Celtic Illumination, part 249, Please look after this bear.
I hadn’t, nor couldn’t, really tell anyone at Abbey Life that I wasn’t staying, that the moment I was officially out of the air force I was on my way. On my way back home to Ireland, selling spectacle frames, living on a strict diet of draught Guinness, breathing God’s fresh air and pulling lunch out of a lake, or a river, every weekend. Abbey Life of course had different ideas, well; when I say Abbey Life, I mean the cretins that worked for the company. I couldn’t believe that these people would refer to themselves as ‘professionals’, the word had a different meaning to me. One week training in Bournemouth, with traffic directing, mascara wearing, Special Forces don’t tell anyone, weirdoes from all over the world, does not a professional make. I was in special forces for God’s sake, you never see me talk about it. In fact the most successful guy in the Ipswich office did not know what he was doing. I’m being serious. He wore a brown Parka jacket, you know the ones with the fur around the hood, and he drove a small blue moped.
I had been out and about selling a couple of policies here and there. I took it as quite a privilege that someone would trust you enough to give you access to their personal finances. But I could see that my mathematical abilities could be brought to good use and I was happy with that. I genuinely thought that I was doing the right thing; I was helping people and earning some money at the same time. Abbey Life did not have the same approach as I did. The world of insurance, mortgages, pensions and investments is a very simple straight forward process that is until you let people get involved. You know those types of geniuses that hang around bars and know everything about football or trash television. I considered myself lucky enough to actually understand the whole thing; unfortunately I was only one of a handful of people in the country.
Life insurance is basically a bet, a gamble, a wager. That’s all you need to understand. Say for example you have a standard nuclear family, mum, dad, and the two point four kids. Dad is usually the wage earner and mum stays at home bringing up the kids. If dad is taken out of the equation, the job of insurance is to replace his earnings, ad infinitum in a perfect world, well; in a perfect world I suppose the dad wouldn’t die. So if dad is earning twenty thousand a year and the average interest rates are five percent, then you need to invest a lump sum of four hundred thousand, so that at five percent interest, you will get twenty thousand a year, each and every year thereafter. So, on the first day of each month, you go to an insurance company and say, ‘I bet you that I will not die this month, what odds will you give me?’ You say you want a four hundred thousand pound pay out and the insurance company says that will be seven pounds. What’s so difficult about that?
Well the problem was that at the time the only thing people were experts in were endowment policies, so that many people didn’t understand that insurance was a pure and simple gamble and they expected a lump sum at the end of the term. People would discuss at length which company would give the best return over a number of years, which of course was horse shit. I came back in to the office one day and had just sold a small savings plan. It was what the client needed or best suited their needs at that time. Jack glanced over the paperwork. “You’ve just earned fifty quid,” he said. “I know,” I smiled. “But if you had sold them a pension you would have earned three hundred and fifty quid.” “But they didn’t need a pension,” I said, to which Jack replied. “So what? Would you rather have three hundred and fifty quid or fifty?”
Everything then fell into place for me. These ’professionals’ some of whom really didn’t know what they were doing, were not actually trying to help people, they were trying to line their own pockets. I was quite embarrassed to find myself a part of such a gimmick, but knew that it was not in my DNA to rip people off. Roll on Ireland and the spectacle frames. Tony, as an optician, was involved in sales, so I would often talk to him about my concerns. He explained that you had to find a balance, that this is what business was all about. I really couldn’t understand the concept, how could being untruthful or conniving be acceptable? I was going into business not politics. Life insurance salesmen were not welcome on most military establishments and suddenly I could see why. I was starting to feel quite uncomfortable with Abbey Life, which is probably why they sent me off to get my investment licence.
I know I have often said that I love mathematics, in a nerdy sort of way, so I was looking forward to this investment course. This was at a time when all people talked about was investments and buying stocks and shares, I suppose it made a change from football or the topless models on page three, but it was just as mesmerizingly stupid. It was also about the time that people stopped buying houses; people would now invest in property. Of course no one really knew what they were talking about, but as long as you wore gaudy coloured spectacle frames, red braces, had a Filofax and spoke into a portable brick, you were a yuppie. I refused to become a yuppie because for a good ol boy it would be like throwing holy water in the face of a vampire. Someone had asked to become team leader and I had been put on their team. They were now responsible for my training and performance. I never thought I would ever meet someone more stupid than Joe Pearson, but I promise you this guy was.
First off, according to my new leader, I had to buy a couple of suits, so that I would present a professional demeanour to potential clients. People trusted salesmen in suits; it was a part of your business armoury. Knowing how to count to ten without using your fingers might have been better for them to concentrate on with the others and their armouries. I was quite happy with the way I presented myself. I had a huge, light brown, duffle coat and a blue briefcase. I know I looked like Paddington Bear, although to be fair, Paddington had a blue coat and brown case, but I felt comfortable and people would never think I was a spiv. Like Paddington, I was a bloody foreigner; always polite, and well-meaning, with an endless capacity for getting into trouble. But when I opened my briefcase they knew I wasn’t pulling out silk stockings governor.
I have to admit that I felt comfortable in a nice suit and a decent pair of shoes, but I preferred to wrap myself up in my duffle coat. All my new leader was missing was a ducks arse and a trilby, he already had the tie, the slicked back hair, the Clarke Gable moustache, the suffocating suit and wet look shoes. We spent a couple of days at a hotel in Chelmsford, studying for our investment licences, and I hated the course. The weather was extremely hot and the instructors seemed to drone on and on. The hardest part of the course was staying awake. My new leader wouldn’t allow any of us to drink alcohol during lunch; he forced us to eat solids, so it was quite a drab and serious affair.
The good news was that I passed, well, passed with flying colours and was the highest scorer in the final exam in the company. They had great hopes for me but I was thinking along different lines. I felt that the people in the armed forces were losing out, because of their aversion to life insurance salesmen they really were missing out. But, in my opinion, their aversion was completely validated. If only someone could break through that barrier, if someone could come up with a plan for the navy, army and air force, a plan that was decent and truthful and honest and put the members of the armed forces to the fore, that person would become very successful indeed, and simply for telling the truth. But what sort of a person could come up with an idea like that. First of all they would have to be a bit crazy, a bit of a maths nerd, probably have the loveliest legs in Ireland too or something along those lines. Such a person would have to be a fine upstanding fellow indeed. Could such a person actually exist? What do you think?