Opinion  

Origen furiously backpeddling on 'tied agent’ admission

Ashley Wassall

I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a more bizarre backtrack in my years as a journalist.

This week, one of the stories that garnered the most attention in the advisory sector was the revelation by Aegon, buried deep within their second quarter results announcement yesterday (8 August), that its long-time loss-making advisory business Origen Financial Services will become a “tied agent network”.

This was a departure from the firm’s previous stance that it would be a whole of market firm. It did launch a workplace pensions business in late 2012 that provides only access to the Aegon Retirement Choices platform, but this was to sit “alongside its whole of market propositions”.

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More surprising than the decision - which given that the firm continues to languish in the red, making a £2.9m loss for 2012, was perhaps not a shock - is the firm’s hasty attempt to “clarify” the situation today.

Apparently, it’s all a big misunderstanding. When Aegon said “tied agent network” it didn’t mean a ‘tied agent’, or even ‘network’.

A note to advisers today, seen by FTAdviser, says: “We recently added the market leading ARC to our panel of preferred platforms [for individual client business]. Indeed ARC is our preferred platform for new investment business giving customers access to a wide range of funds through a variety of wrappers.

“To support our whole of market propositions we compile a number of panels to ensure the best products/services are offered to our clients. These panels will include some Aegon products where they are market leading, including the ARC platform mentioned above.”

FTAdviser spoke to Aegon in an attempt to clarify the situation, asking whether there was some misunderstanding over whether “tied” actually meant “restricted”. It’s response? “That’s what we are trying to figure out”.

FTAdviser also asked whether there is any dissonance between it and Origen. Apparently not: “We’re both on the same page”.

I’m not sure what to make of it all. At the very least it seems Aegon have made a hash of the PR, at worst it could reflect that the upper echelons of the business don’t have a clue what the model for the business is any more.

Lies, damn lies and adviser numbers data

Origen was also in the news on FTAdviser this week when sister title Financial Adviser reported that it has picked up a number of advisers from Yorkshire and Clydesdale building societies.

In itself this is not a big story, but it does provide a useful segue into yet more dispute over adviser numbers. Up until now the consensus has been that adviser attrition is rampant, not least because of bank advisers leaving the market.

Not so, says the Personal Finance Society chief executive Keith Richards. In a video with FTAdviser, Mr Richards continued his attempts to wrestle back the debate over the future of advice from the naysayers by suggesting the number of certificates issued by PFS parent body the Chartered Insurance Institute points to growth in adviser numbers.