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(The Wrap] The anatomy of the AMP shambles

Last week it was more woes for ANZ, this week AMP's New Zealand exit plans fell into further disarray.

Saturday, July 20th 2019, 11:03AM 9 Comments

by Philip Macalister

If there was ever a case study of how to destroy a brand then AMP would have to be in contention as one of the best examples to use in the financial services sector.

AMP is a brand which has been around for a century and a half and for the large majority of its existence it has done a good job for its customers. It had established itself as one of the enduring brands and was associated with prudence, conservatism and stability.

Today the brand has suffered major damage, particularly from the Australian Royal Commission; and more lately from botched attempts by its Australian parent company to jettison the New Zealand business. This week the deal to sell its life business to Resolution Life, all but fell over. Previous plans to IPO the wealth business and list it on the sharemarket was one of the whackiest ideas that we've seen for a while. It was no surprise to see the idea canned.

Where things started to go wrong is hard to pinpoint, but when it comes to destroying value the acquisition of AXA in New Zealand has to be a good starting point. One plus one did not equal three. 

The decision to sell the AMP Life business to Resolution Life and wind up the operations has turned into a shambles when we learnt this week that the Reserve Bank was unlikely to approve the deal as structured. It appears that the Reserve Bank made this clear to the parties when it first was presented with the idea in September last year. However, it wasn't until June 7 this year (nearly nine months later) until a formal proposal was put to the regulator.

The Reserve Bank says in September Resolution made initial contact with the bank, "following which we promptly made them aware of New Zealand regulatory requirements.

It's difficult to fathom how the two parties got this so badly wrong. AMP must have know what its licence allowed and Resolution is highly experienced with these types of transactions."

One would  have sensibly thought it made sense to involve the RBNZ at the beginning of the process not the end.

The Reserve Bank is clearly being more, let's say activist, in looking at deals in the life insurance sector. Part of this arguably stems back to the collapse of CBL and the Reserve Bank's role in regulating the sector. The question has to be asked whether the RBNZ is actually the appropriate body to be the regulator of the insurance sector?

I don't have an answer for the question, but it is one which should be asked.

The AMP/Resolution deal isn't the only one to have been red carded by the regulator recently. There was another one just over a month ago which we will report in on next week.

There are so many questions about the life business, following this week's news and the decision in January to stop writing new business. Here's some of the questions and ideas to ponder.

My guess is that the wealth business will be sold in parts. While AMP's KiwiSaver business is suffering from member outflow there are parties who may well be interested in picking it up. Its advice firm, Advice First, would be attractive to buyers in the new financial adviser landscape. Its focus is now on wealth, rather than risk, and all the advisers are salaried.

AMP's superannuation business, NZ Retirement Trust, is an interesting one. Good Returns understands Air New Zealand is one of the big clients and it is currently considering its future.

And of course there is the question around distribution - sort of the holy grail of financial services. AMP finally agreed to let its agents operate in, let's say, a less-tied manner.  These advisers will have a greater choice of products to use and it's a pretty good bet that AMP products won't be sitting at the top of the approved list.


Tags: AMP Life insurance RBNZ Resolution Life

« Make advisers discuss ethical options: CoatesMann on a mission to diversify financial advice »

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Comments from our readers

On 22 July 2019 at 8:51 am globug said:
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Such a sad story of mismanagement, particularly what they have done to a stellar brand (AXA), which had a great culture and loyal advisers. A perfect case book study of how to destroy not one, but two once-great brands.

The sad thing is that the Management at AMP appear to believe they have not made any mistakes, that it is all the advisers fault - as they refused to support them.

Very sad.
On 22 July 2019 at 1:47 pm Doggy said:
Started some years ago when AMP executive management started to believe their bubble was superior to everyone else, and treated everyone accordingly.
On 22 July 2019 at 2:07 pm Pragmatic said:
A great insight Phil - which many industry folks have been following for a while. To add to this:

. I suspect that the AXA purchase was more about making AMP too big to be acquired, with the under-bidder (NAB) now also in the process of jettisoning it's wealth business. Unfortunately the AXA NZ deal was simply part of a bigger deal.
. Whilst I agree that distribution is the holy grail of the value chain, I suspect that the formation of Wealthpoint & subsequent cooperative of circa 53 AMP advice businesses was well advanced before AMP's departure intentions were broadcast.
. Global financial services is built on the foundation of trust. Once that foundation is damaged, it's pretty difficult for the entity to bounce back - although some mega-large global groups have managed to do so in recent times.
. We work in an industry where people make the difference - with some individuals having a history of growing businesses, and others recitatives wealth destroyers.

Whilst the AMP story will text book stuff for years to come, it is disappointing to witness the erosion of the once powerful industry brand through poor management and strategic thinking.
On 22 July 2019 at 3:34 pm Tony Palamidas said:
Agree with Doggy, I liken the running of AMP to that of an elephant trying to turn.
The saying what goes around comes around is apt.
On 23 July 2019 at 6:37 am fiona c said:
Ralph and the AXA crew knew something about customers and advisers - shareholders must wish they had been kept on. Shareholders have seen their investment hit with a reduced value, customers who have stayed end up with expensive and poor quality products (just look at QPR, iress or the pricing on quote monster) and advisers are just frustrated. Will be interesting to see how many amp products end up on the wealth point or Advice First approved lists.
On 23 July 2019 at 7:48 am Backstage said:
It is terrible and for years watching AMP management felt they knew better than the rest of the industry. They are myopic and ignorant and this was destined given some of their management appointments.

The resentment of their tied advisers has been like a cancer and the non-aligned advisers saw no product innovation and only felt arrogance and rigidity whenever we attempted to deal with them.

A great shame and the last 2 CEO's should accept their part in this!
On 24 July 2019 at 8:24 pm P Hermann said:
example of market forces and good advisers in action. Amp never invested in products, had high price and ran a value business. Advisers did the right things for clients and moved elsewhere especially ones who were used to better client outcomes in the Ralph (AXA) era. The fact amp's strategy was a failure should not be surprise. Like backstage I am amazed to hear the venom and resentment of the tied amp advisers to their supplier. Now they are set free with wealthypoint(?) it will be interesting to see how this plays out - hope the remaining clients are not the losers.

On 25 July 2019 at 3:10 pm Comprehensive Planner said:
I am so not surprised at all with the demise of AMP, it is however unfortunate that it has dragged down other good names with it.

The arrogance of the current Management has a lot to do with this along with the absolute dereliction of duty of prior Management have played a major part in where they are today.

The blinkered view of the greater world vs the AMP way shown by the current mindset is simply mind-boggling but probably highlights the delight that previous employers had in seeing them move on.

Even at the stage that the AMP demise is currently, I am of the view that there is quite a bit more to be played out – watch this space.

On 26 July 2019 at 8:51 am damoh said:
"Icarus flew too close to the sun but at least he flew"

AMP has had more hubris than Icarus in recent years but has not flown close to the sun. Is anyone able to share how they have done anything for customers, been innovative in any way or added value?

Agree with Comp Planner there is a lot to play out if the book loses healthly lives - advisers should take a customer first approach to clients still with AMP

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