Winners and losers in a modern-day game of Monopoly

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The Independent Online
pounds 5,000 for no effort

Derek Grant (below) opened his first savings account with Norwich Union at the age of four. There was never a hard choice in the matter: his late father worked there as a fund manager, while his brother is still employed by the company.

In two weeks' time, following in his family's footsteps will net him 1,300 free shares worth up to pounds 5,000, when Norwich Union becomes the first UK mutual insurer to seek a stockmarket flotation.

His free shares form part of a payout from Norwich Union worth an estimated pounds 3bn to its 2.4 million policyholders. The minimum payment of 150 shares will go to unit-linked policies. With-profits members will receive 300 shares, worth up to pounds 1,000, with more paid according to the amount and length of time invested.

His shares are not the only cash benefit he has received from Norwich Union. When Mr Grant, a senior systems consultant with Siemens Plessey, bought his first home in Ryde, on the Isle of Wight in the late 1970s, he took out two of the company's endowment policies to help to pay off his mortgage.

When they mature later this year, they will earn him pounds 29,000, easily paying off his pounds 10,000 loan. He and his wife plan to use part of the surplus from the maturing policies to visit their daughter, who is studying in St Petersburg.

The cash payout means he has no need to sell his Norwich Union shares. "We are also planning to make use of the 25p a share discount available to members and buy a further pounds 3,000-worth of shares. The company has delivered as far as I am concerned," Mr Grant said.

Error costs pounds 1,500

The Halifax, on the other hand, has not delivered anything quite so tasty to Ian Strang (below) and his wife Marjorie. They have discovered that a tiny error with one of their accounts will deprive them of an estimated pounds 1,500 in free shares.

The Strangs, who live on a houseboat in London, have a Halifax mortgage on a home in Stockport. They have also held a savings account with the society, set to float on Monday, for more than 13 years.

Estimates suggest each share could be worth up to pounds 7.20, with average payments to members from the pounds 16bn conversion reaching pounds 2,000. The Strangs might have been in line for pounds 2,900.

Except that, many years ago, the couple signed a standing order form allowing the society to withdraw mortgage payments from their account on the 27th of each month. Despite this, payments were always taken on the 1st or 2nd of the following month.

Until December last year, when the Halifax set the 31st as the date when society members had to have a minimum of pounds 100 on deposit to qualify for free shares. On this occasion the Halifax took its mortgage on the day it was entitled to, leaving the Strangs with less than pounds 100 in their account. "We don't even talk about it any longer because it just makes us so angry," said Mr Strang last night.

Similar rules have have deprived many tens of thousands of members, including second signatories who are mentally or physically handicapped, of their potential entitlement, one reason why the rest will receive such generous share entitlements.