Aviva to pay out £1bn in inherited estate funds

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The Independent Online

Aviva has offered £1bn to buy out 1.1 million policyholders in two of its funds, bringing to an end a two-year battle with the policyholders' advocate, Clare Spottiswoode.

Policyholders of the two Norwich Union with-profits funds will get at least £400 in cash and an average payment of £1,000 to waive their rights to a future re-attribution of capital in the funds. The payout comes from the so-called inherited estate – fund assets that are not needed to meet obligations to customers.

After well over 100 meetings with Ms Spottiswoode and with the costs of the project mounting, Aviva had threatened more than once to walk away from negotiations. The talks teetered on the brink of failure until the past two weeks when progress was made.

The deal will split the £2.1bn surplus in the fund 48:52 in favour of shareholders. But including a £2.3bn non-cash special distribution announced in February, the split is 69:31 in policyholders' favour. Of the eligible policyholders, about 700,000 will get between £400 and £1,000 with a further 220,000 receiving £1,000 to £3,500.

Andrew Moss, Aviva's chief executive, said: "She [Ms Spottiswoode] has done a very good job. She believes it is fair to policyholders and we believe it is fair to policyholders and to shareholders. We would have loved to have done it a little bit quicker but we are the first to do it and we have learnt some things [during the process]." Aviva declined to say how much the process had cost.

Individual customers are free to reject Aviva's offer and hold out for a further special distribution that would be split 90:10 in favour of policyholders over shareholders. Aviva will set up a special fund for customers who vote against the deal and their share of the inherited estate will be broken out so that their position is unchanged.

The average payout to policyholders is more than double the £450 received when the French insurer Axa distributed most of its surplus. Prudential had also considered buying out policyholders of some of the £8.7bn in its inherited estate but it scrapped the plan last month. The deal allows Aviva to put the capital to use elsewhere.

The inherited estate announcement coincided with Aviva's announcement of a 12 per cent increase in first-half profits as it reassured investors about its financial strength. Operating profit rose to £1.72bn, in line with forecasts. Analysts had been concerned about the company's solvency ratios during current market turbulence but Aviva said it could withstand the volatility.

The insurer increased its target for annual cost savings to £500m from £350m. Mr Moss said Aviva had "little appetite for acquisitions" because prices were too high. The company increased its interim dividend by 10 per cent to 13.09p.

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