Q&A: Jim Smart discusses Friends Provident’s numbers

Jim Smart

Jim Smart

Q: Underlying profit before tax is only £13m. Now is this a
reflection of what’s going on out there in the markets or has Friends Provident
taken its eye off the ball during the strategic review?

A: Profit in the six months is £13m against £111m last year.
There are two main reasons for the decline.

Firstly, corporate bond spreads have moved out quite considerably and our
prudent approach is to put more reserving into the annuity book when that
happens. Now, to the extent that corporate bond spreads tighten again, that
money will emerge in future years as profits. The second element is the
shareholder funds, where we’re now prudently invested in bonds rather than

Q: But if we look at the profitability of your core Life and
Pensions new business, the contribution there has gone down from something like
£78m to £49m and also the IRR has gone backwards as well. What’s going on there?

A: There are three main things going on. Firstly, we have
adopted more conservative accounting policies this year than we did this time
last year for costs and persistency.

That reduces the reported numbers. Secondly, we are purposely taking our
business out of certain segments, so our volumes are less.

Q: Turning to the balance sheet, you’ve made a big play
about ‘de-risking’ it. So can you talk us through the changes that you’ve made
and also the impact they have had?

A: There are two main changes to our balance sheet risk.
Firstly,equity backing. Our shareholders funds are now in cash and bonds; they
used to be 50% in equities. And our pension fund is now 20% in equities, when it
used to be 60%. The second main change we’ve made is in reinsuring some of our
liabilities, firstly in our annuity book and secondly pensions and payments in
the pensions fund. The combined effect of these changes is that we’ve avoided
losses amounting to around £250m.

Q: So what’s on the balance sheet and what’s your exposure
to asset-backed securities?

A: The asset-backed securities that we have on our balance
sheet are largely in the annuities portfolio and are held to maturity to match
liabilities. The shareholder exposure amounts to about £680m and it’s almost
entirely in investment grade securities. So we’re very comfortable with the
exposure that we have.

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