Halifax takes on poachers

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As the countdown to the pounds 20bn bonanza from demutualising societies continues, Halifax has moved to halt a potential flood of "deserters" by introducing a loyalty scheme aimed at persuading members to stay with it after they receive their free shares.

The society will offer a range of goodies, including discounts on personal loans of up to 5 per cent for unsecured loans and 3 per cent for secured ones.

Halifax members are being offered payment holidays of up to six months during the lifetime of their mortgages, up to pounds 100 if they transfer their balances to a Halifax Visa credit card and up 10 per cent discounts on holidays booked.

The move is designed to stop poaching of Halifax customers by building societies that have opted not to convert into banks.

Meanwhile, speculation is mounting that at least one de-mutualising society, Northern Rock, may be targeted for takeover as soon as trading begins in its shares. While unlikely, in that the Rock is protected from takeover for five years unless its members vote otherwise, the rumour is a sign of the continuing reshaping of the financial sector.

Among insurers, Norwich Union faces similar takeover speculation, while NPI, one company tipped by The Independent last week as a bid target, emerged as the recipient of an approach by the Australian insurer AMP, which has lost out in the battle for ScotAm.

Under these circumstances, unless you desperately need the money, it makes sense to sit tight and hold on to the shares handed out by the demutualisers.

Members of various societies and insurers seeking a stock market listing will have received forms asking them what they want to do with their shares. It is usually best to ask for a share certificate to be sent direct, rather than being held in the new company's nominee account.

In the case of Alliance & Leicester members, sending this form back to the society is an urgent task, given its planned flotation on 21 April. This allows the option of sheltering the shares in a tax-free PEP within the 42-day limit allowed by the Inland Revenue.

The Revenue allows only one PEP manager per tax year, so if you are thinking of extra PEP investments in the coming tax year, it makes sense to park the shares in a company which also allows separate savings into its own funds.

Dozens of fund managers and stockbrokers are offering various PEP options to soon-to-be former society and insurance company members.

Next week, these pages will tell you the best options to follow. So, prepare to keep the share certificates. They may be worth more than you think in a few years' time.

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