Profile: Evelyn Bourke, CFO of Friends Provident

Profile: Evelyn Bourke, CFO of Friends Provident

The takeover of Friends Provident has only just been finalised, but CFO Evelyn Bourke is already building an insurance superbrand

Very unusually for someone at her level and with her experience, Evelyn
Bourke is clearly uncomfortable posing for photos. Her stiff grimace and
rod-straight posture risk giving the shots a harshness verging on unkind.

But the spotlight is precisely where Bourke has been since August this year,
when, four months after joining Friends Provident as CFO, the pensions group
agreed to be acquired by Clive Cowdery’s Resolution for £1.8bn. The deal saw
Friends delisted, superceded in the FTSE 100 by Resolution and reborn as its
first privately-owned subsidiary, Friends Provident Holdings.

Cowdery’s long-held dream of building a super-sized life and pensions giant
by buying up other major players in the market has stepped on to the road to
reality with the Friends acquisition. The aim in the next couple of years is to
bolt some of those onto Friends – and exit with a very tidy profit.

As Resolution got its deal on the second try (the first bid in 2007 by its
previous incarnation, Resolution plc, fell through when Standard Life tabled an
offer for Resolution. The deal fell through and Resolution was bought by Pearl
Group in 2008 – Cowdery set up the new Resolution shortly afterwards), Friends
got to be at the front of inevitable industry consolidation and Bourke landed
one of the UK’s most exciting and multi-faceted finance jobs. “We get to be the
platform, we get to set the model for the future,” she says.

She continues to look after a 250-strong finance team and 50 risk and
compliance staff, and she joined the holding company’s operating board on 5
November alongside CEO Trevor Matthews, who she followed from Standard Life
where they were CFO and CEO respectively until mid-2008. But the CFO role is
merely the nucleus of a much more influential position she has acquired.

As a member of Resolution’s Life Consolidation Advisory Group she is tasked
with reviewing potential acquisition targets, working out how they might fit
with Friends and where the value will be in the merged entity. In that, she will
work closely with the Resolution team, including Cowdery, ex-Financial Services
Authority chief executive John Tiner, CFO Jim Newman and head of mergers and
acquisitions Ian Maidens (who, along with the rest, are also the owners of
Resolution Operations, to which the advisory group reports).

Setting out how she will make the finance function a leading facilitator in
Cowdery’s big idea gets her going. Eyes light up, arms uncross and start to
gesticulate. “Where it gets really exciting is when the next acquisition comes
along because that will require analysis, evaluation of how the companies fit
together, putting together detailed plans on how you might integrate things and
at what pace you integrate – if you do integrate,” she says.

Wide-ranging experience

While she won’t comment on rumours that Resolution is preparing a New Year
approach to Lloyds Banking Group-owned Clerical Medical, Bourke says that
Cowdery’s Guernsey-domiciled business is “keen to make at least one thing happen
in 2010”. “The most exciting part of the role is really driving the business
performance, identifying where there might be synergies, market opportunities or
opportunities to do deals that increase new business. It’s understanding what
profitability you can deliver from this business, how you can improve it,
identifying ways you can make the balance sheet work better for the company and
the shareholders.”

This is her third CFO or FD job – she was made group FD at St Jame’s Place
insurance spin-off, Nascent, in 2001, before becoming COO, and was promoted into
the CFO role at Standard Life Financial Services from group actuarial director.
Switching to a mini-career in board-level financial services consulting before
joining Chase de Vere Financial Services as managing director in 2004, shows she
has an entrepreneurial flair that many FDs may lack, while having joined
Standard Life in 2005 as group strategy and planning director gives her the
breadth of grown up, non-financial management experience that will bear fruit in
her current role. Formative years at Tillinghast Towers Perrin, where she became
a principal and spent a lot of time covering M&A deals, are also useful. “I
was often at the table when those transactions were being conceived and
negotiated and was often closely involved in the due diligence,” she says. “But
I didn’t have that much direct involvement with the post-merger integration
stuff, the real heavy lifting about how to combine organisations.”

In the driving seat

That will happen at Friends. Her ambition is to re-list the enlarged Friends
as its chief executive. “I hanker after a CEO role and certainly want to be a
candidate for it,” Bourke admits. “It’s where you get the maximum opportunity to
shape things. You’re in the driving seat. It’s also clearly the highest risk
[role] because you are even more in the firing line than the CFO,” she admits.
“That’s something that’s still an unfulfilled desire. It would be very
rewarding, having been part of Friends’ de-listing, to take it back to the
market a stronger and more formidable player, to see it through.”

She may also empathise with Cowdery, Tiner and Maidens by way of questions
over their professional reputations. Tiner has come under fire following the
report into the FSA’s handling of Northern Rock’s demise while he was head of
the regulator. An FSA investigation this March looked into ‘certain actions’ it
said Cowdery, Maidens and Newman had undertaken between October 2007 and May
2008 pertaining to Resolution plc’s takeover by Pearl. It did not disclose what
the actions were, but concluded the investigation this summer with no action
taken. Resolution’s acquisition of Friends was then cleared by the regulator.

Bourke has had some mud flung her way, too. Amid speculation over who might
take up Sandy Crombie’s seat at Standard Life, there were suggestions that she
had somehow failed to spot the “serious monitoring and record-keeping
inadequacies” the FSA fined St James’s Place £250,000 for in 2003, two months
after she took on a role as a consultant to the company’s chairman and CEO.

A £1.1m fine imposed by the regulator on AWD Chase De Vere in 2008 for
“serious failings in its pension transfer, pension annuity and income withdrawal
business that resulted in mis-selling” between February 2006 and October 2007
threatened her otherwise good reputation. Even though the time period in
question was two years after her departure, things like that can be damaging in
an age of heightened reputational risk.

You could argue that experience of managing trickier situations creates the
kind of vibrant leadership one would hope to see in a post-crunch environment.
Joining Nascent was a career highlight, says Bourke, for the sheer learning
opportunity – and for the experience of winding it up when market forces turned
against it.

“You learn a huge amount from winding up a business. It’s extremely
revealing. You realise there are all these things that crawl out of the
woodwork, which you feel if you’d known about upfront, you’d never have let it
happen – contracts which look fairly benign in a going concern situation often
have all these clauses which kick in and start to be critically punitive in a
wind-down situation.”

The CFO job remains her day-to-day responsibility among all the excitement
and headlines. But, talking about the relationship between herself and fellow
actuary Matthews, it’s clear the lines between their roles are very blurred,
especially as someone of her experience would be wasted boxed into the chief
beancounter job.

“Trevor has a greater reach operationally than I would have and probably more
regular interaction with the sales guys and the folk driving different parts of
the business on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, he leads the strategy di
scussion at board level and I complement him by being able to articulate the
financial consequences. But both strategy and the financial consequences of
strategy are something we’re both very engaged in,” she explains.

“It’s not a black and white separation. More of a continuum,” she quips. “Two
sides of the same coin.”

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in sister
publication Financial Director’s December issue


It’s a fairly safe bet that Resolution will look to pull off a big move
in 2010, so Aviva, Legal & General, Old Mutual, the Prudential and Standard
Life will be watching their backs. Standard Life, in particular, may be feeling
vulnerable since Friends’ CEO Matthews was CEO of its principal operating
business until mid-2008 while Bourke was its UK financial services CFO until her
resignation last November and the pair worked very closely together. She has
worked equally closely with Standard Life’s CEO-designate, CFO David Nish and as
Resolution plc was almost gobbled by it three years ago, Cowdery knows it well.
Friends’ board also has first-hand inside knowledge of Legal & General by
way of independent director Robin Phipps’ time as an executive director there.

Interestingly, all six of these companies installed new FDs or CFOs in
the past year, with the new hires mostly coming from those same six companies.
Bourke’s appointment came at the same time the Pru’s FD Philip Broadley departed
for Old Mutual, while Norwich Union’s Nic Nicandrou took over at the Pru this
October as Willis CFO Patrick Regan joined Aviva. David Nish’s deputy CFO Jackie
Hunt was made interim group CFO at Standard Life in November.


Name: Evelyn Bourke

Qualifications: Fellow of the Institute of Actuaries; MBA (Distinction)



CFO, Friends Provident Holdings (UK) Limited/Friends Provident


Group strategy and planning director, Standard Life

Group actuarial director/CFO, Standard Life Financial Services 2004
Managing director, Chase de Vere Financial Services; Director, Moreda Consulting


Group finance director/CFO, Nascent Life


Trainee actuary, Lifetime Assurance Bank of Ireland


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