Legacy of Aegon boss still positive

It adds that the actions also puts it in a strong position to grow the business. Its focus now is on delivering the proposition enhancements that advisers have requested.

So perhaps it was a surprise for the market when Mr Grace announced he was leaving, particularly because last year, in an interview with FTAdviser he sounded like a man with unfinished business.

Aegon’s evolution

When Mr Grace joined Aegon in April 2011 to manage the UK business, platforms were largely functional instruments that allowed assets to be put in a single place and they had a completely different charging structure.

As platforms evolved, people started to look at ways they could create tools to help advisers do their business more efficiently, while focusing on clients.

Mr Mann says: “In his time at Aegon, he transformed an old style pensions platform business, into the leading platform business in the UK.”

Indeed, it is a very different animal.

For a start, it has grown from a business that held £40bn of unit-linked pensions in 2009, to today managing £175bn of pension and investment assets.

Before buying Cofunds, Mr Grace was already trying to clean up the business, having sold Aegon’s problematic annuity book to Legal and General.

Following the introduction of the Solvency II directive, the capital volatility associated with annuities was very significant, exacerbated by the declining market, it created poor value for customers.

Former Partnership chief executive Steve Groves says: “If you look back to Aegon, prior to the financial crisis, it had made some poor decisions.

“It had entered the annuity market, had increased costs and found itself in quite a difficult position as it entered into the financial crisis where you would say it was positioned in the wrong markets at the wrong time.

“I think what [Mr Grace] did initially as chief executive was to reposition the business.

“He got rid of the bits that did not make sense and there were a number of parts you would term as non-core and he went through the business, looking at what it is going to be in the future.”

The transformation of Aegon has been likened to the steering of a supertanker in the ocean, a job that would probably need a strong personality.

A former colleague says: “He wanted his own way too much all the time.”

Others have been a bit kinder.

Mr Mann says: “He is a wonderful human being. People in Aegon will remember he is a guy you want to work with and for. 

“You could argue we were competitors [at] one point in time. He is a man you could respect very easily.