WHEN financial services giant Standard Life demutualised and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2006 its policyholders were among the many beneficiaries, with each receiving an average payout in the region of £1,700.

Despite the windfall, though, not everyone came forward to collect their share, leaving Standard Life with a large pot of unclaimed cash.

After waiting 10 years to see if any beneficiaries would lay claim to the money, the company channelled a substantial chunk of the pot - £84 million – into its Standard Life Foundation, a Scottish registered charity that began life as the Standard Life Charitable Trust.

Now, having led a strategic review of the charity’s objectives when he came on board from Trust for London last year, its chief executive Mubin Haq is gearing up to put the money to good use in the personal finance space.

Noting that there has been a “big shift over the past few decades away from the state and employers having an influence over individuals’ finances”, Mr Haq said “many, many individuals” have been left scared at the prospect of having to take on the full risk of managing their finances.

As a result, the foundation is making an initial total of £2 million available to a mix of universities, think tanks, charities and voluntary organisations looking for funding for their campaigning and research work, with issues such as problem gambling, retirement saving and how to make the most out of various sources of income all being addressed.

Specifically, the foundation, which is chaired by former Chancellor and Labour Party stalwart Alistair Darling, wants to focus on backing organisations trying to effect positive change by influencing policy decisions.

“We’re interested in financial health and wellbeing and in people having more control over their finances,” Mr Haq said.

“We’re trying to change the bigger picture in terms of policies and practice in relation to personal and household finances.

“If you look at the area of debt, we’re not funding individual advice to help people with their debt problems, but we are interested in whether that debt advice is being given in the right way in the first place. It’s much more strategic.”

The recipients of the foundation’s first round of grants, which will vary in size from £10,000 to £250,000, are due to be revealed next month, with Mr Haq noting that applicants pitched ideas focused on everything from how to ease the cost of living to how to ensure the Scottish Government’s new benefits agency lives up to expectations.

“We’ve heard a lot [from the Scottish Government] about dignity and respect and people being treated with that but what will that mean in practice?,” Mr Haq said.

“There are also some interesting proposals around wealth and how that can be captured for the good of society.”

Finding ways to ensure ordinary people’s financial concerns are heard by government is a key priority for the foundation, with Mr Haq noting that a counterbalance is required to the lobbying done by the kind of organisations those people might spend their money with.

“The Government should be looking at this but who generates the pressure on government to look at these issues?,” he said.

“In an area such as gambling, most people don’t have an issue but thousands end up being addicted, they end up problem gamblers.

“Where’s the pressure on government for reform? That’s the role of civic society. You do need someone independent who can come in and say these are the changes that need to happen.

“On lots of issues the Government needs support in thinking about what the best way forward is. It doesn’t operate in an ether; lots of other organisations lobby it.

“The gambling industry will be lobbying, but where’s the side of those people in need?”

With the original £84m being invested on the foundation’s behalf by Standard Life successor business Standard Life Aberdeen, Mr Haq said the intention is to continue trying to make an impact by awarding between £2m and £3m every year.

Yet, despite the foundation putting an emphasis on finding ways to help people be smarter about their finances, he said it is unlikely it will focus on the financial education space.

That may seem counterintuitive but, ultimately, the board made its decision after finding the evidence regarding the benefits of financial education to be, in Mr Haq’s words, “fairly mixed”.

“That’s partly because the way it has been delivered in the past has been very top down and it’s not been done at the right pivotal times,” he said. “We wanted to pick some niche areas where we felt we could really make a difference.”