An update from our Chief Executive
6 November 2020
I hope you are keeping safe and well.
With England now entering its second lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic and other nations already having restrictions in place, I thought it important to provide a further update on how your Society is navigating this period and, equally as important, how we can possibly help you, our members.
In a nutshell, we are open, we will remain open and we are very much here for all of our members.
COVID-19 support for members
- We have previously communicated to members that our Foresters Support Fund may be able to provide financial assistance during the pandemic in the form of grants that are not required to be paid back. Foresters has a long and strong track record of giving back to our members in this way, through our member benefits package, and we are proud to have paid over £1.6million to members in discretionary grants in 2019 alone.
- Since the start of the pandemic to the beginning of November, we have supported many members and paid out over £61,000 for COVID-related discretionary grants.
- Should you wish to claim for financial assistance, please use this form. Our team are working hard to respond to requests in a short amount of time.
Sales and Financial Performance
- September 2020 was a record new business premium income month for the Society’s with-profits business. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued to see strong levels of investments being made from both people new to the Society and our existing members who continue to save and invest with us. People often turn to mutual organisations during turbulent times and we are delighted they continue to place their trust in Foresters.
- We’ve continued our ongoing relationships with financial advisers and our introducers via the telephone and e-communications, and more recently the reinstatement of face to face visits. With the second lockdown now in place, unfortunately the face to face visits must be paused to comply with Government advice and for the safety of our staff and business partners, but these will be re-started as soon as we are able to.
- Since de-risking the Society’s with-profits Order Insurance Fund at the start of 2020, we have continued to monitor market levels, activity and sentiment and our expert internal investment team have maintained weekly calls with our portfolio manager at our external investment managers, AXA IM.
- US markets have reacted positively to the global stimulus packages from Governments and central banks, although this is largely concentrated on gains in the large technology companies, such as Amazon, Apple and Netflix, that have seen increased revenue streams throughout the pandemic. Other regions, especially Europe, have been much slower to recover, with markets still typically 20-25% lower than at the end of 2019. Bond markets have performed well during the past 6 months with prices rising and yields falling as central banks reduced interest rates.
- The current asset mix within the Order Insurance Fund remains largely unchanged to the update provided in April 2020. It should again be noted that this asset allocation is a temporary position and as mentioned, we are monitoring the markets, in collaboration with our investment managers, to determine the appropriate time to re-risk the portfolio, with an expectation that this will be before the end of 2020. A new asset allocation will be initiated at this time.
- When markets fall like this, people may be tempted to withdraw their money to protect it. However, this can lead to the investment being sold at a loss that might have been avoided if the investment were held for the long-term. Our with profits plans are designed to be held for the long-term. If you cash-in when the market is down, you will likely suffer a loss in the value of your investments and might miss out on any increases in value in the future if/when markets recover. If you make regular contributions to an investment, you might wish to consider continuing to make those contributions. You will be able to invest at lower prices than before the market downturn.
- If you need money in the short to medium term and have cash savings that could be used instead, such as cash ISAs or bank accounts, you might want to consider taking some money from those alternative sources, if that still leaves money in rainy day funds, rather than to realise losses from any investments you hold. The Government has announced a range of measures to offer support to people during the pandemic. You may wish to investigate whether you are eligible for this support before withdrawing money from your investments.
- We’ve compared our with-profits Order Insurance fund’s performance against that of the FTSE100 over the past 5 years and are pleased to be able to demonstrate that with-profits provides a much less volatile return which is shown by the graph below. Again, this provides investors with more confidence through a much less risky type of investment.
- Our Court (branch) network are usually very active, providing a wide option of social gatherings for members to partake in. Due to the restrictions on mass gatherings, a physical AGM (‘High Court’) could not take place this year. The Society’s first ever virtual High Court was held on September 19th and was successful.
- Our Courts have responded to the challenge the pandemic has caused and have been able to establish virtual meetings which will be of huge benefit as we enter this period of lockdown. Our befriending assistance has continued throughout the pandemic to ensure that our members who need it most are aware that we are here for them, no matter what.
Thank you for taking the time to read this update. I wish you and your family well. If you need to contact us about any matter, please use the contact us page to direct your query.
20 May 2020
It’s important that we keep our members up to date during these uncertain times. Here at Foresters Friendly Society, it is very much business as usual. Our head office remains open and we have set the majority of our hard working staff up to work from home in keeping with Government guidance. By implementing this dual approach and ensuring safeguarding measures in our office, we can continue to provide a full service to our members and intermediaries.
As with most funds, the Society’s with profits Order Insurance Fund has suffered a fall in value due to the impact of COVID-19 on Global markets. The fund started the year underweight in risk assets, particularly equities, which helped to protect it when compared to other higher risk funds. The Society’s Investment Committee took the decision in March 2020 to de-risk the fund further, protecting it from future potential falls, by selling all equities and convertible bonds. The proceeds from those sales were invested into short term UK conventional Gilts. This reduced the fund’s volatility and protected the solvency position, but crystalised losses in the funds that had been sold. Markets have reacted positively to the global stimulus packages from Governments and central banks, however sentiment is that the recovery will be slow with most equity markets moving sideways for the past 5-6 weeks.
When markets fall like this, people may be tempted to withdraw their money to protect it. However, this can lead to the investment being sold at a loss that might have been avoided if the investment were held for the long-term. Our with profits plans are designed to be held for the long-term. If you cash-in when the market is down, you will likely suffer a loss in the value of your investments and might miss out on any increases in value in the future if/when markets recover. If you make regular contributions to an investment, you might wish to consider continuing to make those contributions. You will be able to invest at lower prices than before the market downturn.
If you need money in the short to medium term and have cash savings that could be used instead, such as cash ISAs or bank accounts, you might want to consider taking some money from those alternative sources, if that still leaves money in rainy day funds, rather than to realise losses from any investments you hold. The Government has announced a range of measures to offer support to people during the pandemic. You may wish to investigate whether you are eligible for this support before withdrawing money from your investments.
How we can help you
As a mutual Society, we are here for you as much more than just a financial services provider.
Please don’t forget that in these trying times, our Foresters Support Fund may be able to help. Discretionary grants are available to assist our adult members (over 18 years of age and who have been a member for at least 6 months) in times of hardship or distress by paying up to £2,000. We’ve recently been able to help members facing illness or financial difficulties due to COVID-19. Find out more about our Support Fund.
As always, please rest assured that as your mutual society, we will do our utmost to ensure we put you, and our staff who provide you with the service you have come to expect, first at all times.
Stay alert and stay well
26 March 2020
We are certainly living in unprecedented times and we recognise the importance of keeping all of our members up to date with how your mutual Society is responding to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Operating our business has become more challenging since the lockdown announcements made by the Government this week. Nevertheless, our Claims teams are included in the Government’s list of essential services and we will continue to operate our service for our 70,000+ individual members and for those insured through our Group schemes. We recognise that your circumstances may have changed and we need to support you as best we can.
We are working hard to maintain our service levels with the new approach. We have a small team of staff still based in the office to ensure that we can continue to provide the usual service that members expect with regard to Claims. If you are unable to get through to our team, we use an external service provider who will take messages and forward them to us and our staff will call you back at the first available opportunity.
Foresters Support Fund
Please don’t forget that in these trying times, our Foresters Support Fund may be able to help. Discretionary grants are available to assist our adult members (over 18 years of age and who have been a member for at least 6 months) in times of hardship or distress by paying up to £2,000. For example, we’ve been able to help members affected by floods and members facing illness or financial difficulties. We feel it is only right that this fund now supports those who have been affected by COVID-19. Please click here for more details.
Thank you again for your patience and perseverance over these last few weeks and for bearing with us as we all adapt to the evolving situation we have found ourselves in.
18 March 2020
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to cause concern and unease amongst the UK and worldwide population, it is important that our members are kept updated with the steps that we are taking to ensure we can continue to provide the high service levels that you expect of us, for you and your family.
In keeping with government advice, our staff are set up to work from home where possible and our office remains open and manned to ensure that we continue to provide a full service. We are ensuring the welfare of those still in the office by introducing social distancing measures across our teams.
Our With Profits Fund
We are providing regular updates on the performance of our With Profits Order Insurance Fund, which you can view on our website here. Please rest assured that our expert internal Investment Management team alongside our external investment managers, AXA IM, are constantly monitoring the situation and our Investment Committee are making decisions on all of our funds’ assets to navigate the turbulence to the best of our ability. We are reducing the impact to our underlying asset values through implementing de-risking strategies. Our funds still benefit from a diverse asset mix including Gilts, UK Treasury Bills and Corporate Bonds as well as Property and SME loan funds. These other assets have performed well during this difficult period and we believe will give protection to asset values at a time of global uncertainty.
Our member benefits continue to be offered as normal with the exception of those provided via face to face contact – the Help at Home service provided by our partner, Redarc, and our social activities arranged by our branch (Court) network.
Following a review of the Help at Home service and the potential risks that it may pose to members, the decision has been taken to suspend arranging any new support, with immediate effect. RedArc have made this decision as they do not believe it will be in the best interest of members having strangers coming into their home and potentially exposing them to the virus.
If support via Help at Home is already in progress or being arranged, RedArc will continue to provide care, but will make the member aware of the potential risks.
Foresters Care remains largely unaffected, however, with RedArc staff currently working from home, there may be a slight delay with hard copy communications. Where possible, all correspondence will be sent via email.
RedArc are monitoring the situation and we will continue to update our website when anything changes.
We have advised our branch (Court) network to cease all social activity during this uncertain period which we know will be difficult for some members. We are acting in the best interests of our members and will advise when this position changes, in keeping with government advice.
How you can keep up to date
Please do check our website when you can as this is where we will publish updates when they become available. And, please rest assured that as your mutual society, we will do our utmost to ensure we put you, and our staff who provide you with the service you have come to expect, first at all times.
Wishing you all the very best in these uncertain times,