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Aegon UK to launch self-service platform

Edinburgh-based Aegon UK is to launch a self-service investment platform for people buying retirement products without financial advice.

OPPORTUNITY: Aegon UK chief executive Adrian Grace said new technologies could transform pensions. Picture: Julie Howden
OPPORTUNITY: Aegon UK chief executive Adrian Grace said new technologies could transform pensions. Picture: Julie Howden

Chief executive Adrian Grace said the platform would be a market-leading response to people "wanting their pension on a smartphone or an iPad" and signalled Aegon's transformation from "a traditional product provider to a digital platform business".

Mr Grace said the new technologies could transform pensions, adding: "We have just created 200 new roles in Edinburgh, we are investing, we are absolutely convinced that what we have built is the way to go forward, our strategy is clean, and it is good news for Edinburgh."

The UK arm of the Dutch insurer has invested £7 million in the platform, which will be unveiled in April, as a third portal for its award-winning At Retirement Choices platform for advisers and workplaces, which has raced to 1.3 million users in its first 18 months.

The initiative comes amid concerns about the number of people without any financial guidance, following the banning of commission-funded advice by the retail distribution review (RDR) a year ago, and the consequent disappearance of financial advisers in banks.

Mr Grace said: "There are 10 million people out there who either can't get advice caused by the RDR or can't afford advice, or advisers aren't prepared to deal with them. There is a huge opportunity for someone to come along and service that need.

"Our intention is to work with intermediaries (advisers) so they can say to customers they don't want to deal with any more 'here is a service for you'."

Aegon says its aim is to help advisers "maintain relationships" with less well-heeled clients and re-contact them when they have "accumulated some wealth". But the platform will be open to any DIY consumer to use for their financial planning.

Mr Grace said: "People who don't have a relationship will be able to use it as well. The key is to make sure we work together as an industry to cover the maximum amount of customers."

Mr Grace would not be drawn on what products the site might offer but hinted at options such as guaranteed annuities, while for more complex options there would be a signpost to the industry's website listing financial advisers in their area.

Aegon was reporting fourth-quarter and full-year sales and profit figures for 2013, which showed the UK arm invested £13m in acquiring the platform technology from Bath-based Novia and bringing it in-house.

There was a £4m outflow of individual non-platform business in the fourth quarter, which Aegon said showed the need for the new digital initiative.

The group reported a 13% rise in new life sales last year.

Underlying earnings from pensions, however, fell from £25m to £2m and net income from £140m to £102m. Commissions paid fell from £325m to £301m.

Last week the Financial Conduct Authority's review of the annuities market promised to tackle the lack of transparency of annuity sales websites, though the regulator is under fire for ignoring hidden and sometimes inflated commissions. The FCA revealed that 80% of annuities sold by insurers to existing customers are better value for the company than the pensioner.

This week the Association of British Insurers revealed that annuity sales fell by 16% last year, while providers saw a boom in the principle alternative, income drawdown. Mr Grace said: "People are not going to buy poor value products...as people's retirement planning gets more sophisticated, annuities might be the answer, so will income drawdown, so will guarantees."

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