Equitable Life plans more European ventures

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EQUITABLE LIFE, the mutual life insurer, is planning to follow its recently launched German operation by setting up in another European country every 18 months. The next key market it enters will be either France or Italy.

Equitable Life Deutschland began selling its products at the start of the year, operating from offices in Munich, Hamburg and Cologne. It has so far recruited about eight salespeople and intends to increase the number to 20 by the end of this year.

Roy Ranson, Equitable's managing director, said the life office - which sells more regular premium business in the UK than any other company, including Prudential - is content to rely on slow but steady organic growth in Europe. 'We are building a business for the next century,' he said.

Equitable is anxious that its German operation should develop on the same foundations as those on which it built its reputation in the UK - an employed sales force that is not paid commission seeking business from well-off professionals.

This strategy has given Equitable low expenses and the most productive sales force in the life insurance industry. Equitable is aiming for its German salesmen to be three times as productive as their German rivals.

The launch of the German operation was delayed by the strict regulatory requirements that have traditionally proscribed the introduction of the more innovative products available in the UK.

However, Equitable said it had been able to secure regulatory approval for a recurring single premium policy more flexible than those of its German competitors.

Lloyds Abbey Life decided to wind down its German operation last year because of the onerous capital requirements imposed on growing life insurance businesses. Equitable was unwilling to say how much it has invested in the German venture.