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Aegon 'to lose £25m a year to pension cap'

EDINBURGH-BASED Aegon UK has said the government's 0.75 per cent charge cap on pensions will cost it up to £25million a year, or 30 per cent of last year's earnings.

OPPORTUNITY: Adrian Grace says Aegon UK will seize on the government changes to upgrade customers
OPPORTUNITY: Adrian Grace says Aegon UK will seize on the government changes to upgrade customers

The insurer also said it would use its new digital platform to upgrade "traditional policies" of the type to be scrutinised by the Financial Conduct Authority, in the regulator's inquiry into the excessive profits insurers make from historic business.

Commenting on a strong first quarter, which saw Aegon launch its market-leading Retiready direct-to-consumer platform and take assets on its adviser platform to £1.6billion, chief executive Adrian Grace said: "We have some company pension schemes that are over the cap of 0.75. We will be bringing those down in line with the government requirement from April of next year."

Mr Grace went on: "We will be taking the opportunity to upgrade customers from traditional pension products on to our workplace platform, so we are excited because the DWP announcement is an opportunity for us.

"It is all consistent with the strategy that we originally put in place to... give customers a better experience, the government is going to push us even quicker."

Aegon UK reported underlying annual earnings of £22m in the first quarter, against £84m for the whole of 2013. Estimating that the annual impact of the charge cap would be between £20m and £25m, Aegon said it had also responded to the regulatory issues by simplifying platform charges and the investment fund range for the One Retirement platform.

Inflows on the platform during the quarter were £300,000, double the previous quarter.

Aegon said the typical size of holding on the platform was £60,000, twice the traditional average policy size, whilst admitting that out of fee revenues of £112m, "the contribution from the new platform is small, but growing rapidly".

Mr Grace said: "I am confident that the investments we have made in the long term strategy are very much aligned to the future of where the market is going. It takes time for income to drop down, look at Amazon and Facebook ."

The first quarter's £23m of net income was up 74 per cent, as investment gains of £13m offset an £8m cost for the restructuring programme which is expected to continue until the end of 2014.

On whether the restructuring would see any reversal of the recent upward trend in employment at the company's Edinburgh site, where it employs 2,000, a spokesman said there would be no job implications from charge cap issues.

On its new platform launch, with John McEnroe as brand ambassador, Mr Grace said: "We clearly with Retiready are ahead of the market, no-one else has got one out there. We are starting to see business flows come in. The most important thing is intermediaries, our core partners, see it as a solution for them as well.

"What they have got is a lot of low-value clients and don't know what to do with them, suddenly they can give those clients to Retiready and in time, when the client needs advice, we can refer them back to the intermediary."

During the first quarterAegon's 43,000 new policies included 29,000 new members from 245 employers through auto-enrolment. It said the vast majority of its schemes, in terms of assets under management, were due to implement auto-enrolment in the remaining quarters of 2014 as the staging dates for smaller firms kick in.

On the huge demand for auto-enrolment providers, Mr Grace said: "We are focused on valuable schemes, valuable clients. We have got an enormous back book of existing SME schemes and that is our first priority."

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