Challenge to Aegon takeover planned

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PLANS by the Dutch insurer Aegon for an agreed pounds 240m takeover of Scottish Equitable will not go through unchallenged.

There is no sign at present of a ginger group having emerged among policyholders, but at least one man plans to raise questions at the special meeting in Edinburgh on 30 June. Colin Fisher, a London businessman, is asking other policyholders to give him their proxies so he can vote as he thinks appropriate after questioning the management.

Mr Fisher believes that Scottish Equitable has not made a convincing enough case for its desire to expand through the link with Aegon. He also questions the price Aegon is paying for its stake.

'It is not clear to me why expansion is in the interest of current members,' he said.

Aegon is injecting pounds 240m into Scottish Equitable, which will lose its mutual status. A voting trust is to be set up to give policyholders a say in the running of the company in future, although this will lapse when the with-profit fund is less than 2.5 per cent of total assets.

John Ross, group development manager at Scottish Equitable, said the company stood by the price being paid and believed that the voting trust would safeguard the interests of policyholders.

Actuaries and advisers seem, on the whole, to favour the Aegon deal.

Charles Cannon, a senior consultant with William M Mercer, said his firm had recommended that clients with Scottish Equitable policies should vote for the proposal.

'The basis of the deal seems fair to us. We think there are lots of safeguards built in.'

He said the injection of funds should give Scottish Equitable more flexibility and that while the voting trust could eventually lose its say over the company this probably would not happen for many years since at present the with-profit fund represented about half of Scottish Equitable's total assets.

The Wyatt Company, another large firm of actuaries and advisers, has also advised clients to vote in favour. Eddie McLaughlin, a risk management consultant, said: 'We see no problems with the deal.' He said that mutual status, which restricts a company's ability to raise new capital, was no longer appropriate for a company expanding at Scottish Equitable's rate.

Scottish Equitable policyholders must send in postal votes by 28 June. The general meeting will be at The Church of Scotland Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh at 11am on 30 June. Mr Fisher can be contacted at 78-80 St John Street, London EC1M 4HR.

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