Cash in on the conversion rush

Norwich Union's expected announcement that it is to demutualise and hand out free shares adds it to a growing list of life insurers offering windfalls and a now-established conveyor belt of conversions among building societies, writes Steve Lodge.

The Halifax's handout of free shares will be bigger than any privatisation and will give up to 10 million of its customers shares worth an average of pounds 900. Payday is next June.

The societies have been slow to give full details of their windfalls - in particular to what degree the windfalls will be related to the size of balances. But both the Halifax and Woolwich have said they will give savers advance warning of when they need to top-up their balances to maximise windfalls. The Halifax's reminder will go out in late November.

With the other societies it is not yet clear whether savers, particularly those with larger balances, can touch their money without affecting eligibility.

Alliance & Leicester is expected to be the first to join the stock market - in spring 1997 - and to this end members will be asked to vote before the end of this year on the proposed conversion. Savers will be sent details of the A&L's share handout in the next few weeks, but in the meantime should ensure they have pounds 100 in a qualifying account.

Insurer Colonial Mutual is due to send out details of its proposals and vote to qualifying policyholders in the next few weeks. There will be a meeting of UK members on 11 November at Wembley Arena to approve the plan to demutualise. For those who think they may be eligible, but don't hear anything in the next few weeks, call 0345 697502.

Clerical Medical's policyholders have already voted in favour of the insurer being taken over by the Halifax, but there are still some technicalities to go through. The takeover should be completed at the end of the year.

Among building societies, the hottest tip to be next to announce a windfall is Birmingham Midshires. Among life insurers, various names are bandied about as being likely to shed their mutual status in the not-too-distant future, including Friends Provident, Scottish Amicable and Scottish Provident.

Meanwhile, others may award special bonuses to policyholders for so-called orphan estates.

Windfalls on the way

Insurer/ Avearge size Numbers When

society of windfall to benefit due

Norwich Union pounds 500 shares 3 million June '97

Alliance & Leicester pounds 800 shares 3 million spring '97

Halifax pounds 900 shares 10 million June '97

Woolwich pounds 800 shares 3.5 million autumn '97

Bristol & West pounds 600 cash/shares 1 million summer '97

Northern Rock pounds 1,000 shares 1.3 million autumn '97

Colonial Mutual pounds 570 shares/cash* 350,000 summer '97

Clerical Medical pounds 170 policy 650,000 When policy

bonuses** matures

*Also free share options.

**Additional monies should also benefit policies' performance.