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Results season is upon us

It is interim results season and my favourite time of year as I attempt to write up all the life company results usually on the same day and schedule phone calls with each of their head honchos.

A tricky balancing act but I managed to persuade a couple of my colleagues to join in the fun and pick a company to write about which lightened the burden somewhat.

Anyhow, Standard Life boasted fantastic sales figures earlier this week particularly on the individual Sipp front with sales of £2.5bn but as with most results, the devil is in the detail.

If- like Hargreaves Lansdown’s Tom McPhail- you too have time on your hands, then when you delve a bit further it turns out that the life office also paid out £3.6bn in claims which McPhail says could mean they are simply recycling existing pensions business into new business.

Here are the headlines of other interim results:

Prudential – profits surged due to the restructuring of its UK business but sales fell by a fifth;

Aviva – operating profit fell 8 per cent due to floods but sales grew by 25 per cent worldwide;

Aegon – value of new business rose by 48 per cent to £77.9m;

Axa – life and savings APE business is up 26 per cent to £553m;

Friends Provident – overall sales were up 7 per cent and UK life and pensions rose 12 per cent with individual pensions sales rocketing up 85 per cent.

Elsewhere, The Pensions Office has apologised to its introducers for the late payment of commission after 90 per cent of its staff walked out on the same day.

According to director Keith Popplewell, nine of his ten staff left the company at the end of July due to a dispute over employment contracts which meant the firm was unable to pay commission to brokers who pass on pension transfer business.

Popplewell insists that all is well at the business and that he is in the process of recruiting new staff. He says the commission payments will take a few weeks to be delivered to introducers as a result.

Pensions transfer business seemed to be getting a few people hot under the collar this week with Suffolk Life’s John Moret calling for providers to up their administrative game.

Moret notes that the Pension Ombudsman’s annual report for 2006/07 showed that pension transfer business was the second-highest cause of complaints and he says this is damaging the industry.

Case summaries in the report showed delays in getting transfer values, transfers and making payments and Moret says this is often low priority business.

You can see why it might be low priority for providers to let business walk out of the door but that is still no excuse to delay the process unnecessarily. Holding up the transfer will not make the customer reconsider walking away but will only serve to leave a bitter taste in their mouth, meaning they are less likely to recommend the provider to others.

And finally, providers are warning IFAs not to take advantage of the SSAS loophole in the Finance Act 2007 because the Government will be clamping down on inheritance tax retrospectively.

In the last Budget, the Government said that it is intending to impose similar penalties to the 82 per cent tax charge on death benefits for alternatively secured pensions to prevent SSASs being set up to pass on assets to family members while avoiding IHT.

But the legislation did not appear in the Finance Bill which Standard Life head of pensions policy John Lawson says is an “enormous loophole” though he warns brokers not to go near it as HM Revenue and Customs has confirmed it will be introducing the legislation to apply retrospectively at a later date.

It seems as if the day of the loophole is over as the Government is closing them off faster than you can say “inheritance tax”. What will the technical bods at life offices occupy themselves with now?

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