What is the definition of an honest leader? To be able to anticipate both the worst and the best would seem a cardinal virtue. The smallest time bomb planted in the heart of an information system, an architectural plan, a production tool or a purchasing contract has always been the trigger for the collapse of a career. At the heart of Aviva are several time bombs, recognized as such under French law. Several weeks ago, four new rulings issued by the highest court in France have just been added to the seventeen court judgments already registered in similar cases against Aviva. How then can we explain the fact that no heads have rolled at the insurance company? An inquiry into what seems like a managerial aberration will sooner or later reach Andrew Moss, current president of Aviva plc, based in the heart of the City of London. One hopes he is aware of the situation – the loss is estimated to approach billions of pounds sterling over the next five years.
What does the Aviva group have to fear from this young 23-year-old entrepreneur, holder of a life insurance contract with the sixth largest insurance company worldwide – apart from the billions, if French justice is to be believed – that the group will have to pay out at maturity, either on the death of the client, or before if the client decides to withdraw his funds? In his case, and in the cases of several dozens of other Aviva clients, the contract in question is one which survives from contracts launched in the ‘80s, inspired by the "Happy Hours" prized by Wall Street traders. Each week, the fortunate client selected his investment according to which fund had showed the best performance in the previous week. Impossible, you say! But no, these so-called fixed price arbitrage life insurance contracts live up to their name – they have not all expired. Seemingly, and there is a rising number of court cases to confirm this, they will all allow the policyholder to claim a gigantic sum. Several billion Euros to pay out doesn’t seem much for the sixth world insurer, managing more than 400 billion Euros for more than 53 million clients throughout the world. On the other hand, these additional billions weigh heavy compared to the Aviva group profit of 2.8 billion in 2010.
Since 1998, the directors of Abeille Vie, which became Aviva in 2002, and the leading life insurance company in Europe, have behaved as if these clients didn’t exist, apart from occasional appearances in court, where the insurer is regularly convicted. Max-Hervé George’s story is one of several hidden under the carpet in the office of the successive CEOs at the head of Aviva France, one of the biggest and most profitable subsidiaries of the Aviva Group. This subsidiary manages the assets of the largest association of savers in France, AFER, a key player in the field with its 730,000 members. It is also the story of a management that seems to only ignore the decisions taken at the highest judicial level in France. Called upon twenty-one times, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the aggrieved customers. Is ethical management such a rare commodity at Aviva that twenty-one lawsuits are not enough to make the company see reason? «Mr. Moss, we have a problem in France that could expose the company!» the executive committee must be yelling in the ears of their CEO Andrew Moss, who must be only too aware of the risk, having previously been manager of legal affairs in Aviva, and former employee of Lloyds. But no reaction; he appears to be neither cowardly enough to be frightened, nor brave enough to appeal to reason.
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