Friends poaches Standard's slated successor

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Friends Provident named Trevor Matthews as its new chief executive yesterday after poach-ing the Australian-born insurance veteran from its rival Standard Life.

Mr Matthews, the head of Standard Life's UK retail division, had been seen as a likely successor to Standard Life's chief executive Sandy Crombie. Speculation has been rife over who would take the top role at Friends Provident since the life insurer ousted its chief executive Philip Moore at the end of last year after its merger with Resolution collapsed.

Sir Adrian Montague, the chairman of Friends Provident, said Mr Matthews was joining at a critical time for the company. "He has a deep understanding of the industry built on his extensive international experience and more recent work in the UK and has the determination to make sure Friends Provident vigorously pursues the profitable opportunities to build shareholder confidence and value," Sir Adrian said.

Mr Matthews said: "Whilst the current environment is challenging, I plan to put past uncertainties behind and, with the team, profitably grow and dev-elop the business. There are many opportunities and Friends Provident is very well placed to capitalise on these."

The move is seen as a boost for Friends Provident, and indicates anticipated plans to inject new life into its domestic life and pensions business, potentially strengthening the company to fight any bid from the US private equity group JC Flowers.

The Friends Provident board is expected to shore up details of the appointment with Mr Matthews today, before an announcement tomorrow on the conclusions of a strategic review.

The official announcement also lays to rest rumours over other high-profile candidates for the job, including Paul Thompson, the former Resolution chief executive who has recently taken the reins at Northern Rock, and his successor at Resolution, Miles Briggs.

Mr Matthews, who joined Standard Life in 2004 after senior positions at Manulife Financial Corporation, National Australia Bank and Legal & General, had been named as a contender for the role of group chief executive at Standard Life when Sandy Crombie retires next year.