Last year was unrelentingly difficult for Aviva's platform and, while it seemed 2019 could offer a fresh start, Tom Ellis believes the exit of the business's leader Tim Orton has left it lacking direction
"You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting." The quote from A Knight's Tale - featuring Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany and co - has hardly been more relevant than after Aviva's supremely difficult 2018.
The team talk at the platform at the moment - one imagines - must be a rousing effort to motivate, urging the outfit to consign the memories of the last 12 months to the history books. And yet, without Orton or a permanent successor there to lead the way, it is going to struggle to do so.
The problem is, re-platforming not only kicked Aviva to the ground, it left a lasting legacy on the brand, as Next Wealth research director Miranda Seath points out. "Advisers report to us the Aviva platform has turned a corner and that the problems experienced earlier in 2018 have been fixed," she says. "But re-platforming has been a bruising process for all concerned."
For the time being, the life company has replaced Orton with its MD of retirement Roger Marsden. And, while Marsden will provide some top-down stability as the platform tries to move on from licking its wounds, it desperately needs to implement a long-term plan to do so. Perhaps more importantly, it also needs to convince advisers its recovery plan is worth sticking around for.
As long as it does not have a permanent successor in place for Orton, advisers will not be convinced the platform is heading where it needs to. After its laudable transparency in the immediate aftermath of its messy migration to the new platform in January of last year, Aviva somewhat faded from view, seemingly getting its head down and stuck into remedying all that had gone wrong on its new platform. A suitable tactic for the situation, admittedly.
Keeping quiet in 2019 will not cut it, however. Now the platform has the bulk of the issues out of the way, its focus must be on rebuilding brand reputation and trust - and it needs a leader and strong spokesperson to do that, be it Marsden or someone else.
Even out of the public eye, the platform needs a strong leader. Not only within the company will Orton's replacement be essential, but also in its external dealings with business partners. The move from Bravura technology to FNZ has been at the root of all Aviva's problems and Orton's successor must work its relationship with FNZ for all it is worth.
The relationship between platforms and their third-party technology partners attract little attention but anyone close to the projects or with experience in the platform sector will tell you they are absolutely crucial to the running and development of any proposition. The relationship between Aviva and FNZ will be fundamental to the platform's recovery and success going forward.
"New energy and enthusiasm at the top will be needed to enable Aviva's platform to forge ahead to the next phase of its evolution," adds Seath. "We expect to see moves to better integrate workplace, adviser and direct platforms now that they are running on the same underlying technology."
It is one thing for Aviva to turn 2019 into a successful year after its 2018 turmoil, but it is another to convince advisers that it has a proposition worth sticking with for the long term.
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