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Nuki&#39s Eye

Congratulations to Standard Life which appears to have seen off Fred Woollard, the smarmy carpetbagger from Monaco who sought to have the Edinburgh company demutualised.

The final figures have, at the time of writing, yet to be announced but I understand that Mr Woollard has failedto attract anything like the 75 per cent majority he neededto win.

With luck he will now fly back to his cheesy tax haven of a home and suffer his humiliating defeat in private.

But perhaps that is to hope too much. Woollard, who knows no grace, was already suggesting on Sunday that the vote had somehow been rigged against him.

“It has emphatically not been a fair fight,” he whinged in the columns of one Sunday newspaper. “The company has consistently outspent us in its campaign and consistently misled policyholders.”

What a load of tosh, or McDeepfriedtosh, as they say in Scotland. The fact of the matter is that the carpetbaggers had the ace card from the outset but still failed in their money-grabbing mission.

That card was greed – the promise of a mouth-watering cheque for £5,000 or more waved in front of each and every one of the insurer&#39s2.3 million with-profits policyholders.

For Standard Life&#39s management to have prevailed in such circumstances is a great achievement. It is both a vote of confidence in the company and a clear sign that British consumers are now willing to invest for the long term.

However, a vote in favour of mutuality does not mean that the Standard Life board can relax. Once they have got over their celebratory hangovers they must start streamlining and innovating like they never have before.

And make no mistake, this chore involves much more than communicating the merits of mutuality to policyholders.

If Standard Life is to survive in the long term as a mutual company it must start delivering more benefits in bigger portions to all customers, new and existing.

To be fair, the company has started to do this in the last few years. The launch of its high-tech mortgage business which offers some of the best rates in the marketplace was a good start and has done much to enhance the company&#39s reputation. But there is much, much more to be done. Insiders who know the company well say vast amounts of policyholders&#39 money is wasted internally through overstaffing and unnecessary bureaucracy.

Standard Life&#39s product range is also in need of an urgent revamp. New policyholders continue to pay far too much in fund management fees, commissions and early surrender penalties while existing customers still have to put up with service standards that are paper-based.

Most difficult of all, perhaps, Standard Life must modernise without losing the canny and conservative feel that made it such a reliable company and brand in the first place.

It must sell itself harder both to new and existing customers by embracing the efficiencies that mark out the best proprietary companies.

But it must also remain mutual at heart and make sure it does not become cynical, flash or glib.

My guess is that Standard Life&#39s current management will pull all this off and give London&#39s no-heart plcs a serious run for their money.

Perhaps when that is done the company&#39s policyholders should get together again and put forward a proposal to buy Monaco and increase its taxes by 2000 per cent.


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