Standard Life demutualiser gets 2,000 backers

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The Independent Online

Standard Life was presented yesterday with nearly 2,000 demands from policyholders to convert to a public company, but vowed to defend its mutual status to the bitter end.

David Stonebanks, the retired lecturer from Stevenage, has been collecting support from policyholders for the past six months and yesterday turned up at Standard's Edinburgh headquarters to hand deliver the signatures requesting a vote. Standard's 2.1 million policyholders would be in line for windfalls of about £2,500 if the campaign was successful.

If Standard finds that more than 1,000 signatures are legitimate requests, it must then convene a special general meeting of the company within three months.

"We are not presupposing the need to call a meeting at this stage," a spokeswoman for Standard said yesterday. "We need to check the signatures and see if the resolution he has put forward meets with our company rules. We are as committed as ever to defend our mutuality."

Standard will set out its case for retaining its mutual status in a circular to policyholders, should the meeting be called. It last fought a demutualisation campaign in 2000, led by the Australian fund manager Fred Woollard. The company then would have had a market value of about £12bn; it is now worth less than half that.

Mr Stonebanks would need 75 per cent of voters to back his call for the company to start demutualisation procedures.

"I'm very comfortable that I will get more than 50 per cent of the vote," Mr Stonebanks said yesterday. "Getting 75 per cent might be more difficult, but what will Standard do if I get 60 or 70 per cent? That will put them under a lot of pressure."

The company's defence will not be helped by news that it may have to cut endowment payouts to its one million policyholders for the next 15 years.

The company has lost about £5bn on the stock market in the past year and has now warned that payouts may fall by as much as 16 per cent a year to make up for the negative returns. More than one million of the company's 1.4 million mortgage endowment customers are now facing a potential shortfall.