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New business, closed life firms and service troubles

The ABI has released its new business figures today indicating that not all is doom and gloom in the life industry as new business has increased by 8 per cent.

On a total annual premium equivalent, new business in the third quarter of this year was up by 8.1 per cent from £3.4bn compared with the third quarter of last year.

On the pensions front, individual pensions new business grew by 6.3 per cent from £1.3bn to £1.4bn over the same period.

Total single premium individual pensions dropped by 7.9 per cent from £5.8bn in Q3 last year down to £5.3bn, which the ABI says is due to a change in timing of DWP rebate payments.

As ever, the question arises as to how much of this is recycled business. Perhaps the ABI should consider including outflows of business as well as inflows in their quarterly figures – I suspect the figures would show some correlation.

Moving from new business to the world of closed-life firms, and Resolution and Pearl look set to tie the knot following the Board of Resolution’s recommendation of the acquisition to shareholders.

But what will the deal mean for advisers and policyholders, assuming it goes ahead?

The transaction will create a top 10 UK life business with £85bn in assets under management which solidifies this new breed of life office as a force to be reckoned with.

Pearl has entered into a binding agreement with Royal London which will see the mutual takeover Scottish Provident and Scottish Provident International, as well as some net assets and blocks of linked and protection in-force business.

Advisers are split on whether the merger of Pearl and Resolution will bring improvements to service or not.

Closed life insurers have come in for a lot of criticism from advisers over their speed and willingness to give out policy details and client information.

Informed Choice managing director Nick Bamford says he thinks the net effect will be neutral because the two firms are equally bad at providing information.

But Syndaxi Financial Planning managing director Robert Reid thinks Pearl is more committed to treating customers fairly and hopes Resolution will raise its game as a result of the acquisition.

And what about those left behind?

You cannot help but feel sorry for failed suitor Friends Provident, which really never stood a chance against the aggressive tactics of Pearl director Hugh Osmond.

Speculation has now been raised over the future of Friends with commentators predicting it will sell off parts of its business or become a takeover target.

Some advisers have lost confidence in the insurer with Anand Associates financial architect James Brook saying his first concern with any product provider is financial security.

He says: “Advisers will not use companies without financial strength, as we saw in the Equitable Life situation, and the Northern Rock share price falling this week also shows this. Confidence is key in the financial services profession.”

Service is also key in this industry and Axa displayed the latest example of appalling administration after sending out a letter three years late.

Tinsdale Investment Management principal Nigel Tinsdale says he was startled when he got a letter on November 9, over a Sun Life unit services personal pension plan, telling him his client’s funds would be switched into a managed fund from February 12, 2005.

When Tinsdale rang the insurer to ask why they had sent the letter two years and 10 months late, the firm said it had “a bit of a backlog”.

Possibly the understatement of the year.

Axa says this is a highly unusual case and it is conducting an urgent review into why this happened.

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