Carpet-bagger Fred Woollard has confirmed that he is not giving up his bid to force Standard Life to demutualise despite its decision to reject the members requisition for a special general meeting.
Standard Life, the largest mutual insurer in the UK, rejected the requisition on the grounds that the regulations of the company dictate that it is not possible for the members to force the board to take action.
Former fund manager and co-ordinator of the Standard Life Members Action Group, Woollard disagrees and said that he will continue to push the insurer.
He said: “We are talking to our legal advisers and supporters as to our next move. We are not going away and believe that Standard Life is wrong in rejecting our requisition.”
“There are several options open to us. We can issue a high court challenge to their rejection of the special general meeting or we could lodge a new resolution.”
Gordon Arthur, director of corporate affairs at Standard Life, said the board’s rejection is watertight. “We sought leading counsel from advisers in England and Scotland. We could not have got our legal advice from a higher source.”
While Standard Life insists that it is committed to remaining mutual, Woollard said that this sentiment is not shared by the insurer’s finance director Iain Lumsden, who, speaking at a Treasury committee meeting in June 1999, was reported to say of life office demutualisation: “It is going to be quite difficult to satisfy oneself arithmetically that the existing policyholders as a whole are not going to profit.”
Arthur said the board was unanimously in favour of remaining mutual and added that this did not suggest otherwise.
He said: “Woollard is not viewing the responsibility of the board in its entirety but picking out words to spread his message. Some policyholders would stand to gain a lot while others will gain little. Nobody can confirm who the winners and losers will be.”
Woollard has said that average windfalls will be between £5,000 and £6,000, but has stated that he stands to gain £150,000. But Arthur said that actual sums could only be confirmed after demutualisation.
“The distribution mechanism could be very different to the one Woollard has outlined that is designed to be populist and appeal to many.”
Woollard said he has no plans for a demutualisation campaign, despite playing a part in the demutualisation of Australian insurance company AMP.