Jackie Hunt walks out on Standard Life to be Prudential UK chief

 

Jackie Hunt quit Standard Life to join rival Prudential today, taking on one of the biggest jobs in the UK insurance industry and potentially putting her in line to succeed Tidjane Thiam as chief executive.

She has resigned as finance director at the Scottish business “with immediate effect”, walking out on a job that paid her £2.5 million last year.

Although her base salary at the Prudential is a mere £625,000, her total pay will hugely exceed that — rewards to Pru executives have lately been strikingly high. Thiam pocketed nearly £8 million in the last year.

Hunt takes on the role of chief executive of the Prudential’s UK and European arm. Although this is the low growth, lower priority part of the company compared to the fast-developing Asian arm, it is still a huge concern, managing the savings of seven million people in the UK alone.

She replaces Rob Devey, who is moving on in a few months time. His departure raised eyebrows among insurance watchers with analysts speculating that the UK business may be in worse shape than the company like to claim.

Tim Young of insurance analysts Agency Partners said: “The ousting of Rob Devey comes as part of another in a hugely long series of senior management reshuffling and would seem to indicate that the board believes Prudential UK (as we have argued in the past) has been poorly managed for quite some time.

“In general, management continuity is extremely important in the insurance industry and this is something that Prudential lacks. The main questions therefore relate to Prudential rather than Standard Life.

“Mr Devey has only been in situ since November 2009, so the brevity of his tenure must say something negative about the state of the UK business.”

Andy Hughes at ExaneBNP Paribas says Hunt’s new role is more challenging than her present one. He said: “While both Prudential and Standard Life operate in the group pensions market, Prudential UK is also a competitive annuity writer. This is a market Standard Life has avoided, instead focusing on fee income, so it will be interesting to see if this changes at Prudential. A strong performance at Prudential UK could potentially propel Jackie Hunt to the group CEO position in the future.”

Though Thiam is highly regarded in the City, his tenure at the helm of the UK’s biggest insurer has been fraught with controversy. Earlier this month he was censured by the Financial Services Authority for failing to be open with the regulator about a risky takeover he was plotting in Asia.

Said Hunt of her new job: “I greatly look forward to joining Prudential. It is a group which combines a proud heritage stretching back 165 years with a clear forward-looking strategy.”

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