Victims of Equitable Life are to be paid off by the taxpayer, says the FT.
Equitable Life ran a with-profits fund, a form of collective investment that only goes up (as long as you maintain it to the end of the agreed term). Once awarded, bonuses on with-profits funds cannot be taken away. EL's undoing was that, like some other companies, they dragged in extra pension business a long time ago on the selling point of guaranteeing (in their case) a 12% annuity rate when the plans matured. That is, for every £100 in the fund, the life time income would be £12 per year.
When we moved from a high inflation/high interest environment to low/low, this promise became a ticking time bomb. When annuity rates generally have dropped to 6% or less, you need to double the fund to create the same income. So since there wasn't enough in the kitty, EL had either to renege on the guaranteed annuity rate (GAR), or take away much of the bonuses already awarded. I believe they tried both approaches and the courts wouldn't let them.
This GAR depth-charge was well known, or should have been known, to actuaries. The IFA network I was with in the 90s used to have a shortlist of approved companies (including non-commission payers) for each product, and at some point EL quietly dropped off the list. If outsiders could see the disaster looming, we have to assume the technical advisers on the inside knew even better what would happen. Yet EL carried on awarding bonuses to investors as though nothing was wrong.
Now, it seems compensation is to be paid because industry regulators failed to spot the coming crisis and step in. It's as though houseowners could sue the police for not stopping Bill the Burglar. Perhaps it helps EL investors' case that so many of them happen to be lawyers and journalists?
However, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The same arguments can be applied to victims of the mortgage mis-selling of the past few years. For Equitable Life, read banks; for investors, read borrowers. And in both cases, it's the same regulator now.