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Aviva’s failure to meet objectives reflected in slashed dividends

Despite job cuts and a vast disposal programme, the insurance firm’s executives have seen a pay freeze, dividends slashed and shares crashing resulting from a £3.1bn loss after tax

In an ironic turn of events over the past year, the Aviva shareholders who revolted against executive pay plans and poor managerial performance, effectively forcing flailing CEO Andrew Moss to step down, have seen their own dividends slashed by 44 percent.

Recently there was a shareholder run on the company, instantly wiping more than £1.5bn off Aviva’s market value. Additionally, Aviva executives will not receive bonuses this year and senior management will see a pay freeze in an attempt to cut expenses by any means.

When Moss stepped down in 2012, chairman John McFarlane promised an overhaul of the business, pledging to slash middle management, imposing a disposal of Aviva’s low-return operations and having a clearer focus on key markets. £1.3bn has been spent on restructuring changes within Aviva over the past five years, yet shareholders still fear that Aviva is perceived as bureaucratic and inefficient.

It was hoped that 2,500 job cuts and the sale of Aviva’s US branch would stave off the need to cut dividends, but worsening economic conditions has resulted in a poor outcome: £3.3bn of impairments and writedowns. A higher capital surplus was one positive result to come from the sale, though 2013’s state of affairs as a whole are unfavourable when compared to the £60m profit made in 2011.

In December, McFarlane said: “The sale of Aviva USA is an important step forward in the delivery of our strategic plan. It considerably strengthens Aviva’s financial position, increases group liquidity and improves our economic capital surplus whilst also reducing its volatility.”

But even after a £500m return for selling Aviva’s 50 percent stake in insurer Aseval to Spanish banking conglomerate Bankia and the sale of its Russian business this month for £30m, the British insurance company is still struggling to keep its head above water.

New CEO Mark Wilson has not been forthcoming in accepting responsibility for Aviva’s poor performance this year. “It’s like climbing up an escalator that’s going down,” he said. “I joined Aviva because I believe there is significant potential to be unlocked. This is a turnaround story. It is clear to me that the company has not articulated why investors should buy or hold Aviva shares.”

Current disgruntled shareholders are concerned by Aviva’s weak capital levels, high external and internal leverage and more volatile capital in comparison to its peers. Under Moss, Aviva was under-managed by overpaid and complacent directors, which consequently led to the financial pitfall the insurer sits in today.

“The results were disappointing,” one of Aviva’s largest investors told The Independent when the dividends were cut last week. “While the dividend decision probably makes sense, medium term they are a serial offender. We want significant operational improvements.”

 

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