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Focus on Protection

Royal London’s profits from new business grew by £22m in the first six months of this year compared to £37m for the full year in 2005. The provider is now the UK’s largest mutual life and pensions company since Standard Life’s demutualisation was completed in July.

Group chief executive Mike Yardley said: “In the pensions market, Scottish Life has continued to very deliberately target profitable new business. We have taken a firm decision that we will not destroy capital by writing business which can only ever be profitable based on heroic assumptions.”

Standard Life also released its interim results last week which showed an increase in pensions lapses due to a mixture of people who had been hanging on for their windfalls cashing in and other customers consolidating pension arrangements after A-Day.

The company has set up a pre-tax provision of £79m to cover expected lapses and says its demutualisation has delayed the impact of A-Day on its pensions business because of people waiting for their payouts.

Elsewhere in the City, Aviva and Axa are rumoured to still be courting Prudential but the threesome continue to maintain an aloof silence on the matter.

But Pru is not sitting still. Chief executive Mark Tucker is reportedly looking at either buying another insurer or streamlining the business. The latter action could see the Pru sells its UK group pensions or protection business lines.

Royal and Sun Alliance has sold its US operations to a management buyout for a deferred payment of £158m in a move which is expected to write-off £443m of RS&A’s pre-tax profits.

Analysts think RS&A may now be more vulnerable to a bid but Citigroup does not buy into the acquisition story and believes Zurich is the only group likely to have any interest in RS&A – though this is unlikely to happen in Citigroup’s view.

Equitable Life is struggling to offload its £10bn with-profits fund and says it may be forced to sell off parts of the business as an alternative.

Equitable’s interim results showed a rise of 17 per cent in its excess realistic assets from £669m at the end of 2005 to £786m in the six months to June 30 2006.

The insurer will have completed the transfer of its £4.6bn annuity book to Canada Life by next February and says this has greatly reduced a key risk to the society.

The pension term assurance battle rages on but who will win the war?

Lifesearch has responded with bewilderment to Richard Verdin’s claim that Icob advisers should sell PTA without advice. Verdin says this is preferable to selling PTA with a caveat that says the adviser cannot advise on the suitability of the product.

But Lifesearch says this would lead consumers to “go it alone” which could be more damaging and accuses Verdin of having lost sight of the consumer.

Meanwhile, London Fashion Week has prompted outrage that stick-thin models are still being used on the catwalk but being banned from shows could be the least of their worries.

Hargreaves Lansdown’s Jonathan Briggs is warning that it is just as hard for very underweight people to get life and critical-illness cover at a standard premium rate as it is for overweight people. Consumers who have a body mass index of under 16 could face extra charges and tougher underwriting terms when applying for cover.

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