Our Philip: “An indescribable feeling”

Philip Pears, Savings and Retirement Client Relationships Manager, on first steps and giggles after devastation.

Trigger warning: this article references pregnancy loss which may be upsetting for some. Please consider the potential impact on your own wellbeing before reading. 

Philip Pears, Savings and Retirement Client Relationships Manager, on first steps and giggles after devastation. 

One moment I’ll be in a meeting with a chocolate factory manufacturer, the next I’ll be talking governance with a biotech organisation.

I look after our corporate workplace pension clients, and my job is really all about trust.

This week, I’ve been sharing posters, banners, and flyers for clients’ employees. Some are office-based so emails, online seminars and videos work great. Others, like manufacturers, need physical materials.  

These materials could be about registering your pension, projecting its future value, or updating personal information. Managing your pension is so important - one day that money is going to provide for you in retirement.

On being ready for anything

I had no plans for what I would be growing up. I did a degree in politics and international relations. After that, I worked as a barista – occasionally those skills still come in handy to show off to guests. Then I worked at John Lewis before catching my break in the world of pensions.

I spent two and a half years at Hargreaves Lansdown on the pensions helpdesk. We had these big billboards that said the number of calls waiting and how long they’d been waiting. There was a lot of pressure to answer in seconds, and I had to be ready to deal with absolutely anything.

At the end of tax year there was always a rush of activity, so we extended our working hours. There was lot of camaraderie and jokes and about people trying to pay £40,000 into a pension at midnight. On those nights I could easily take last-minute contributions of more than £100,000 in a few hours.

Then there was the Royal Mail IPO. An IPO - initial public offering - is when a private company offers shares to the public. This one was widely promoted in the media. On the day it went live, so many people wanted to trade shares, our phone lines and website melted down. It was all hands on deck.

We ordered pizza and huge boxes of doughnuts did the rounds. It was tough, but I learned a lot. And if anyone ever said it was too hard, I’d say, ‘Try working New Year’s Day at John Lewis’.

On 10-second commutes

I'm a carer for my wife, Katrina. She has myalgic encephalomyelitis, which most people know as ME. At university, she was a climber, hiker, swimmer… while I enjoyed video games, books, and fast food.

Left: Philip and Katrina / Right: Philip and Katrina Scuba-diving
Philip and Katrina
Philip, Katrina and Sofia playing at home
Philip, Katrina and Sofia playing at home

By the time we got married, her health had started to deteriorate and now she uses a wheelchair.  We've taken that wheelchair to the streets of Singapore, and to the rain forests of Indonesia.

Being a carer, it really helps that on homeworking days, I can commute to my desk in 10 seconds. And those hours I would’ve spent commuting, I get to spend them with my family.

On first steps and giggles

Our little girl, Sofia, is nearly eleven months. When she was born, I took six months’ paid parental leave plus four weeks’ holiday. The number of UK businesses that offer equal parental leave, you could probably count them on one hand.

Philip and Sofia

I can't say I enjoyed the sleepless nights, but I was there for the milestones. The first steps. The first giggles. The first full night’s sleep (well, four hours). I got to do all that without worrying about getting enough sleep for work the next day.

It’s a cliché but the greatest day of my life was the first day of Sofia’s. Every day since, I’ve been able to see her develop as a person and I’ve been there for my family – that’s an indescribable feeling.

Sofia on Philip's shoulders in the rotunda in our Bristol office
Sofia on Philip's shoulders in the rotunda in our Bristol office

My own dad got one day of parental leave. I didn’t see him a lot growing up because he was always at work. Look how far we’ve come. When you think about the gender bias of women staying home with children, this is Aviva saying, ‘No, we treat people equally’.

Coming back to work was almost like starting afresh. I had to catch up with new legislation, new technology, rebuild relationships with my clients. Despite the challenges, I’d encourage any new dad to take off as much time as they can in those precious first few weeks and months.

On never forgetting

At the 12-week scan of my wife’s first pregnancy, we got the devastating news that the foetus had a rare chromosome abnormality. We lost that pregnancy at 20 weeks and held a burial in our garden. After getting to 12 weeks, seeing the scan, thinking everything was ok… it was incredibly difficult.

The wait time for NHS (National Health Service) support was at least 12 weeks for priority cases like ours. But through our Employee Assistance Programme, I was able to talk to someone during that difficult time, and so was my wife.

I was incredibly moved, too, by the support of my manager and team. I’ll never forget it. I work with some fantastic people who are always there for each other.

On hopes and dreams

After everything we’ve been through together, I'm very proud of Katrina. As well as being a full-time mum, she supports the ME Association and other charities.  

Like a lot of new parents, I'm investing my hopes and dreams in my baby girl. The best days of my life are going to be alongside her as she grows up and experiences the world. So, I’m proud to work for a company that that plays its part and tries to lead the way – for the future.

Philip walking with Sofia in our Bristol office
Philip walking with Sofia in our Bristol office

Aviva’s ambitions to become Net Zero by 2040, to shift the financial industry towards a more sustainable future – that’s how we are trying to build a better tomorrow. And to think we were in the room when the Paris Agreement happened, what a great story that is.

On the future

Since coming back from parental leave, I want to push myself and take on more responsibilities. I want to continue to thrive and grow as a person, and help our corporate clients thrive and grow. If I can help more people think about their retirement, their future – that means a lot to me.

There are loads of opportunities to do that in my work – it’s hugely varied. From helping a single client going through restructure to meeting lots of clients and employees at workplace benefits fairs.

Outside work, I write. After Sofia was first born, when she was sleeping, I would write. Maybe one day I'll write a novel and dedicate it to her. I'd rather try and regret it, than not try and regret it.


Support link: www.sands.org.uk - Sands offer bereavement support for people who've been affected by the loss of a baby before, during or soon after birth. 

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