The UK’s fifth-biggest life and pension company has seen significant changes in the past month following the decision to split into open and closed business but Friends Life chief executive Andy Briggs does not think the company’s core proposition has changed since its Quaker origins in 1832.
He says: “Our core purpose is still to help more people achieve a better standard of living in retirement.”
Since a rebrand in April that saw both Friends Provident and the life arms of Bupa and Axa UK come under the Friends Life banner, the company now has seven core businesses. The creation of the UK Heritage business, which will run the companies’ closed book businesses, was the most controv-ersial outcome.
Briggs says: “Our view is that insurance companies have not been good at meeting the ongoing needs of existing customers because they are focused on new business. Separating open and closed book business was not about creating a zombie fund and reducing service standards for existing clients. We will have a higher calibre, dedicated management team focused on meeting their needs.”
Alongside UK Heritage, Friends Life also has two international businesses, Friends Provident International and Lombard. In the UK, it also has distribution business Sesame Bankhall, a business Briggs says has been hugely beneficial in terms of market insight. The final three arms are those Friends Life has selected to actively market corporate benefits, protection and retirement income.
He says: “We have made some appointments to help us take these areas forward and make ongoing wins in the marketplace. Corporate benefits is run by Colin Williams, who has a very strong market reputation in employee benefits. In the retirement income area, we are relatively new players, so we are looking to build a strong market presence.”
It has started this process by hiring former Prudential in retirement director David Still and industry expert Richard Willetts to make the company’s retirement income proposition as strong as its protection offering.
The company is also revamping its group protection business. Briggs says: “Last month, we launched our new combined group protection offering. It is based on the Bupa Heritage platform but brings together features from the Friends Provident Heritage platform as well.”
’Protection is not encompassed within the scope of RDR, so I think advisers will turn to it for income. That is positive from our perspective’
The company will also use the Heritage Bupa platform to launch its new individual protection proposition in Q4, a move Briggs hopes will establish a best of breed proposition for advisers. “We will add on best features from Heritage Friends Provident and Heritage Axa such as tele-underwriting and e-select capabilities,” he says.
Friends Life also has plans for its retirement income proposition, namely opening its annuity up to customers on the open market in the next 12 to 18 months, but its biggest intentions lie in the corporate benefits market.
Briggs says: “We have already selected Heritage Friends Provident as our go-forward platform and the major development there will be My Money, the corporate wrap we are planning to launch by the end of the year. It will have a lot of front-end tools to help employees but it will also be configurable for advisers in terms of helping them provide information for their clients.”
Briggs believes that auto-enrolment and Nest will drive market growth in corporate benefits and alongside the corporate wrap, it also plans to work with Nest on a number of propositions.
He says: “We are very supportive of what Nest is trying to achieve. Where employers are not keen to sponsor arrangements for certain employees, we are working actively with Nest to see if we can provide for these folks. We are in dialogue with Nest to see if we can offer something like a T switch to send the relevant employees either to Nest or to the workplace arrangement and have different categories of workers in different places. We would look at launching this next year.”
Briggs thinks the boost from auto-enrolment will not just be for corporate benefits business. He says: “The opportunity will be to ride the crest of the wave that auto-enrolment creates. People will be more aware of retirement planning and we can help them do more to save for old age and protect their loved ones. It is defin-itely a chance for us to make the most in all areas of our business.”
The retail distribution review represents another potential boost for Friends Life.
Briggs says: “A lot of advisers will find the economics of servicing lower-net-worth clients challenging. I think the worksite will be part of the solution. It has three advantages better quality employee data, better access to employees through intranets and employer endorsement to overcome any trust issues. The RDR represents an opportunity to make the worksite a broader distribution channel for a broader range of financial services.”
In reaction to the RDR, the company pulled out of individual pensions and bonds earlier this year, saying that initial commission-based products would suffer under RDR.
But Briggs says some areas, such as protection, will benefit.
He says: “It is not encompassed within the scope of RDR, so I think advisers will turn to protection for income. That is positive from our perspective and, given the size of the UK protection gap,it is no bad thing in general.”
Although Friends Life is planning to grow its differ-ent businesses substantially over the next year, Briggs confirms the company has ruled out any further major acquisitions for now.
He says: “We would cons-ider a bolt-on acquisition that increases the expected returns of the overall UK life project but we will not be considering a bigger acquisition that would require funding by rights issue for cash from our investors before the middle of next year.”
- Friends Life is the UK operating company of Resolution ltd, which acquired Friends Provident in 2009
- Following the acquisition of life businesses of Bupa and Axa, Friends Life was relaunched in March this year, bringing the UK operations of all three companies under one umbrella
- In August, Friends Life split its business between open and closed book, forming UK Heritage to cover closed business
- The open book business will focus on group pensions and group and individual protection
- Friends Life also owns Sesame Bankhall, which includes the UK’s biggest appointed representative network
- It has two international businesses, Friends Provident International and Lombard, the ultra-high-net-worth estate planning business
- Friends Life has five million customers worldwide and 6,000 employees worldwide