Does Aegon’s IGC deliver “what matters most to us”?

Aegon’s IGC Chair Statement has been published , you can read it here

Helpfully Ian Pittaway and Helen Parker have a conversation on the IGC’s activities on the video. Unfortunately, video has a habit of turning lawyers into marketing people and the report is rather more robust in its treatment of Aegon than Ian’s comments might have you suppose.

Aegon are rolling out personal video summaries to members in 2020. It’s good to see a provider getting involved in delivering information in a digital format and in a way people are used to. This is more than “social media”, it is “business media”.

Watching the video is also a useful way in to the report as what you are hearing is the actual tone of voice of Ian Pittaway, who authors  what you read.


Tone and structure

Having given themselves a head-start with the video, the report sets out with bold intent

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The trouble with the slogan is in the ambiguity, is the report assessing VFM or delivering it?

What tends to happen with Aegon IGC reports has happened again and the headline splattered over the Chair’s statement is little more than a marketing opportunity for Ronnie Taylor , Aegon’s Chief Distribution Officer, who is on the IGC Committee.

And what then happens is that when something terrible happens, as is happening right now, it is really hard for the IGC to turn round and point out that something has gone wrong. What has gone wrong right now at Aegon is that the disaster recovery system hasn’t fully worked and two and a half weeks after Aegon closed its office after an employee showed symptoms, Aegon can not take inbound calls to its call centres.

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I’ve spoken to Ronnie Taylor about this and I know that Aegon are taking this very seriously- it is their most vulnerable customers who need to use phones, those who aren’t web-savvy but those worried about their savings at a time when the market is all over the place.

And Aegon are putting in place means that allow them to call you, if you ask them to

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But the bottom line, that like other large providers, the member support system has simply not coped with the disaster, the recovery system has at leas in part – failed.

So when people phone Aegon , they cannot get through and when it matters most , they can’t even get the  value of their savings.

By adopting the congratulatory tone  that characterises his Statement, Ian Pittaway compromises his capacity to admonish, he finds it hard to  support the vulnerable members because he must defend his own assessment.

During 2019,  Aegon announced plans to partner with the customer services company Atos who now provide the servicing and administration to its Existing Business customers. The report states

Aegon remains fully accountable and responsible for all Existing Business customers,

The assessment of the service levels provided by Asos suggested a green traffic light, the same traffic light given Aegon in 2018 and the IGC writes in April 2020

We carried out a detailed review of the Customer Service areas across Aegon and the arrangements that are in place with Atos to provide services to Existing Business customers. We are satisfied that Aegon is meeting the service standards you expect and pleased to see further improvement in the Net Promoter Score (NPS) which reflect how you feel about the service you are getting. Outcome – GREEN – Overall we are satisfied that Aegon is meeting your service needs and is well positioned to maintain this throughout 2020.

This is the problem with the wrong tone and I fear that the structure of the report has meant that this assessment could not be withdrawn. In my opinion, not being able to take incoming telephone calls at this crucial time is a major failure.

For all the innovation around the video , the tone of voice is wrong and  I can only give this statement an amber for tone and structure.


Effectiveness

The IGC has been talking with employers about what they want from Aegon. We learn that

one of the key themes emerging from each meeting was the increasing level of interest in ESG matters and how providers such as Aegon take them into account in their day to day activities, their products and the funds they offer.

The IGC has also been talking  with  key members of the Aegon Workplace Distribution and the Client Service Management team to better understand the key topics that employers and advisers are raising with Aegon.

The key themes have been consistent throughout the year with employers focusing on employee engagement, financial wellbeing for employees and concerns around the impact of Brexit

The IGC  also invited 10,000 customers aged 50-65 to respond to a series of questions about their retirement journey. These were all customers without an adviser and not yet fully retired.

The responses from around 2,000 customers confirmed:

• Pension choices still confuse a large number of customers which is likely to make them defer decisions on how to take an income.

• Taking a cash lump sum and buying an annuity are the options customers are most likely to understand. Information campaigns on what the draw down of regular income means will be required to ensure people weigh up all their options and make the right choice for them.

• The majority of customers agree with helping people without advisers make an initial decision and then setting them on a default investment pathway.

I am very sceptical about all this. It strikes me that the IGC is hearing fro its various stakeholders, precisely what the FCA wants it to hear, namely that Aegon should be putting more effort into implementing ESG  , engaging the workforce in “financial wellbeing” and delivering investment pathways.

This convenient alignment between what the IGC is hearing from Aegon’s stakeholders and what the FCA wants the IGC to be doing, suggests that the IGC is 100% FCA woke

The report shows that Aegon’s IGC team have been assiduous in their duties throughout the year. But as we see, they could not get the phones answered when they needed to be answered.

I fear that though every box has been ticked, the IGC is missing the bigger picture. I give it an amber for effectiveness

 


Value for Money Assessment

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There is nothing wrong with this value for money assessment. For the purpose of alerting Aegon’s executive team, it tells them what is working and what isn’t (until you get a disaster that is). It shows a static position between years which is not quite born out by the narrative but suggests that there is nothing within Aegon that needs to be flagged to the FCA or to savers.

The problem is that there is nothing in this VFM assessment that communicates or engages with savers.

But the point of this assessment , as stated at the outset of the report is to give savers a lapel grabbing moment of engagement

Screenshot 2020-04-07 at 11.42.30

We know what members want, they want to know the value they’ve got for their money and that means focussing on the outcomes of all this saving. In a series of graphs, the IGC tries to explain the importance of maintaining contributions, of employer contributions and tax-relief and of increasing contributions. It is of course true that contributions are important to outcomes but they only represent the “money”, the “value” is what happens to those contributions – how they grow.

Individuals are not turned on by performance tables – which cannot translate into experienced value.

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Is this really what matters most to us?

Page after page of the report is given over to “valuable investment solutions” , but there is no point of contact with the member that could remotely be described as delivering what most matters to them.

People need to know how they did and how they did relative to others and they simply don’t get what “most matters to them”.

I give the Aegon Value for Money Assessment an amber – it aimed high but never got high.


Conclusion

The FCA are due to deliver their verdict on IGC delivery in the summer. This is an IGC that’s claiming to give what matters most to us. But I don’t think it does.

Instead I think it woke. It is giving us what it thinks are the right answers and it will undoubtedly tick all the boxes.

But it lacks the conviction that we find elsewhere and without the passion – it seems flat.

The report was published in the midst of the worst crisis Britain has faced since the war

Aegon are clearly going through a tough time with customer service and i wish them success in getting their telephony up and running again.

Yet in its 40 pages, its chair statement does not mention Coronavirus once.  I guess dealing with pandemics wasn’t in the terms of reference.

 

About henry tapper

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