Tim Howkins is eagerly awaiting the advent of Europe's single financial services market

A day in the life of: Tim Hawkins, chief executive of the spread-betting company IG

By James Moore, The Independent

8.20 am

Given the sorry state of Britain's summer it's a relief to IG's chief executive, Tim Howkins, that he can, at least on this day, take the brisk 15 minute walk from Blackfriars Station to IG Group's offices in Southwark without getting soaked.

His first job is to take a conference call with the company's rapidly expanding offices in Singapore and Australia. Mr Howkins says the Australian operation in particular has been a big success for the company, with revenues up by 50 per cent compared with the previous year and 600 to 700 accounts being opened every month. The Australians, it seems, have taken to financial punting with the same sort of enthusiasm they have for sports betting. Per head, they are the world's biggest gamblers.

"I want to find out what is working and what is not and what the regulatory developments have been. The time difference means the call is always done first thing, because the start of the day for us is the end of the day for them," Mr Howkins explains. "Singapore is a smaller market because of the smaller population but we are pleased with how things are going."


Mr Howkins, 44, has been out of the office for much of the previous fortnight on investor road shows, so he takes half an hour to catch up with various people at IG. His glass-panelled office provides a view on to the main dealing room, which means he always has a feel for the level of activity. It's been busy during the past few days because markets have been extremely volatile. This makes many people in the City shudder, but is good news for spread-betting companies because speculators who trade with spread bets or contracts for difference love volatile markets. It will be quieter in a similar room housing the smaller sports business because there is not sport on at this time in the morning, and this makes it a good time to have visitors. "It can get a bit embarrassing if they come at the wrong time because it will always be then that they'll have beach volleyball on," he explains.


The most important meeting of the day kicks off. It covers the new technology platform IG is installing and the impact of the European Mifid directive, which aims to create a single market in financial services and will tear down some of the irksome rules that have hindered the company from developing in Europe's biggest markets. With Mr Howkins are senior people from sales, marketing, IT and, crucially, a lawyer.

IG is known as a spread-betting company in the UK, but in most of the rest of the world its main product is contracts for difference. The differences are largely technical but in Britain the former attracts no capital gains tax because it is classed as gambling, whereas the latter does. This is perhaps because those who trade the financial markets outside the UK tend not to associate taking positions in financial markets with "betting" and so, with no tax advantage to spread betting, that latter dominates. Mifid might sound like a horribly complicated piece of Eurocracy but Mr Howkins says: "One unalloyed bit of good news is that it opens up the whole of Europe to us. Pre Mifid, each member state had their own conditions of business rules so, for example, each CFD in the Netherlands had to have its own prospectus and there was no commission allowed, you had to use spreads. In other places, you couldn't advertise, for example. But from 1 November, Europe becomes a single market and all that nonsense goes away."

There is a certain irony in such sentiments being expressed by the boss of IG given that the company's founder (now no longer with the business) is the legendary gambler and fervent Conservative Eurosceptic Sir Stuart Wheeler. To capitalise on Mifid, Mr Howkins says, IG plans to have offices in Spain and France within three to four months. Combined with its existing businesses in the UK, Germany and Italy, they will give his company a presence in all Europe's "big five" markets. "In eight or nine years we could have businesses in eight or nine countries, all of a similar size to the UK."


Mr Howkins catches up with his personal assistant to go through the rest of the day prior to lunch with the sales director of the Australian business, who is in Britain on holiday. The two are to meet at Livebait, one of the Mr Howkins favourite lunch venues. Mr Howkins is passionate about his food "as you can probably see by looking at me", he says, and counts cooking as one of his main interests outside work.


A major shareholder from a competitor has stopped by for a catch up. "It's a good way of finding out what's going on and discussing industry issues," says Mr Howkins.

"It's the first time he has been here so I show him around the building. Generally when we have visitors, they like to see the dealing floors." Fortunately for Mr Howkins, there is no beach volleyball being played anywhere to embarrass him.


Mr Howkins meets up with the company's head of UK marketing. IG tends to concentrate its advertising in specialist investor magazines, which are read by the sort of people who are attracted to the benefits of spread betting. With the advantage of being tax free, and not liable for the stamp duty that the Government levies on buying and selling shares, it can be highly attractive to regular traders. Mr Howkins says they also discuss the less regular advertisements in the personal finance sections of national newspapers. "We wouldn't do that in Germany at the moment, for example, because you have to get established first for it to work, so there we would stick to the specialist publications."


It is an unusually early finish for Mr Howkins, largely because his sister is visiting. "I'm cooking for her and the family so I want to get away early. Usually I won't leave until 6.30pm at the earliest," Mr Howkins says. Tonight, he plans to prepare a pork stroganoff - his signature dish.

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