Ronnie Taylor is not one to mince his words – a trait one might put down to his Scottish roots.
And he does not shy away when talking about the eventful year he has had at Aegon.
When he joined the UK business in May 2018 as chief distribution officer, it was a pivotal time for the company. It was in the middle of integrating two businesses; BlackRock’s UK defined contribution platform book and the Cofunds platform.
The latter, which was bought for £140m in 2016, has given Aegon more column inches than its management would like.
Clients began facing wide-ranging problems after the replatforming exercise, which started on the May bank holiday weekend in 2018, with issues lasting for several months.
According to Aegon’s half year results for the six months ending June 30 2019, net outflows in the UK hit £2.6bn, suggesting advisers were leaving the company’s platform following the issues.
Mr Taylor says the business underestimated just how interconnected the Cofunds platform was to advisers’ business.
He says: “You are dealing with 6,000 advisory firms, and they had a number of interfaces with Cofunds which had been well-established for 10 years and then we replaced that with the Aegon platform.
“The advisers have their own processes and different ways of doing things. That is the thing we got wrong. We underestimated the scale of change we were putting advisers through.”
In August, the company said the platform returned to its target level of service in the second half of 2018.
The second half of 2018 was about improving operational service levels and the quality of training staff, Mr Taylor says.
This year has been about adding capability to the platform and listening to advisers.
Over the past 12-18 months, Mr Taylor and his team have also been working hard to rebuild trust.
Mr Taylor says: “Advisers have been incredibly patient with us. They have given us feedback about what they like or don’t like about the platform and increasingly, we are using their feedback to develop the platform moving forward.
“Relationships are still tested at times and we have a job to do to fully rebuild trust, but I think the progress we have made together with advisers over the past six months is really encouraging.”
One of the new capabilities being added to the platform is transaction history, which advisers had on the old Cofunds platform, to help them with client reviews.
Others tools being added to the platform will enhance the building of model portfolios, client reporting and discretionary fund management.
Aegon is also working to reduce the number of manual interactions between advisers and the platform.
Mr Taylor says: “Currently, there is still some degree of manual work, but one of the reasons we bought Cofunds is to essentially produce a more automated platform that is more efficient for advisers and saves them time.