Insiders cashing in

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The Independent Online
LLOYDS TSB's pounds 7bn takeover of Scottish Widows is raising the stakes in the demutualisation game. Windfall payouts from the demutualisation of building societies - which began 10 years ago tomorrow, with the listing of Abbey National on the Stock Exchange - have rarely surpassed pounds 4,000.

Payouts from last month's demutualisation of Scottish Widows, by contrast, may top pounds 40,000 and are causing a rush into investment products sold by other mutual insurers such as Standard Life and Equitable.

The Scottish Widows takeover is also putting a spotlight on a category of financial activity that could be called "insider carpetbagging".

Employees of mutual societies are entitled to buy their companies' financial products at discounts. Piecing together information gleaned from working at mutual societies and newspaper speculation, many have stocked up on products in the run-up to demutualisations, entitling them to hefty payouts.

In the absence of clearly defined laws regulating insider carpetbagging, mutual societies have set their own internal guidelines.

"The four staff involved in putting together the Lloyds TSB deal observed a self-denying ordinance," said a Scottish Widows spokesman. "They agreed neither to buy new products nor to make additions to old products that would have increased their eligibility [for payouts]."

But he conceded that other Scottish Widows staff had probably positioned themselves to maximise payouts in the run-up to demutualisation. "It happened here no more and no less than in the case of other demutualisations," he said.

Company law and Stock Exchange rules proscribe insider trading of shares by company employees. But there is nothing on the statute books that stops mutual society employees from profiting on advance information about demutualisations.

Nor is there any requirement for mutual societies to disclose how much employees have benefited from them.