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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
Q&A: Standard Life demutualisation

Standard Life, the mutually-owned insurance company has published its flotation plans. What does demutualisation mean for its 2.4 million policyholders?

And how will Standard Life change as a company once it is on the stock market?

At the moment the company is owned by its policy holders. Each year they can attend its annual general meeting and elect the board of directors.

The accumulated value of the company also belongs to them too. That will change.

In exchange for surrendering their rights as owners, the policyholders are going to be offered shares in the company which will be tradable on the stock market.

Those shares can be sold immediately, thus allowing the investors to make a windfall gain.

There will also be a new group of professional stock market investors on the scene too - they are going to be offered around a billion pounds worth of new shares in the company.

Did the management always support demutualisation?

When the idea was first suggested six years ago, it was opposed by Standard Life's management.

Between 2000 and 2003 the board of Standard Life beat off two attempts to force a vote among the members on abandoning its mutual status.

The carpet-baggers, as they were called, wanted the insurer to follow the route taken by many building societies and to convert to being a publicly listed company so that the members could crystallize its accumulated value.

The directors of Standard Life were resolutely against this, arguing that mutual status was much more beneficial for the members, as profits could go to the savers and policy holders, rather than to shareholders.

So what changed recently?

Between 2000 and 2003 the stock market slumped, and this undermined the finances of Standard Life, along with many other insurance firms.

All life insurance companies invest the premiums they receive in other financial assets like shares, bonds, and property - but Standard Life was particularly reliant on share investments.

The problem was compounded when the company, under pressure from the Financial Services Authority, switched substantial amounts of money out of shares and into safer but more expensive bonds - but it did this later than many rivals and just as the stock market slump was coming to an end.

The net result was that the value of Standard Life's investments shrank. So, to rebuild its financial strength it intends to become a public listed company in order to raise new money from the stock market.

It is worth noting that the company returned to profit in 2005 after reporting a loss for the previous year.

Who will vote, and how much money will they get?

All the 2.4 million qualifying policy holders will get a vote and the company needs at least 75% of those who do vote to say "yes."

These are people who have held a "with-profits" policy since 30 March 2004.

Half of all these investors will get shares currently estimated to be worth more 1000, while the other half will receive shares estimated to be worth between 500 and 1,000.

To encourage former members to hang onto their shares, it is offering a loyalty bonus of one free share for every 20 shares held during the 12 months from the date of flotation.

It is hoped that investors will buy 1.1bn in new shares, thus giving the company a stock market value of, initially, 4.8 to 5.5bn. That is based on the assumption the shares will be worth between 240 and 290 pence each.

The whole exercise won't be cost-free. Fees to advisers and administrative and printing costs will add to up to 158m.

Postal votes must be in by 28 May and members can also vote in person at a special general meeting of members in Edinburgh on 31 May.

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