Better by design

Thinking out of the box has propelled Morgans Corporate Benefits to an enviable book of high value clients as well as scooping the title of Corporate Adviser Firm of the Year 2008. We talk benefits, design companies and the thrill of closing deals with managing director David Taylor

We started with a clean sheet which means we can do things differently,” says David Taylor, managing director of Morgans Corporate Benefits, the branch of the Morgans Group of companies that only came into being less than two years ago.

Taylor came on board around 18 months ago when the only corporate clients Morgans had were those originated from crossover business courtesy of wealthy clients who happened to be company directors in need of benefits advice for their employees. He can now claim to have steered the business towards a position where it has exceeded the performance of its peers, at least in the eyes of the nine leading industry figures that made up the judging panel.

The fresh start for the growing business means it does not have the obligation to service legacy schemes, alleviating it from the pressure of creating revenue simply to cover the cost of servicing these plans: “We don’t need to feed the monster in this respect, which means we’re not sales driven and more about developing long-term relationships with clients. We genuinely feel we add value rather than ‘make money’,” says Taylor who verges on the evangelical when it comes to the scope that these relationships can reach.

The overall approach at Morgans is to steer clear of what it feels are traits characteristic of more traditional advisers, and instead treating each company individually according to their values, ambitions and how they want to be perceived, both internally and externally.

It also strives to offer clients a breadth of interlinking services reaching beyond the typical corporate benefit consultants’ mix.

In fact, Taylor says with many clients, who include the likes of Ask.com, Fosters and a good number of investment banks, they have become trusted business advisers on a whole range of areas by taking what Taylor describes as a modular approach.

Clients’ requirements are broken down into areas such as communications, education and investment advice to senior level executives, workplace marketing, and software and IT services, with MBC working with the client to devise whichever bundle of services most appropriate to its needs.

As well as calling upon expertise from across the Morgans Group of companies, Taylor’s small team also work with a number of carefully selected business partners to match clients’ demands.

Taylor is aware of the importance of presenting such relationships transparently to would-be clients, something which he feels is another differentiator Morgans has over some more traditional consultants.

He says: “I’ve seen new business proposal situations before where the team pitching has had no idea what the client wants and just say: “Yes we can do that,” to everything the client asks for. By the end of the meeting, the client is probably sat there thinking, “I bet if I asked this person if he could service my car, he’d say yes.” Our clients can see very quickly that we can and do offer a broad range of services and how we achieve this.”

The business relationships underpinning Morgans’ widely encompassing scope includes working closely with a design agency, something Taylor feels is key in taking their employee communications to another level: “The communications module is a really important part of what we do. What we do tells people we are not just typical employee benefits consultants, we are not just going to give you a pensions benefits handbook, we are going to do much more.”

That approach may have been a deciding factor in winning the firm the Corporate Adviser Firm of the Year award, presented last month at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The panel of judges were won over by the clarity of message of the simple glossy booklet that Morgans submitted as its entry, so much so that when the judging session was finished, that was the only submission to have been taken home by all the judges.

As well as helping to turn out engaging material for employees, Morgans makes use of the services of its design partner for new business pitches, material which might include eye-catching brochures designed to immediately signal to clients they are not the kind of company that does what Taylor describes as “formula thinking”.

“There’s no point in us giving people a 25 page Word document with a poor looking logo. We are new and say we are different, and as there are hundreds of companies who could be similar to us, we have to prove very quickly we really are different,” he says.

When the business is won, Morgans then spends time with clients helping them decide on the look and feel of what employees will eventually have, which Morgans then take to its design partners who come up with a range of options from which the client makes their final selection.

It’s an approach which is standing the young firm in solid stead so far and growth plans for the years ahead are ambitious.

From what he describes as a standing start with a handful of staff, Taylor hopes by the end of the year to have between 12 and 15 employees, rising to perhaps 60 in the coming years. Prospective MBC employees should expect to share the same focused and enthusiastic approach as their MD: “I’ve always been a believer in recruiting on attitude, people with a bit of fire in their belly. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved in the last 18 months, but we want more. We’re looking for people to really buy into us and get excited and it’s not always easy to find that marriage of technical competence and fire. We don’t just want ‘okay’ kind of people,” says Taylor.

Taylor’s ultimate ambition is not necessarily be the biggest employee benefit consultant in terms of RIs, but continue to be profitable and scoop prestigious clients and engage them in long-term partnerships, all using MBC’s willfully different approach: “I’m motivated by being innovative, not being a staid, tick-box type of organisation. The way we approach things is to ask ourselves what everyone else will probably be doing and then asking how can we do it differently,” he says.

Taylor clearly enjoys success but maintains he is not primarily motivated by financial reward: “It’s more about enjoying what we can do. Seeing our name on the shortlist for the Corporate Adviser awards amongst some of the other companies shortlisted appeals to the part of me that really enjoys proving we can do what we say we can do.”

At the heart of what seems to motivate Taylor is the winning. He confesses he still gets a huge buzz from scooping new business today as well as recalling victories of his earlier career: “When you’ve landed a really good corporate client you’ve worked hard to secure and you get that email telling you: “You’re on. All systems go,” I still get that buzz. The client is buying us, and to a certain extent, buying you. I still remember those phone calls telling you you’ve won to this day.”

In some way his professional life now a far cry from the 19 year-old trainee accountant who lasted 18 months in the role before ditching accountancy for a job as a trainee manager at Bradford & Bingley, where he continued to rise through the ranks until leaving to work at Marsh, aged 30.

However, in others ways the entrepreneurial 41 year old’s approach is not so different to the teenager who spurned any further education: “I’d had enough of education after one year of my ‘A’ levels. I wanted to get cracking and start to get my hands dirty.”

After leaving Marsh in 2004, from there Taylor went to work for a small broker in the Midlands as sales director where he spent two years before ultimately joining MBC: “I was ready for a change from the big company mentality,” he says, “I wanted to see what it would be like to work for smaller businesses where you have a much stronger connection with the business and greater exposure to different sides of the business.”

Taylor says that he has always been ambitious and focused on success and concedes it can prove somewhat challenging to switch off.

When Taylor, who is a charity trustee in his spare time, does manage to relax it’s largely down to his family and their sporting pursuits. Taylor lives in a village just outside of Northampton with his wife and three children, a nine year old daughter and two teenage boys who, like Taylor, are keen rugby fans, a sport he acknowledges as his “first love”.

Taylor is also a football lover, describing his devotion to Sheffield Wednesday, who were hovering over the Coca-Cola Football League Championship’s relegation zone at the time of going to print, as “the cross I have to bear”.

If he cannot always look forward to enjoying that winning buzz courtesy of his football team, as long as MBC continues to bag big ticket clients from more established competitors, Taylor will go on to enjoy his victory fixes elsewhere.

About Morgans Group
• Founded in 1987, the Morgans Group is an independent group of companies providing bespoke financial services and insurance broking services to both private and corporate clients.

• The companies within the group are Morgans Independent Advisers, Morgans Insurance Broking, Morgans Financial Solutions and also Morgans Corporate Benefits.

• Formed in 1990, Morgans Independent Advisers is based in London’s Mayfair with clients ranging from wealthy individuals, predominately interested in wealth protection, to major investment banks.

• Morgans Financial Solutions specialises in advising high net worth clients on tax efficient investments including venture capital trusts, enterprise investment schemes, tax efficient property investments, film partnerships, carbon efficient investments and unregulated property opportunities.

• It was the high net worth clients who were also employees which laid the foundations for Morgans Corporate Benefits.

Client focus – Ask.com

“At the once-a-quarter surgeries it’s not a question of ‘Oh, the pensions guy is here again’, people are much more engaged and interested and the benefits no longer feel as abstract to these individuals as they did”

David Talor, Morgans Coprorate Benefits

Many employee benefits consultants would agree with Taylor on the challenges presented by encouraging more artistically-minded and abstract thinkers to engage in their company’s benefits package.

Taylor says Morgans’ work with search engine Ask.com has helped move the organisation’s predicament on from a situation where it had many IT and creative staff in their early thirties with no interest in pensions, to the stage where Morgan’s contribution has made a demonstrable difference to both take up of benefits and also those employees’ understanding of their company’s brand.

In fact, recognising the internal challenges in an organisation with a disparate, international workforce proved a significant element in successfully creating a package that captured Ask.com employees’ imaginations.

“The look and feel of material relating to benefits gives an instant perception of the brand, so, for example, it will tell employees whether this business fun, serious, or how far it factors in the work/life balance. It is a hugely important part of the psychology of engagement,” says Taylor.

Morgans’ work needed to build in the recognition that Ask.com’s position in the market is second in sector, behind the giant Google.

The challenge for a business in this position can be working to ensure it is perceived as an employer of choice and one deservedly attracting and retaining the top talent.

The employee benefits package is instrumental in achieving just this: “Recognising Ask’s position in the market, the aim was to ensure it is top decile in terms of benefits,” says Taylor.

The other priority built into to the package designed for Ask.com was to ensure that the geographically splintered work force all felt genuinely part on one larger international whole with a clear set of brand values the company lived up to in every territory.

Says Taylor: “Because we took time to know the company we knew how they wanted to be seen and how they definitely didn’t want to be seen. We were really excited by the brief and wanted to help Ask.com show they are a serious, but lively and innovative and the design work totally reinforces that ethos.”

As well as carefully designed handbooks and other materials, Morgans designed a range of presentations and attended staff meetings to help engage the workforce and market the benefits package, as well as hold open door surgeries, all done in a style befitting the brand and the type of people Ask’s employees typically are.

The results have been impressive: “Take up has improved by 35 per cent and its now at really good level. But perhaps more important than this is how many employees now feel about the benefits. At the once a quarter surgeries, it’s not a question of “Oh, the pensions guy’s here again,” people are much more engaged and interested and the benefits no longer feel as abstract to these individuals as they did,” says Taylor.

Taylor is confident that the package Morgans designed for Ask.com has been a fundamental cornerstone of how the business wants to be seen with the overall result being that Morgans and Ask.com continue to cement their relationship as long-term business partners: “We are now seen by Ask as trusted advisers on all sorts of areas.”

CV – DAVID TAYLOR

Try to understand why something seemingly crazy might make sense to people

Personal Married, 41, three children

Potted career
2006: Joins Morgan Benefits Consultants
2004: Works for small brokerage firm, Northampton
1996: Begins at Marsh
1988: Bradford & Bingley, initially as trainee manager
1986: Abandons A-levels to become a trainee accountant

Wise words ‘It makes sense to them.’

Says Taylor: “Even if you think that what someone else is saying or doing is completely ridiculous or wrong, they believe in it, so try and make sense of their position. Try and spend some time with them attempting to understand what they are saying, and why something seemingly crazy might make sense to them.”