Standard Life has been branded a failure by the global boss of rival insurer Axa who claims that Standard will be limited in the future over what it can do to remain competitive.
Axa group chief executive Henri de Castries has denied that the company would be interested in buying Standard Life, shooting down rumours that surfaced in January when Standard's troubles first emerged.
In a series of blistering remarks that mark a rare departure for life office senior executives who seldom criticise each other publicly, de Castries said Standard has effectively “killed itself” by relying too heavily on with-profits, an area of business which Axa pulled out of in the summer of 2002.
Standard has often been accused by analysts of reacting too slow to stockmarket activities in repositioning the equity content of its with-profits fund.
De Castries does not doubt that Standard Life will survive but he said that the company will be limited in terms of product development and that its “ability to draw in new clients is gone”.
Turning to price caps, de Castries said if similar measures were in place in every market in which Axa had a presence, it would not make any money anywhere. He issued a stark warning, saying that regulation is going to “kill its own industry”, going on to say that “the tremendous red tape has destroyed its own industry”.
He predicted that eventually regulation would be lessened, expressing the hope that it would be done before it was too late to ensure the continuing competitiveness of the UK financial services industry.
De Castries said: “In fact, Standard Life has killed itself. The fashion of the moment is certainly not the recipe for the future. It will survive but its ability to draw in new clients is gone.
“We are not interested in Standard Life. It is not doing anything we are not doing. The fact that big players are failing in the face of recovering markets is helpful to us.”
A Standard spokeswoman says: “We were not there so we cannot comment.”