EMAG

The independent action group for current and ex Equitable Life policyholders, funded by contributions.

Equitable Members Action Group

Equitable Members Action Group Limited, a company limited by guarantee, number 5471535 registered in the UK

Search
Documents: 13/07/2002 - The Annual Report & Accounts for 2001 and the AGM on 27/5/2002

NOTE ON THE

ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF

THE EQUITABLE LIFE ASSURANCE ON 27 MAY 2002

The Annual Report & Accounts for 2001 and the AGM on 27/5/2002

The AGM was very well stage managed, and Chairman Treves successfully played to the majority of members who were in attendance and who were probably there to seek comfort. This they received when they were advised that the Society was solvent and would remain solvent - but it was not explained that this may be at the expense of further reducing policy values. We learnt a few new facts:-

  • claims (i.e. withdrawals) have reduced to £300m/month
  • the split of assets held by the with-profits fund, namely equities 25%, 56% bonds, 13% property, 6% cash
  • the value of the annuitants part of the fund is about £7.9bn
  • any compensation will go into the with-profits fund of the benefit of the then members
  • we cannot go after the regulators until after Penrose because we do not have the facts in our files

    Jeremy Lever QC persisted with his request for a reasoned explanation of why the Society did not consider it appropriate to unit link the fund. Subsequently Chief Executive Thomson agreed to prepare a paper on the issues within 6-9 months.

    Colin Slater presented the results of our petition seeking change in the Memorandum & Articles of Association to be ratified at an EGM. But that was brushed aside with the false claim that the petition result was "old news", and that the Board would bring forward proposals to next year's AGM because an EGM would cost £1m to stage. (This is not correct - it should cost no more than £¼m). Subsequently in the Q&A posted on Equitable's website the possibility of holding an EGM on the issue was cancelled.

    Regrettably Treves, Thomson, and Bellringer continued their policy of generally not answering questions and/or giving misleading or incorrect answers. Thus Alex Henney received either no answer or an incorrect answer to the following questions:-

    • please provide in laymen's terms an analysis of the with-profits fund's available assets together with a comparison between the available assets and aggregate policy values, where the latter are differentiated between guaranteed and non-guaranteed elements. No answer
    • provide a proper analysis of the fund's performance i.e. return by asset class. No answer

    Note that the clear intentions of the FSA in its recently published "Feedback Statement on the With-Profits Review" is that the above information will be required in future.

    • report the number of members in the with-profits fund end of year. No answer
    • set out clearly the nature and implications of the GIR issue. Treves alleged that information about GIRs was included in the Compromise document. In fact there is no reference to GIRs in the document. Furthermore Treves (or one of the others) made the claim that GIR and non-GIR policyholders were treated equally, which is impossible - one group has a guarantee while the other does not

    Treves/Bellringer/Thomson made the following incorrect statements:-

    • one of them claimed that the policy of bringing profits forward to share up the reserves was "used industry wide". On 5/6 the FT carried a piece which pointed out that only seven other companies out of 44 used the practice
    • Treves blamed the stock market for the further MVA announced on 15 April. In fact in April the FTSE was more or less where it was a year ago (subsequently it has declined)
    • Bellringer incorrectly claimed that the reason for the delay in providing the solvency return was due to some story about the FSA providing it to Companies House from where members could request it. In fact under the Financial Services Market Act, via Rule 9.7 of the interim "Prudential Source Book: Insurers" policyholders have a right to receive "deposited documents" once they are deposited. There was thus nothing stopping the Society putting the return on its website the day after it was deposited with the FSA, nor providing it to any policyholder or journalist who asked for it. I subsequently learnt that he tried to fob off a number of professional actuaries who sought the solvency return, and the Association of Consulting Actuaries sent him an e-mail asking him to stop playing games. My informant commented that it was clear that the objective was to keep the return under wraps until after the AGM
    • misleading statements were made about the format of the Annual Report & Accounts. Namely it was insinuated that 1) the policy that asset values should be within ­+5% of liabilities, and 2) discussion of the GIR issue could not be mentioned in the Annual Report. In fact the Companies Act prescribes a minimum that has to go in the accounts, but does not prescribe a maximum. Directors can put what they like in the Report and the Notes to the Accounts

    Voting for Directors

    After many written requests to the scrutineers, and a month after the AGM, EMAG succeeded in obtaining the details of the postal votes, with and without proxies. The Society's company secretary then instructed that there be no further detail provided - this preventing publication of the total vote with proxies identified. Nevertheless, the postal votes were 95% of those cast and the scrutineers write that they are representative. This obstruction, as has so often been manifested, is unfortunately typical of how the Society interprets the policy that "The Board is committed to a policy of openness in its communication with policyholders".

    We divide the candidates into the two groups: those who were officially supported by the board and those who were independent. (Note most members have the maximum 10 votes each). The first two columns are the results as reported in the press and include the 640,000 non-mandated1 proxy votes cast by Treves. The second shows the postal votes results, with the non-mandated votes stripped out.




    As reported

    (including at the AGM)



    Stripping out the non-mandated proxies





    For

    (000)

    Against

    (000)

    Difference

    (000)

    For

    (000)

    Against

    (000)

    Difference

    (000)

    Official

    Bellringer

    261

    75

    +186

    200

    66

    +134


    Bullen

    276

    60

    +217

    212

    53

    +159


    Pickard

    244

    92

    +151

    179

    82

    +97


    Sheddon

    255

    91

    +174

    191

    72

    +119


    Smith

    245

    91

    +154

    182

    80

    +102


    Treves


    274

    63

    +211

    217

    53

    +164

    Independent

    Allen

    117

    219

    -102

    106

    105

    +1


    Braithwaite

    147

    189

    -42

    134

    84

    +50


    Howard-Jones

    147

    189

    -42

    134

    84

    +50

    Treves cast at least 103,000 votes against each of the independent candidates and he also cast between 50,000 and 60,000 proxy votes each for his approved slate, and these votes accounted fore most of the superficially large differences between the official and indepenent candidates. Although the six "official" candidates all polled at least 45,000 more mandated positive votes "for" than the independents, this represents only about 5,000 members.

    The figures demonstrate:-

    • significant apathy among members - only 11% voted, which is surely a poor turnout after the worst year of the Society's history
    • the undemocratic patronage vested in the chairman by the current voting arrangements. Treves cast more than 20% of the 3 million votes cast in the election of directors. The voting ballot paper was unconstitutional in that it made no provision for Abstention, which gave the chairman all default proxies on every vote
    • automatic, but limited support for "official" candidates, which does not justify the following claim in the Society's press release of 28 May. "The six Board members standing for re-election have received a strong endorsement from Equitable Life members in the ballot result announced today." None of the other candidates received the net positive vote required to be eligible as a director, the closest being Mr. Howard-Jones who fell 42,000 votes short and trailed all the re-elected directors by at least a further 150,000 votes. The campaign led by one of the other candidates Mr. Paul Braithwaite, urging members to vote against the Society's chairman Mr. Vanni Treves, failed comprehensively as Mr. Treves received the support of 4 of every 5 votes cast?Vanni Treves said: "I thank members for their powerful endorsement of the Board especially after such a difficult year".

    We have already observed that the large negative votes were a consequence of the proxies Treves cast, and to claim that receiving 7% of members votes is a "powerful endorsement" is patent nonsense.

    • the Society has continued to obfuscate. It is deplorable that one has to fight to drag the proxy voting details out of a mutual. Enlightened mutuals (Nationwide, Standard Life etc) have done away with votes "Against" and proxies, having embraced "first past the post".

    1i.e. those votes which either mandated the chairman to vote for and against as he saw fit, or were left blank and thus by default allowed him to cast the vote. In total he cast about 20% of all votes cast.