The Virgin Virgin Stakeholder Pension IGC Report was published in September 2022. It is the last IGC report I expect to review and the least difficult. When he took the job of Chair of the IGC, Sir David Chapman inherited a failing pension plan and a provider reluctant to listen to his committee’s demand to modernise it. Report after report between 2015 and 2019 demanded change, that change finally arrived in 2020. The Virgin Stakeholder Pension is not the best place to have your retirement savings but it would be a lot worse were it not for its IGC. Which is why I applaud Sir David and his Committee for being effective by keeping their eye on the prize.
Sir David announces in this report that this will be his last. He has in two independent members, able potential successors , though we wait for an announcement of the new Chair, it will hopefully be a new group personal pension that will be under scrutiny, a plan which hopefully the majority of those in the current stakeholder plan will migrate to.
Is the old plan giving value for money?
This new plan will have , we are told, investment pathways (which the old plan does not). It will have a digital platform that, we are told, will improve the member experience and it will have the backing of Abrdn Standard, who are the primary owners of the Virgin Money proposition.
However, the IGC Chair comments ruefully that the implementation of this plan has been delayed and we hear from Abrdn Standard that
As a business, we are disappointed that
our migration plans have not progressed as
quickly as we would have liked. However,
we are committed to ensuring that the new
proposition, which will deliver enhanced
digital capabilities and in retirement
solutions, is robust and fully tested ahead
of your use. We firmly believe we will be
able to migrate your pension to our new
proposition in 2023 and look forward to
subsequently offering in retirement
services including drawdown and
Investment Pathways. Your IGC have been
working with us on the communication
plans to ensure that you have adequate
and clear notice of these changes.
In the light of this, it is surprising that the IGC gives the old plan a green for value for money, perhaps it got carried away by having a serviceable default but the 11,000 policyholders are still in a pretty rubbish arrangement and should get an amber warning in readiness for next year’s migration. The VFM rating should be amber and that’s what I give the report’s assessment.
The IGC is responsible for oversite of the member’s experience. In 2021 bonds had a good year which allowed the IGC to remark optimistically that
In the pre-retirement phase, Glidepath has
provided returns in line with the highest
performing providers for Policyholders who
are five years away from retirement. For
Policyholders who were only one year from
retirement age – it has provided returns in
line with other providers
This is how the Glidepath looks in terms of where the money goes
I had to get this information from outside the IGC report which is silent on where the fund is invested.
Anyone who knows anything about bonds will be concerned about the impact of this strategy in 2022.. It has “only” lost investors 10.75% over the past twelve months. That the losses are not twice that will be because most of the bonds are in overseas markets (where the currency trades benefit the fund and saver). But you have to question whether a bond based strategy is right – is the IGC assuming bonds are “risk-free” or are they providing a hedge against the cost of buying an annuity?
I hope that the IGC will ask Standard Abrdn whether this defensive fund is right for the policyholders with these stakeholder pensions.
In this matter, I can’t say that the IGC look totally on top of their job, I fear that this report represents a deep breath after a five year battle but I’m giving the IGC an amber this year for taking its foot off the peddle.
Tone and Content
The report is not very long (certainly by comparison with other 2021 reports) and many pages are taken up with tables of cost and charges.
Both in look and in tone, this is much more conformist to the IGC norm and this is a shame. There are only so many pictures of people being happily productive that you can stomach and I’ve had a bellyful this year.
Sir David’s acute mind and piquant style are still present in the Chair’s statement but much of the report is production line stuff.
I have remarked above on a lack of investment detail and this is made worse when a whole page of the report is given up to a tree.
By comparison, the report’s assessment of the pension’s ESG policy took up 100 words
Overall for 2021, the IGC have
concluded that Virgin Money are
behind the market on their policies,
implementation and engagement
with members on ESG
considerations. This was also the
conclusion of Hymans report which
compares Virgin Money against the
Looking forward, we are confident
with the work Virgin Money are doing
in this area and the developments
which they plan to implement during
the next 12 months.
Also, as part of the transition to a
new platform, Virgin Money plans to
make their Climate Change Fund
available to pension policyholders for
the first time. This will offer an
important additional sustainability
It seems that the IGC has rather run out of puff. I hope that it will come back to form in 2023 because there is clearly much to do. For tone and content, the report gets an amber review.