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Changing of the Guardian

Impossible to tell from my (ahem) youthfuI good looks, but I’m old enough to remember writing about Guardian Royal Exchange when it was a major player in both the UK’s insurance and pensions market.

Back in the day one of its brands, Guardian Direct, boasted an owl in its logo. What’s more, whenever customers rang up the company they were encouraged to imitate it. Don’t believe me? Take a squint at this TV ad. The phone number was 0800 28 28 20, or tu-whit, tu-whit, tu-whoo. Geddit?!

Anyway, fast forward 20 years or more and those of you with strigiform (look it up) knowledge of financial services will now be aware that Guardian’s “heritage insurance” brand has been revamped in recent months. The new incarnation of the company is making inroads in the UK’s life insurance and protection market by selling its wares through financial advisers only.

The other day, I happened to find myself chewing the cud with Katya MacLean, Guardian’s recently-appointed chief operating officer. Being a curious soul, I asked her about Guardian’s new ownership structure. Her response prompted a blast from the past.

The Guardian name’s now in the hands of entrepreneurial start-up company Gryphon Group Holdings whose major investor is Punter Southall Group. Nowadays, Punter Southall’s interests extend to a whole range of financial companies and services including asset managers Psigma Investment Management and data analysts Camradata.

All of which marks quite a journey for the organisation that had its roots in the late 1980s as the consulting actuaries Punter Southall Kerr. Unlike their professional rivals, they were always good for a pithy quote – useful for yours truly as a clueless journalist new to covering the bizarre world of pensions. The PSK launch party was one of the first press bashes I ever attended, at, if memory serves correctly what used to be the Danish Club in Knightsbridge.

That was then: owls of laughter