360°, Bright Grey, Scottish Provident, Scottish Life, Ascentric and IFDL (the acquired Royal Liver and Co-operative divisions had already been absorbed into the Royal London brand) their top-level strategy and approach with the need for internal buy-in a major priority.

“You hope to arrive at a tipping point, where enough people like what you are doing,” he adds.

Under the guidance of Sheikh, the business set about designing what the new brand would incorporate, following comprehensive research with consumers, intermediaries, and staff members.

Part of the process was the inception of an internal communications initiative of having “pelican pods” – small teams of people from all facets of the business working together to develop and articulate the brand values and culture, in consultation with their wider colleagues.

The naming was the easiest part, he said, with Royal London being the actual mutual, the life fund, the umbrella company. As luck would have it, it was also the name best received in focus groups, with “Royal” speaking of quality and “London” suggesting credibility in financial services.

In day-to-day terms, the business had already begun its transition to shared operating platforms across the group, refreshing their technology and deciding on the target architecture to be used for, say, its pensions or protection business.

After the initial internal resistance, which was ultimately about managing emotional responses from the most logical of minds, forced to wrap their heads around being part of a bigger entity (while enjoying the benefits that brings), Loney believes they almost future-proofed the response from the IFA community – renowned for brand loyalty – by ensuring that personnel, systems and processes had already started being aligned before the rebrand took place, such as customer service. This mitigated any negative user experience, rather improving it – softening the brand blow, as it were.

Looking ahead, whichever new government succeeds next year will be receiving a call from Loney to help tackle the UK’s shortfall of people with the right financial solutions in place.

With the cost of full advice being pushed upwards, Loney stresses the solution is not black and white.

“I don’t think financial education or guidance are alternatives to advice,” he stresses.

“What we do propositionally only becomes meaningful if it comes together with genuinely impartial financial advice. I think as people set about the long-term job of educating themselves and become more cognisant of the complexities of their circumstances they will become more likely to want to buy advice.”

Written By Sam Shaw

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