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An Equitable time was had by all

It isn&#39t every day the Docklands Light Railway is inundated with large numbers of rather well-heeled elderly people navigating their way around the East End of London.

But at least it was a fine, sunny day for Equitable Life members to come up to town for the society&#39s annual general meeting in London&#39s Docklands Arena. How many of them realised how perilously close they passed to the offices of the FSA, which so kindly allowed Equitable to carry on its reserving policy?

Off the train at Crossharbour, the pinstripes, tweed jackets and Jaeger skirts made their way, slightly bewildered by the press photographers waiting outside, to the Arena which is usually home to a slightly different crowd, namely, ice hockey fans and pop concert-goers.

Many members may have thought they were entering some kind of strange airport, for an army of attractive officials were stewarding the proceedings. Decked out in navy suits, white shirts and sky-blue neck scarves, the stewards handed members boarding cards, I mean voting cards, before they went into the auditorium.

They were then faced with two enormous screens blasting out the image of chairman Vanni Treves and his incumbent board who were sat as a panel on the stage.

The stage was adorned with vast displays of tropical foliage. Rather more important-looking stewards with headsets stood either side to make sure there were no rebel board candidates waiting to ambush proceedings.

Treves began by reassuring members that “coffee and buns” were available at the end of the meeting. He also said the side seats were more comfortable than those in the floor of the arena and suggested, in the spirit of equity, that anyone who was uncomfortable should move.

Presentations by Treves and Thomson followed, explaining the Equitable&#39s current financial status, the deal with Halifax and the proposals for a compromise scheme on guaranteed annuity policies.

The results of a policyholder survey conducted by Mori on the possibility of a compromise scheme were revealed, showing overwhelming support to make a scheme work.

Members were asked to table questions with the air hostesses at the conveniently named Question Tabling desk. Speakers were shown to podiums placed in the aisles.

One-hundred-and-eighty-three questions were tabled. These ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Members focused mainly on articles of association, bonus declarations, the Halifax deal and the application of market value adjusters, the Law Lords&#39 ruling and the findings of Nicholas Warren, QC. Some, particularly on MVAs, received applause.

Treves and Thomson fended off the occasional hostile question with alacrity and distanced themselves from the society&#39s previous board, joining in with substantial criticism of the bonuses paid to former directors. One member said their performance “in the Roman arena would warrant a thumbs down”. Treves insisted law firm Herbert Smith had no inhibitions in its investigations into the conduct of former directors and advisers.

Some questions did not get a warm reception from the audience and one or two speakers who seemed intent on using the podium as a soap box rather than putting a question were chanted off the podium. By 1.30pm and 53 questions later, the floor agreed only 20 more minutes of questions could be tolerated.

So then it was back to formal business. The accounts, despite some rumblings, were accepted and PricewaterhouseCoopers was elected auditor.

Votes for the board were polled but proxy votes which had already been counted were displayed. The results clearly showed the existing board members brought in by Treves would be elected. After that, the members shuffled out and headed straight for the coffee and buns.


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