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Taking stock

Andrea Tryphonides looks at life for Standard after the floatation

Standard Life made a buoyant start on the stockmarket last week. It launched on the London Stock Exchange at 230p a share, making it the fifth-biggest UK-listed life insurance company, bigger than Friends Provident but smaller than Legal & General.

The offer was three to four times oversubscribed and investors who asked for further shares at a 5 per cent discount for amounts over 2,000 will get 70 per cent of their application above this level, with a maximum holding of 50,000. Institutional investors will on average get a third of the shares they applied for.

Over 2.4 million policy-holders will get average windfalls of around 1,475 from Standard, which is now valued at around 4.65bn. The 230p price was towards the lower end of the 210p to 270p range set by Standard last month although it was set at 240p to 290p in April.

Now that demutualisation has finally happened, what can IFAs can expect from Standard? Some IFAs may already have asked clients to consider withdrawing from the firm altogether, waving goodbye to long but recently strained relationships.

Standard says it is too early to judge how many policyholders have opted to sell their shares but says 437 million ordinary shares were sold through the initial share sale facility before listing.

There are early signs of a sell-out by some clients from the with-profits fund.

Surrenda-Link, a UK traded endowment policy company, says it has seen a fourfold rise in the number of with-profits policies being traded. Comparing figures from July 10-12 with daily averages in May, Surrenda-Link says policyholders could lose over 12m in the second half of this year if they cash in.

Mazars Financial Services chief executive Paul Willans says: “It is the responsibility of every adviser in the market to do the best by their clients and if necessary be mercen- ary. If they think that a review or a transfer to another provider or indeed a product is in the best interests of the client, every adviser must fulfil his duty.

“As a new plc and a new addition to the FTSE 100, it will be interesting to see how it develops as an organisation, where the interests of the shareholders may not be in line with policyholders or distribution. My only concern is that as a plc, its emphasis may be on the shorter term rather than the longer term.”

There are some advisers who still believe Standard Life has yet to pay for its past sins. One IFA says: “What IFAs want from Standard Life plc is 250m to be paid to policyholders who have been denied redress regarding the Lautro scandal. Standard Life has said that if the mortgage endowment compensation pot needs to be topped up, it would be drawn from stakeholder funds. Just because it is now a plc does not change its obligation to policyholders.”

But most IFAs are optimistic and many have been praising the firm’s improved standards, particularly since Trevor Matthews entered the scene in June 2004 as chief executive of UK life and pension business.

CBK principal Peter Chadborn says: “The maintaining of high standards and service levels is a major issue. In our experience, poorer service levels have prevailed from the bigger life offices. However, Standard Life has always been the exception to this rule. The ability to still work closely and support IFAs and the IFA distribution channel is important.

“I hope they understand the loyalty that they have from IFAs and do not follow other providers who claim to support them yet operate via non-advice distribution channels, for example, supermarkets, that are in direct competition with IFAs.”

It is no secret that Standard has not been successful with its protection business, with sales down by 57 per cent to 6m last year. It cited the slowing housing market and strong price competition as major factors behind the fall.

Life Policies Direct managing director Jason King says: ” I would like to see Standard create some real innovation in the market-place. They have admitted that they have not been able to achieve their ambitions in the IFA protection market due to the high competition levels. This seems to have resulted in them pursuing distribution deals on a ‘tied’ basis, for example, their deal with Barclays on pension term assurance. Does this mean they are unwilling to work in the IFA sector for protection?”

Hargreaves Lansdown head of pensions research Tom McPhail says: “One of the principal roles for insurers will be as providers of risk-based products – back where they started life. It is the one area where they can claim to do something which others cannot, unlike admin and fund management. We will be looking to them to deliver attractive protection and annuity products.”

In the months leading up to demutualisation, Stan dard’s Trevor Matthews was extolling the virtues of wrap and made it that the comp- any would be focusing on wrap. Sipp sales broke the 10,000 barrier in April, 18 months after the launch of the product in December 2004.

Bestinvest business development manager Justin Modray expects Standard to have two major challenges. The first is the investment management business. He says although the firm will not be able to challenge the likes of Jupiter or New Star, it has to build on its products.

Bestinvest uses Standard Life’s wrap platform through FundsNetwork but doubts it will go direct at this stage. Modray says: “Standard Life is better than many here and offers a better choice than many life companies. But advisers like us will be hard-pressed to justify an outright move to them.”

Worldwide Financial Planning IFA Nick McBreen says: “The obvious area and focus of attention has to be wrap. Many IFAs are looking closely at the different provider offerings but they are all much of a muchness really so Standard Life could steal a march on the competition if they can get it right.”

McBreen says it is crucial that the IFA community makes it very clear exactly what it wants and needs from a wrap service.

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