At Christmas 2009, I wrote a sharp little piece criticising Aviva for its baleful combination of investment performance and presentation of a Norwich Union pension policy. I had taken it out years earlier, and the update told me it was worth £52,961, or £49,897 if I was rash enough to want to transfer the funds to another pension plan.

There were six pages of explanation, but nowhere could Aviva find space to tell me how much it had been worth a year earlier. Unfortunately for them, I had the previous year’s statement. From that I could see that my plan value had withered  from £57,976, although oddly enough, it would have been slightly less painful to take my money away. The 2008 transfer value had been £47,516 – a really serious haircut given I was only four years away from retirement. The projected pension had fallen from £199 a month in 2008 to £179 a month in 2009, although once again, no space could be found to remind me of the previous year’s figures.

Sue Winston of Aviva’s press office was quick to fix a meeting with John Lister, then Aviva’s UK finance director. When we met, he was contrite. Golly, yes, he agreed, the performance wasn’t much to shout about, and a statement like: “We’ve maintained regular bonus rates” is hard for the poor punter to square with a dwindling fund value. As for the presentation, he promised comparisons and explanations in future. Ah, the power of the press, I thought.

Another year, another statement. 2010 was pretty good for investors, so the fund value would surely have risen, but it seemed there was still no space for comparisons. The value had indeed gone up, but since the rise was a pitiful 6.5%, to £56,424, perhaps Lister and his colleagues had decided that discretion was the better part of disclosure. The projected pension from this policy was now £183 a month up from £179. But both numbers were in the money-of-the-day, so the purchasing power of my pension had actually gone down.

I’ve no reason to think that Aviva’s fund management is any worse than that of the average life office, but such a miserable, obfuscated performance goes some way to explain why so many prefer to SIPP whenever we can. We’re quite capable of losing money ourselves, rather than enriching some anonymous fund manager to do it for us.