Allied Dunbar: Out of Africa

October 01, 1995

The roots of community affairs in Allied Dunbar go back to the earliest days of the company’s foundation. In 1971 the co-founders, Mark Weinberg, Syd Lipworth and Joel Joffe, launched a new life assurance company, Hambro Life, having left their previous company, Abbey Life, when it was taken over two years earlier. All three were South African born but had come to Britain in the early 1960s for personal and political reasons. For example, Joel Joffe, the key figure in establishing the new company’s community affairs programme, had acted as a defence lawyer in several civil rights trials and represented Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia freedom trial.

Today Allied Dunbar, renamed in 1985, has grown to 3,500 staff, over 500,000 policy holders and managed funds worth £14 billion. But right at the outset, Joel Joffe proposed a charitable foundation, funded through a covenant of one per cent of annual profits, and two years after the company’s foundation, this was established. As the scale of activities grew, specialist staff were recruited to run the programme, starting with Des Palmer in 1978. Today 14 staff work full time in the department and there are three separate funds which, with extensive staff fundraising and volunteering, make charitable donations of £3.6 million (1995).


The original fund set up in 1973 with 1% of profits covenanted is the Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust, and the contribution has subsequently increased to 1.25%. Explicitly focusing on less popular causes, today the five main headings are:

carers policy, supporting five national organisations operating in Yorkshire which provide services for and campaign on behalf of people who care for someone who is sick or disabled;

money advice policy, primarily supporting debt counsellors in Citizens Advice Bureaux in 12 locations;

domestic violence policy, primarily providing more bed spaces for women and children victims of violence in the home;

dementia policy, launched in 1995 with an initial focus on Scotland, offering support to initiatives of practical benefit to sufferers of dementia;

India policy, which combines grants with staff assignments in capacity building projects with voluntary groups in Southern India, partly as a staff training tool.

Originally support for local charities was a key policy of the Trust, but this is now the responsibility of the Staff Charity Fund, the second main donations vehicle. Expenditure in 1995 in the Swindon area will be over £300,000, raised from the 2,600 direct employees based at Allied Dunbar’s main centre in Swindon (40% have signed deeds of covenant) with matching funding from the company. This local programme is managed entirely by a committee of staff volunteers themselves.

The third vehicle is the Allied Dunbar Foundation, the charitable arm of the 4,000 strong sales force. Funded by 0.25% of company profits and the fundraising efforts of the financial advisers, 60% of whom have deeds of covenant, it has an income of £1 million a year. The first fund in the UK to be managed and supported by the self-employed, it adopts biennial themes for its UK wide grant giving.

The mission

Clearly each fund has its own policy priorities, with the staff playing a leading role in their determination, but the Charitable Trust Executive Committee, which oversees the charitable activity of the company, has defined an overall mission for its community affairs programme. The main focus is on supporting people who endure the most disadvantage. It operates at all levels, the local community, nationally and in the Third World. Support is offered to help people move from “a situation of dependence to independence”. There is specific encouragement to staff to contribute time and money. Finally Allied Dunbar seeks to influence other organisations – a proselytising role – and wishes to achieve recognition for its work.

Staff involvement

The emphasis on encouraging staff contribution is a notably feature of the programme, one that has received national recognition. Allied Dunbar’s employee volunteering programme started in the mid 1980s as one of the first in the UK and is now probably the best established. Around one in three staff regularly participate in company supported volunteering activities. Among the activities are:

the annual Challenge: for example, during September 1995 85 separate teams with several hundred staff in total undertook one-off tasks for local charitable organisations, often of a practical nature;

the Alpha Scheme supports staff with professional or technical expertise to help charities; examples include installing a computer or developing a business plan;

Time Out matches with company time the time staff give to week-long initiatives such as a holiday for children with a disability;

school governors can claim up to £200 for a specific activity or piece of equipment.

In addition some 50 staff volunteers serve on the Staff Charity Fund’s committees with a further 200 involved in fundraising and other support activity. Similarly the Allied Dunbar Foundation work is carried out by volunteers from the self-employed Financial Advisers and a formal volunteering scheme is being tried out in 1995 with the first ever Sales Force Challenge.


Allied Dunbar’s joint managing director, Phil Smith is chairman of the Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust and leads the company’s charitable activities with the advice of an executive committee, comprising the chairs of the Foundation and Staff Charity Fund, staff from Community Affairs and senior company managers. The full-time team in Community Affairs department is led at director level by John Bickell, with nine staff dedicated to the Charitable Trust and the Staff Charity Fund. The Foundation has a further team of four. A panel of 12 external advisers is drawn from partner and other voluntary organisations to provide guidance and consultation.

The sheer scale of this effort and the professional nature of its organisation make Allied Dunbar’s programme exceptional, but it is distinctive in other ways too.


The company took an early decision to ensure that the considerable resources were well directed and used effectively. This means defining carefully, with the recipient, what the aim of the donation is, with clear performance outputs and timescales. Far from being a threat, this approach helps the organisations to achieve their own goals. With more certainty of outcomes, Allied Dunbar has been prepared to enter into longer term commitments, for example formal three year written funding agreements.

The limitation of this approach is that it only looks at benefit to the community, not the impact within Allied Dunbar. This is partly being addressed by a ‘social accounting’ initiative, being tested on the Staff Charity Fund. The idea, pioneered in this country by the New Economics Foundation, is to measure the impact of an organisation against its stated objectives and against the expectations of its stakeholders. It recognises that financial accounts alone cannot provide this broader picture. For the Staff Charity Fund, the stakeholders are defined as the staff themselves, principally those involved in fundraising, voluntary sector recipients and various local statutory and other funders. A combination of quantitative measures and qualitative factors based on questionnaires and focus groups will provide external assessors with the means to judge the Fund’s performance.

Business benefits

However, not explicitly included in this evaluation is the impact on the company itself, in terms of possible business benefits. Paradoxically, because charitable activity is so well and long established in Allied Dunbar, there is resistance in some quarters to the notion that the company should have some business return for its percentage of profit donated, whether in terms of reputation, staff development, marketing, etc. Having been generous for so long, makes it hard to ask for a payback now. This is less relevant for the social audit of the Staff Fund, as direct company involvement is low, but will become an issue if the process is extended.

The wider point is that the emphasis on ‘mainstreaming’ – integrating community issues into mainline business concerns – which is so strong in many companies, is less developed in Allied Dunbar. One exception is in marketing where the contribution of social responsibility to reputation and positioning in the market place has been explicitly considered. But the conclusion was not to seek differentiation by highlighting the community programme, despite the close relationship between the social responsibility policy and the brand values that the company espouses and aspires to, particularly that of being a caring company.


So Allied Dunbar has a tremendous record both in running its own charitable activities and in sharing its expertise with others – for example, some 25 publications are available free on evaluation, employee involvement and fundraising. But the strong focus on real social benefits from its charitable activities is allowing other companies to get ahead of Allied Dunbar on ‘business benefit’ issues.

Links with the business are now being developed. Wisely these are not being ‘retro-fitted’ onto existing charity centred activities. Rather specific new initiatives, for example the Southern India programme, are having staff development aspects built in from the start – and justified to line managers in those terms. Once these are extended, Allied Dunbar will have experience to share with the sector. From seeds sown in Africa a generation ago, British corporate responsibility is immeasurably richer.


Allied Dunbar Assurance plc

Year ended 31 December 1994

Chairman: George Greener

Chief Executive: Sandy Leitch

Main business: the UK’s largest unit-linked life assurance and pensions company (a wholly-owned subsidiary of BAT Industries)

Turnover (net premiums): £1,595 million

Net profit (actuarial surplus): £139 million

Employees: 3,500

Ranking: not separately quoted

Charitable donations: £2.3 million (covenanted payment to Allied Dunbar Charitable Trust)

Per cent of profit: 1.25%

Memberships: BITC, Per Cent Club, European Foundation Centre

Director of Community Affairs: John Bickell

Address: Allied Dunbar Centre, Swindon SN1 1EL

Phone: 01793 514514 (fax: 01793 506982)

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 24 – October, 1995