Guide to AKG Ratings

For AKG DFM Profile & Financial Strength Reports

 

Background

AKG’s origins are important. As an organisation AKG comes from the perspective of providing financial strength ratings and assessment together with support for the UK intermediary sector in the context of required information on life companies, and other entities which that sector advises on. AKG ratings (and reports) are designed to meet the financial strength assessment requirements of those selecting service providers/managers for the delivery of propositions to meet the need of advised clients.

This focus, together with its use of a professional skill set, blended with market/distribution knowledge, has created a unique expertise, as distinct from the global ratings agencies or those providing credit ratings. Particularly where those agencies may be primarily coming from the perspective of meeting the requirements of a different audience, notably debt/equity investors.

Thus whilst many ingredients of AKG’s ratings activity and that of other ratings organisations will necessarily be common, AKG notably comes from this different starting points in having a sole focus on the selection needs of end clients of providers and their advisers and has constructed its offering specifically from this perspective.

This is further manifest in the key definition AKG places on financial strength (for both ratings and assessment). Namely, that the objective is to go beyond purely a consideration of solvency (albeit this will always be an important part of the mix) and consider in what format an organisation may be able to survive to meet the fair expectations of customers and their advisers. Expectations, which must include the experience encountered by these two groups, will therefore include ongoing operational abilities and performance.

This is often summarised as three key underlying questions relevant to intermediaries and their clients:

Financial Strength Ratings - Introduction

AKG is an independent organisation specialising in the provision of assessment, ratings, information and consultancy to the financial services industry. An independent company, AKG has provided detailed expert financial strength assessments (including ratings) and analysis to the UK financial services sector for over 20 years. AKG’s analysis draws on publicly available information, supplemented by other detailed information made available to AKG directly by providers.

Traditionally AKG’s focus has been predominantly on life companies. However, in light of the growing impact of other entities and the transformation underlying in the financial services market in the UK, there is an increasing demand from intermediaries in particular to widen the scope of entities that receive specialist AKG assessment, such as DFMs.

Overall, the aim of AKG’s assessments is to provide independently evaluated information to assist in the choice of a service provider by the intermediary as well as to help in the understanding and appropriate development of the market.

In line with its core focus, AKG’s assessment is primarily focussed on financial strength. AKG considers that a major consideration for an intermediary in considering a DFM is the comfort and assurance that can be obtained from an independent, external assessment. It is an important component in seeking to avoid the operational complications and potential brand damage that would be incurred should a chosen DFM encounter any financial difficulties, suffer a restriction on necessary investment to deliver required service and investment expertise/ capability, or in some other way ‘fail’.

AKG assesses financial strength using consistent methodology and objective measures wherever possible, and the detailed analysis of the company’s particular strengths and weaknesses. The objectives and criteria for the DFM Financial Strength Rating are summarised below.

DFM Financial Strength Rating

The objective is to provide a simple broad-brush indication of the financial strength of a DFM proposition operator company. DFM operations are assessed in relative terms within a specific peer group of such entities. By design, and consistent with the very different nature of these entities, the rating is not comparable with other AKG ratings, such as those available for Life companies in AKG's Company Profile & Financial Strength Reports, Offshore companies in AKG's Offshore Profile & Financial Strength Reports or Platform operators in AKG's Platform Profile & Financial Strength Reports.

Key to assessment is a company’s ability to survive in its current form or an improved form for the long term to deliver on a user’s reasonable expectations of experience. This will include expectations of service delivery and continued maintenance of appropriate infrastructure to deliver this.

A

Superior

B+

Very strong

B

Strong

B-

Satisfactory

C

Weak

D

Very weak

The following listing outlines primary elements (criteria) considered within this process, where relevant:

Strategic appraisal

Financial appraisal

Operational Appraisal

Analysis of the Group and other entities

Relevant Other Entities - ‘Collaborative’, e.g.

Supporting Ratings

Introduction

Supporting ratings, assessed at the brand level, are provided only in FULL reports. AKG assesses three key supporting areas, using consistent methodology and objective measures wherever possible. The aim is to assist Intermediaries and others to consider the relative merits of the brands that they deal with.

Each supporting rating is assessed using the following scale:

★★★★★

Excellent

★★★★

Very good

★★★

Good

★★

Adequate

Poor

Not rated

AKG's objectives and criteria for each of these ratings are summarised below:

Service Rating

The objective is to assess the quality of the organisation's service to the intermediary market in respect of the brand concerned.

Criteria taken into account include: performance in surveys, awards and benchmarking exercises (external and internal), the organisation's philosophy, service charters, the extent of investments designed to improve service, and feedback from intermediaries.

Image and Strategy Rating

The objective is to assess the effectiveness of the means by which the organisation currently positions itself to distribute its service for the brand concerned and the plans it has to maintain and/or develop its position.

Criteria taken into account include: overall trends in the company’s market share position, brand visibility and reputation, feedback from intermediaries and industry commentators, and AKG’s view of the company's general strategy.

Annual Review Rating

This is an end of year view for the last year for which Report and Accounts, Pillar III disclosure, etc., are available, together with comment on any significant post-balance sheet events. It is an assessment of how the brand has fared against its peers, and how it is perceived externally.

Criteria taken into account include: increase/decrease in market shares, expense containment, publicity - good or bad, press or market commentary, regulatory fines, and competitive position.

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