New customers boost Provident Financial results

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The Independent Online
PROVIDENT Financial, the door-to-door lender and insurer, yesterday posted a 15 per cent profits rise following a jump of 7 per cent in the number of new customers.

The company charges pounds 59 for every pounds 100 it lends in exchange for flexible repayments that can be reduced or put off. It now services 1.4 million customers, 80 per cent of whom live on council estates and take out loans worth less than pounds 200.

The group said business had boomed after it stepped up the number of agents by 388 to 10,260.

The company also reported its insurance wing had become more profitable after it stepped back from the cut-throat motor insurance market.

Howard Bell, chief executive, said: "We've taken a totally different strategy to the rest of the insurance industry in that we are pricing for margin, not volumes." The number of customers dropped by 118,000 to 477,000 during the year, but profits rose by 30 per cent to pounds 13.7m.

Mr Bell said volumes were now coming back because rival insurers could no longer sustain such slim margins.

The home service market, under which payments are collected by a weekly visit from an agent, has seen Prudential abandon the market on grounds of cost. Other players, such as London & Manchester and Pearl Assurance, have scaled back their operations.

Shares in the group closed up 13p at 918p after the company said it would spend pounds 94m on a return of capital to shareholders. Last May, the shares stood at just 585p.

The company promised in May to buy back 17 million shares. It was then forced to stop the programme when the shares shot up in price. Instead, it will pay a dividend of 35p per share.