So, you’re coming up to your 65th birthday. That policy which you took out with Aviva, years ago when it had the perfectly sensible name of Norwich Union, and which you wondered whether you’d ever live to see, is finally maturing. It promises an end to the gobbledegook of the annual statement, a tax-free lump sum and an income for life.

Last month Aviva sent me the last annual statement for my pension plan. The value of my protected rights fund was a splendidly-precise £60,310.35. As the rules insist, Aviva had included the transfer value at 15 December. After subtracting the “market value reduction”, it was £59,241. With my 65th birthday just five weeks away, there was clearly no point in transferring for a lower figure. Just in case I was considering it, the statement added that I didn’t have to do so.

Then a nice man from Aviva came round, and we agreed that I should take the maximum lump sum and buy a pension for Mrs Collins and me with the balance. I’d taken the precaution of checking the Hargreaves Lansdown website, and Aviva’s annuity was pretty competitive. The transfer value question didn’t arise.

My 65th birthday passed, with a reverse birthday present from Aviva. The same nice man phoned to say that thanks to new sums on the final bonus, the sum available has shrunk to £58,197. In five weeks, including two when the markets were effectively closed, the with-profit fund had apparently lost £2,103. That meant it had fallen below the transfer value, despite its “market value reduction”. Sorry about that, said the nice man.

I phoned the press office. It opened a file. A Customer Relations Manager sent me a holding letter. The Director of Propositions (sic) then phoned to explain what I already knew. Aviva reviews its bonuses every six months, and it was just bad luck that the statement came out in December, while the policy matured in January. The company has done nothing wrong (it has serried ranks of compliance, review, policyholders’ reps and Lord knows what else to keep it in line) but it doesn’t look good.

Had I been really on the ball, I might have anticipated the cut, given the rocky markets of the last six months. Had the nice man been on the ball, he might have suggested I consider transferring the £59,241 ahead of the December 31 review. But that might have been construed as giving investment advice, and landed him in all sorts of trouble. So he’s compliant, and I’m poorer.

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