Andrew Marker, Head of Retail Pension and Platform Proposition Lead at Vanguard Asset Management UK and the Chair of the STAR Steering group, discusses the STAR initiative.

Andrew has over 25 years of experience in the pension and financial services industry. His career has been primarily focused on the pension sector of the industry and has branched across workplace pensions and, most recently, the retail pension and investment platform sector. Prior to joining Vanguard, Andrew held roles at Fidelity International as Head of Retail Pension operations managing the Fidelity and Fundsnetwork SIPP. Andrew is a Diploma member of the Pensions Management Institute (Dip PMI) and is focused on ensuring good customer outcomes are achieved.

What is STAR and why has it been introduced?

STAR (speedier transfers and re-registrations), a new award scheme, was launched as a long-term solution to improve customer experience of transferring savings, pensions and investments between companies by setting and measuring against a good practice framework. For too long the industry has been slow to respond to the changing demands of consumers, who rightfully want to be able to transfer as swiftly as possible. Certainly not taking months, which is an unacceptable feature of the industry. Transfers involve platforms, insurers, fund managers, re-registration and transfer intermediaries, custodians, third-party administrators and trustees. It also falls across multiple regulatory jurisdictions, with the FCA, The Pensions Regulator and Department of Work and Pensions all interested in different system elements. The STAR initiative was introduced as an alternative to regulation or legislation to enable the industry to get its house in order voluntarily. For this reason, two independent and not-for-profit organisations (Criterion and TeX) joined forces to form the STAR Delivery Team and manage the improvements for the industry. 

Who can take part in STAR?

We are encouraging all organisations involved in the transfer process and reporting of management information (MI) to take part in STAR. This includes platform providers, pension providers, administrators, fund managers and transfer agents.

How does STAR work?

Participants submit their MI monthly or quarterly via the STAR portal, and are required to submit a minimum of nine months of MI per accreditation – which is by product and brand. 

STAR collects and accredits the performance of companies annually when executing transfers, which provides regulators, customers, and their financial advisers with clear evidence of how firms are behaving and committed to improving their performance. STAR awards bronze, silver or gold accreditations based on an assessment of performance against agreed metrics and SLAs. Like Michelin stars or Olympic medals, reaching an accreditation is a meaningful achievement, with organisations demonstrating their commitment to improving performance and good customer outcomes.

Why should organisations participate in STAR?

For customers, STAR will lead to greater transfer certainty and speed, improved control over their money, and increased competition. Participation in the framework will enable firms to demonstrate to regulators their commitment to good practice, to the continued development of industry standards, to recognise excellent performance and to improve consumer outcomes. The ongoing collection and publication accreditation of performance awards in executing transfers and a list of the firms chosen to participate will provide regulators and customers with clear evidence of how firms are behaving. As well as having happier clients, participating firms will benefit from greater certainty in dealing with counterparties, leading to fewer complaints and lower administration costs.

Who is currently being accredited by STAR?

STAR participants should all be applauded for their efforts and transparency. And, of course, special credit should go to the organisations that have reached bronze, silver or gold accreditations. All organisations that have participated in STAR are showing a willingness to improve their transfers. They recognise that as well as being preferential for the end consumer, it will also drive efficiencies and save money in the process. There are over 75 organisations that are part of STAR (from Aegon to Zurich), and 18 received a STAR accreditation for their performance last year.

How much does it cost to take part in STAR?

Criterion and TeX, the organisations behind STAR, are not-for-profit organisations. All participants can be confident that improvements in transfer performance that the STAR framework will bring, are not delivered at undue expense. Organisations that support STAR agree to fund the initiative. Funding is transparent, sustainable and free from commercial bias. Costs are borne equitably across a broad pool of industry participants.

The funding is £3,000 plus VAT one-off joining fee per parent company and £1,700 plus VAT annually per SLA for each brand registration within a group.

Why is Vanguard involved?

Becoming accredited required minimal effort on our part. We were pleased with the process and robust governance and were delighted to receive an accreditation in 2022. This enhances our reputation, reflects our strong performance in transfers and shows that good customer outcomes is at the heart of what we do and remain focused on timely investment transfers and aligns to our mission of taking a stand for all investors. Support from across the industry will help improve the quality of service and process efficiency for individuals who transfer assets across financial institutions.

For more information or if you would like to speak to us, please email [email protected].