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Corporate responsibility

Corporate affairs is the preserve of regulated – some might say over-regulated – industries. No self-respecting energy, transport or telecommunications giant will feel competent to operate without a corporate affairs department – and now it seems that is becoming the norm for the financial services sector.

So, what is corporate aff-airs? It is fair to say it is a moveable feast which changes acc-ording to the need of the organisation. It is a dynamic function which helps a company respond to a changing regulatory or cultural environment.

In this way, corporate relations tends to be shorthand for the broad disciplines of public relations, public policy, corporate and social responsibility, stakeholder management and industry relations.

To take it a stage further, it is very much about the focus and manner in which an organisation responds to its environment and may have an important corporate development role. So, there you are – clear as mud.

A recent example of the development of a corporate affairs department is that of Britannic Retirement Solutions, the retirement arm of the Britannic Group.

Unlike the usual behemoths that operate this function, Britannic Retirement Solutions is a small to medium-sized company. Why should it place importance on what seems a very esoteric role? In short, why does Britannic Retirement Solutions not leave corporate and political communications to the leviathans in the marketplace and know its place?

Well, the answer is simple. All companies have to be able to plan for the future in a rapidly changing environment. The greater the ability for a company to anticipate change, threats and opportunities and respond accordingly, then, as the argument goes, the greater its ability to succeed and prosper. Not only is this critical to any business, it is possible to argue that the more agile and less bureaucratic an organisation, the greater its ability to adapt to change.

Britannic Retirement Solutions has not just shown it can respond to a changing regulatory environment, it has dem-onstrated that it can initiate change and impose its values on the market.

A simple example is the open market option, the right to shop around to buy the best annuity on retirement. Following Mori Research we commissioned demonstrating a staggering lack of awareness of Omo among consumers, an integrated public affairs and public relations campaign was launched to raise awareness among key stakeholder audiences.

Not only did it result in this important issue being raised during an amendment to the Finance Bill debate, it generated significant press coverage and interest from political audiences and consumer organisations. We hope this activity was a contributor to the FSA consultation into the Omo which will result in significant recommendations.

In this sense, not only has Britannic Retirement Solutions acted as a consumer champion to educate and raise consumer awareness of the issue, we have also stimulated a debate which may make the industry more competitive and consumer focused, hence corporate affairs.

As all organisations in the financial services market und-erstand, it is critical to monitor and respond, when appropriate, to the raft of consultations, reviews and regulations generated by the Government, Parliament, Whitehall and Regulators (the FSA to the OFT).

This is just the formal policymaking process in the UK. It does not include policy generated by policy units, taskforces, devolved Parliaments, campaigns generated by single-issue groups (demutualisation, for example), consumer organisations and ind-ustry bodies, let alone the enormous potential changes driven by the EU.

In 2002, the financial services sector faces a range of pressing issues from the very significant FSA consultation paper 121 on polarisation, the FSA consultation on with-profits policies, with specific proposals following its earlier issue papers in the Spring, Sandler, Pickering&#39s simplification review and Tiner&#39s review of the insurance industry to name but a few.

Specifically affecting the retirement sector in the first few months of 2002, we have the FSA&#39s response to the Omo consultation, the joint Inland Revenue/Department for Work and Pensions&#39 consultation on annuities. Pressing issues such as long-term care and equity release will keep bubbling away. That is if bubbling can best describe the much anticipated response to the Treasury&#39s consultation on LTC benchmarking.

It is against a changing regulatory environment of this nature, which has profound structural implications for the provision of financial services and consumer needs, that corporate affairs has most value. It is hardly surprising, given the importance of these issues to the retirement sector, that Britannic Retirement Solutions has started a corporate affairs department.

I have been brought in to head the department. As a former tax and trusts lawyer and previously the public affairs director and co-founder of Consolidated Communications Public Affairs (Marketing Magazine) as well as working as a crisis management adviser to Thames Trains during the Paddington crisis and as a political adviser to the Save Barts&#39 campaign, I have had a fair bit of exposure to corporate affairs.

Britannic Retirement Solutions has set itself the aim to be recognised and trusted as the leading provider of financial solutions for people in retirement. My job is to help BRS achieve this goal.

I am very lucky. I was a public policy adviser to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries for nearly seven years, including its health and care committee, when it was raising awareness of the impact of the demographic timebomb on LTC in the UK.

This experience has helped me to understand the importance of the combination elements of financial complexity, demography and unpredic-tability to the ageing population. It is extremely difficult to understand the needs of the retirement market without being aware of the inter-relation of these elements and the need to provide retirement advice within a holistic context.

I have been asked to start the corporate affairs department at a very exciting time. There is profound potential change throughout the industry. It has never been more important to anticipate and understand the drivers for policy change.

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