And now for something completely different – Zurich’s IGC statement

Laurie

Laurie Edmans

Zurich’s IGC Chair Statement  was published 18th March, nearly three weeks before the publication of this blog. You can find it by going here https://www.zurich.co.uk/en/about-us/media-centre/life-news/2016/independent-governance-committee-publishes-its-first-report. Navigate through the press release and you get another page of corporate waffle https://www.zurich.co.uk/en/about-us/independent-governance-committee and finally at the bottom of the page you get to the link to the report itself

I’m showing you the full URLs to demonstrate the frustration I am having getting hold of the information that is supposed to be transforming the way we see our workplace pensions.

If Zurich is (as Laurie Edmans- the IGC chair says it is) fully co-operating with the IGC, why am I – an interested policyholder having to work so hard to find it?

I will declare an interest, I worked at Zurich for ten years and I know the high standards of their workplace pension team. I know Jim Sykes, Simon Foster and I have reported to David Sims and Gary Shaughnessey. And I know Laurie Edmans; the IGC will not be a paper tiger, but it might as well be, for all the publicity it is being given by the organisation who is funding the IGC.

Come on Zurich, if this job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well, you are spoiling the ship for a halfpenny  worth of tar! You cannot find this report in the pension and retirement section of zurich.co.uk and when you get to it, (in the media section) it is dressed up in Zurich’s corporate liveries (complete with gruesome stock image) making it look and feel like a corporate brochure.


 

Completely different?

Well yes it is, and it is taking a lot of trust on my behalf to believe that the bold claims of the IGC report will materialise into something constructive next year.

I’m taking that leap of faith because the Zurich IGC Committee is unique in not being packed with company stooges and comprising a genuinely diverse range of men and women whose primary interest is in consumers getting value for money.

So instead of deciding between themselves (or in meetings with other IGCs) what the definition of value for money should be, they’ve decided to go and ask the people who invest in Zurich policies what they think.

If this happens, and the IGC seem pretty determined it will, then I look forward to reading the 2016 report and any interim stuff that Laurie’s team puts out. Applying what customers want to what Zurich does seems a very worthwhile activity.

This approach is completely different and it gets a thumbs up from me, even though the report makes no statement about what the IGC consider to be value for money at all!


 

Tone

I worry about words, perhaps too much, this report veers between the personal and the corporate like a storm-tossed ship. At its best the report adopts a personal tone which I recognise as the voice of the chair but this is tarnished by lapses into corporate speak which mirror the report’s presentation. The words “evaluate” “core” and “focus” have their place in the corporate world but they are incongruous in this context.

I’d like future reports to be proof read to take out the corporate tone so that the message of consumer championship is consistent with what members read. This perhaps extends the general moan at the start of the blog to include the tone of voice of the document itself.

Laurie should sit in a darkened room and read the Phoenix report – where the tone is right.


 

Is the report showing the IGC to be effective?

The report is very short ( at only 5 pages the shortest of the 11 I’ve read so far). It is also the least detailed. There are no numbers and no percentages, there is very little talk of life-styling, of default options and though there is a glossary, I never felt intimidated by technical matters.

Clearly the IGC has spent much of last year getting up to speed with how workplace pensions work and some about how Zurich works but the changes made by Zurich have been “evaluated”, not “initiated” by the IGCs. Have those changes been evaluated rigorously and should I as a policyholder be comforted that my Zurich legacy pension is being properly treated? As I say throughout this blog- I have to take it on trust.


 

Overall assessment

For having a genuinely consumer focussed approach and leaving the decision on what is value for money to policyholders I am giving Zurich a green on value for money. It said it best when it said nothing at all!

The reports tone and lay-out is inconsistent with its aims and while the report still reads like the work of Laurie Edmans- it is really too close to Zurich’s style for it to really feel like an independent document. I will give it an amber, though I was tempted to go to red.

In terms of its effectiveness, this is the least boastful report I have read, there is a real sense of the committee taking Zurich’s word for it which is consistent with the Committee’s independence (but also inexperience). It’s not an effective report though I sense that Zurich are an effective company.

Zurich’s peer group includes BlackRock and Fidelity – all organisations that pitch to larger employers with bigger pension budgets. I think that these employers should expect a higher degree of engagement in investment matters going forward and the complete absence of any meaningful engagement with the issues surrounding investment is a failing.

My assessment of the effectiveness of the report is an amber– but again tending towards red.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen, Director of First Actuarial, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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