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Wednesday, 17th April 2024
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As general manager, group planning and marketing, at Friends First, a typical day in the life for John Cunningham involves monitoring Friends First’s marketing strategy and dealing with compliance issues, as well as getting involved in securities lending firm Guild Global Securities, of which he is vice-chairman.
7.15am This is getting up time. Before the children arrived I would be up and out of the house within 20 minutes. Now with ‘domestic’ duties to attend to, I manage to get on the road for about 8.15am. We recently relocated our offices from Adelaide Road to Cherrywood Science and Technology Park in Loughlinstown - my commute from Ranelagh takes anything between 20 and 40 minutes.

8.45am The first thing I do is to catch up on any over night or outstanding e-mails, mind you with my Blackberry wireless, I am almost permanently accessible. Then with a mug of tea in hand, I scan the business pages of the Times, Indo, Examiner and FT. This takes no more than 10-15 minutes.

9.30am I sit down with Orla my PA and go through my diary for the week and identify the important meetings that require preparation or supporting papers. This week I have a board meeting of Guild Global Securities Lending in the IFSC, a partially owned subsidiary of Friends First, of which I am vice chairman. In advance of the meeting I need to study the board papers and prepare the report of the remuneration committee. Guild is now established as a leader in independent third party securities lending in Europe. Guild takes up about 20 - 25 per cent of my time and will take up more over the coming months as there are a number of important developments taking place. I work closely with Hans Beckmann, MD of Guild, in the development of the business. As I am going to be in town for the meeting I have arranged for myself and Philip Kilmartin, head of Friends First International,(our third party administration business), to catch up with a client with whom we are in the latter stages of embarking on a new project.

10.00am I have a meeting with John O’Dwyer, MD of our life company to go through the details of the next phase of our E-transformation project and a review of a number of new sales initiatives. E-transformation is one of the most important projects happening within Friends First Life company at the moment. We are in pilot phase for a new access system for brokers that will transform how they can deal with us. It has benefits for all parties involved.

11.30am My previous meeting has overrun so my weekly meeting with my marketing management team kicks off late at 11.30. I meet with Paul Hurley, group marketing manager and Mark Woods, strategy and planning manager. We go through the current key activities and signoff on a few outstanding issues. Paul presented the final media plan for our new TV ad. We spend at least half the meeting discussing the mid year strategic review we are about to commence. We are due to meet with Eureko, our parent company, in Amsterdam in three weeks time - this is always an important meeting. Again we try and make our travel as efficient as possible so we have also arranged the quarterly Eureko Communications group meeting on the same day - I sit on this group and we meet once a quarter.

1.00pm We finish the meeting and go to lunch. One of the benefits of our new premises is that we have a very good in-house restaurant.

2.15pm Return to the desk and catch up on the emails and morning telephone calls. I have two issues that I have to follow up on immediately. One relates to the pricing of a proposal that has been put to a potential partner for our creditor payment proposition - Friends First Creditor Life is a developmental business we set up last year. I resolve the problem and email the response. The second issue relates to a meeting we have with a new distribution partner for our protection and pension products, we have a meeting in 10 days and are working towards sign-off on a service agreement there is an 11th hour challenge to reach ‘consensus’ on a key service issue.

This meeting-free part of the day provides a chance to read in more detail the IFSRA report circulated to all financial services companies recently. It has major implications for us - it prompts a mail from me to Sean Wade our company secretary and head of compliance with a dozen points for clarification. With the new regulator now in place we are coming to terms with the implications of the details we have received. Compliance is a major issue for our industry and is taken very seriously in Friends First where we pay close attention to the rules and regulations. Being ‘free’ for a few minutes has its disadvantages as I have also had about half a dozen people stick their heads in the door for a ‘quick question’.

3.30pm Following the meeting earlier in the day regarding the strategy review, I have a meeting with our CFO and CEO to clarify a few issues. The current market conditions are clearly affecting our view of the future and we must take this into account when we sit down to do the half-year review. We try and be innovative when it comes to identifying and creating new opportunities in the market for our products. We are currently working very hard, repositioning our PHI (Permanent Health Insurance) product in the market - we are already seeing the benefits to the bottom line. We are done and dusted by 4.00pm

4.00pm Back to my office and e-mail catch-up again. I have no meeting until 5 o’clock so I take some time out to check my activity list and return a few telephone calls. I find that the use of e-mail has greatly reduced the number of calls I have to make. I drop down to John O’Dwyer again to talk about how the sales of our current tracker bond is going and catch up on a few other issues that have cropped up.

5.00pm Hans Beckmann, MD of Guild, arrives in Friends First to discuss the forthcoming board meeting. There are no major issues to resolve, just the standard reporting for this meeting. Hans leaves at 6.10.

6.10pm My final look at e-mails for today. Check the diary for tomorrow and tidy up the desk. I leave the office at 6.40pm. Traffic flows relatively freely as I drive the 9 miles into the city. I am a director of a charity called Social Innovations Ireland, an NGO set up by Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy. We have a board meeting in Dorset Street at 7.30pm so my journey takes me right across town!

9.15pm Arrive home, the children are in bed and there’s time for a quick bite and a glass of wine as I catch up on the day’s activities with Audrey. This daily unwind is important for each of us.

11.30pm Time to hit the pillow where I generally sleep like a log. Tomorrow another day in the Friends First Group awaits, which will inevitably be as varied and unpredictable as ever - who wouldn’t love it!

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