David Prosser: Searching for growth in different places

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The Independent Online

Outlook After several years in crisis, Standard Life's performance has been more healthy in recent times and yesterday's interim results – the first set of numbers presented by David Nish since he became chief executive at the beginning of the year – were respectable.

But there was one nagging doubt: the most impressive part of the business in the first half of the year has been Asia. The UK, by contrast, Mr Nish's favoured area for growth, was a little pedestrian.

There is an interesting split in the life-assurance sector just now. In one corner sits Prudential, which, its AIA disaster notwithstanding, sees Asia as its primary engine of growth in the years ahead. By contrast, Standard Life prefers the UK, a focus that Aviva has been emphasising too.

Standard Life's latest numbers are an interesting microcosm of the debate. Net inflows in Asia were up 32 per cent – storming, in other words – but to only £133m. That was small beer compared with its total net inflows for the first half – £5.3bn. It's all very well growing a business quickly, but it may still take many years to reach the scale of established units.

The UK, in any case, has a fast-growth story of its own to explore from 2012 onwards, in the form of the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest). The scheme, with its auto-enrolment for workers, is meant to ensure that millions of savers who have no pension pot start building one. There could be rich pickings here for providers with scale.