Mutual status adds 15% to bonuses, says Friends chief

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The Independent Online
Michael Doerr, chief executive of the insurer Friends Provident, said yesterday that mutuality added about 15 per cent to his policyholders' bonuses, compared with the returns they would get if Friends were a conventional company.

In a staunch defence of mutuality and its benefits for customers, Mr Doerr said: "I think the record over the years bears out our contention that mutuals can earn a better return for their policyholders than proprietary companies."

In an interview with the Independent he was also sceptical about Norwich Union's pounds 4bn flotation planned for next year, saying he was puzzled by the numbers that had been reported, which did not make it clear where the value to back the share distribution came from.

However, Mr Doerr said the Norwich announcement had prompted Friends Provident to analyse the benefits and drawbacks of dropping mutuality.

Mr Doerr said that Friends looked into how much the mutual status added to its bonuses. The 15 per cent improvement was equivalent to about one percentage point on annual yields for policyholders, said Mr Doerr, who added that Friends had "never had any intention of doing anything other than staying mutual".

The claims made by Mr Doerr are similar to promises of better returns for customers made by Nationwide and other building societies that plan to stay mutual. They suggest a similar argument is breaking out among the insurers.

Mr Doerr said Friends Provident's returns from fund management and from unit-linked insurance business belonged to with-profits policyholders.

"If we demutualise, the returns from fund management and non-with-profits business would all go into a separate shareholders' fund," he said.

A key factor in the arithmetic is that Friends has diversified, and only 60 per cent of the business is with-profits policies.