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Open season on closed books

Mergers and acquisitions, demutualisations, closed funds and departing chief executives slugged it out for the headlines in an eventful year for the life industry.

After a long running saga, the Standard Life demutualisation vote went ahead on May 31 and after 98 per cent of its members said yes, the 181-year-old firm finally waved goodbye to mutualsville in July, floating on the stock exchange at 230p.

Finance director Alison Reed did not stick around for long, quitting after having been there for just over a year. She was replaced by Scottish Power finance director David Nish.

Aviva saw a few changes, with Norwich Union UK life chief executive Gary Withers leaving. Group executive director of general insurance Patrick Snowball became group executive director of Aviva UK and Philip Scott took the reins as group executive director of Aviva International.

Aviva was regularly in the news but its bid for Prudential early in the year failed and it withdrew the £17bn offer after the Pru board rejected the proposal in March.

Pru had an up and down year. It escaped the clutches of Aviva but closed sites in Belfast, Bristol and Holborn Bars as part of a £40m cost-saving review which saw the transfer of 700 jobs to other sites in the UK and India.

Prudential Asia chief executive Mark Norbom was another surprise departure after he quit the life office following discussions with group chief executive Mark Tucker. Norbom will work out a 12-month notice period and is expected to get a payoff of close to £1m.

Axa UK group chief executive Dennis Holt and Friends Provident group chief executive Keith Satchell announced retirement in a further changing of the guard. Nicolas Mor-eau, previously chief executive of Axa Investment Managers, took Holt’s role with Friends’ group finance director Philip Moore set to take over from Satchell in January.

The scramble for closed life books gathered pace as Resolution merged the business of seven of its eight existing life companies which saw the Britannic brand swallowed up into Resolution. It also acquired Abbey’s UK and offshore life business in June for £3.6bn and almost doubled in size as a result of its entry into the new life business market.

Former Pru UK chief executive Mark Wood set up a defined-benefit pension acquisition firm, Paternoster, with £500m backing from a consortium led by Deutsche Bank and Eton Park International in April. The firm has taken on over £70m in assets from the buyout of five final-salary schemes and will announce further buyout deals next year.

Both are persistently rumoured to be looking at Scottish Widows and Prudential, so expect similar levels of corporate activity next year.


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