View from City Road: Vulture funds hover over insurers

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The Independent Online
Sir Mark Weinberg has spent the past 30 years building up strong life insurance companies - first Abbey Life, then Hambro Life (which became Allied Dunbar) and now J Rothschild Assurance. Sir Mark is moving on, and intends to spend the next few years knocking over a few weak ones.

He has recruited David Beynon, 17 years an Allied Dunbar man, to set up what is essentially a vulture operation for St James's Place Capital, the financial services investment company that Sir Mark chairs with Lord Rothschild. Scottish Amicable, partners with St James's Place in JRA, is coming along for the ride and will be able to offer help with policy administration, should it be needed.

For many years, life insurers have chanted the mantra that the industry is ripe for consolidation. Yet far from seeing any significant reduction in numbers, the industry has seen several new launches, as banks and building societies look for easy money.

Mr Beynon believes that, finally, all this may be about to change. Tougher rules on commission disclosure and the training of salesmen are going to revolutionise the industry, making it much harder for the minnows to compete. (People said much the same before the Financial Services Act, of course.)

St James's Place plans to put some of these out of their misery. Mr Beynon has already identified eight companies. But St James's Place is not the first to hit on this idea for making money. Chris Little's Century Group and Windsor Life are also at it. But regulators will need to be vigilant to protect the interests of policyholders.

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