Firing line 

We are looking for a return on our capital investment

We are looking for a return on our capital investment

Closed life offices are the place where many unloved policies end up, after the originator has decided they no longer suit their strategy.

But for Phoenix Life, headed by chief executive Andy Moss, unwanted pension policies are its bread and butter.

Evolving out of many different longstanding life companies, Phoenix Group, which is the overall company looking after Phoenix Life, is close to completing a huge acquisition.

Earlier this year, it announced plans to acquire the insurance business of Standard Life Assurance for £2.9bn, a move that is meant to generate cashflows of £5.5bn.

The UK's largest life and pensions consolidator, much of the Phoenix Group business model rests on buying up new life books that need maintaining, while the existing closed life books wind down as customers leave.

Clearly the number of available closed life books to buy from insurance companies that are reworking their business model is finite, but said Mr Moss: "That finite number is very large.

"There are £380bn of closed life funds in the UK [excluding Standard life and Phoenix]. With the Standard Life acquisition, we will also acquire a business in Germany and Ireland and the European market is going through the same thought processes [as the UK]." This makes further closed life books available.

"With the £380bn we do anticipate there will be some consolidation over the next few years, and there will be some opportunity. We are looking for a return on our capital investment, and we are looking for an acquisition that will fit into our model."

The big draw is many life and pension companies no longer feel they can hold enough capital for the long term products that they administer, under the Solvency II requirements. 

Mr Moss said: "Solvency II has had an impact on the capital that life companies have to hold. Where do they think they can get the best returns for their capital? Standard Life has made a decision that the best returns and most efficient returns on their business is asset management."

Mr Moss said that Phoenix had stepped in to address this structural shift and had developed its strategy to manage these assets for ongoing customers.

He said: "We can be in a position where we can optimise that capital across the piece. We have a specific focus on managing those life books. We get economies [of scale] from that. As a result we have developed a specialist operating model which enables us to produce good reliable returns for our shareholders and good returns for our policyholders."

But while some might accuse closed life companies of living on other firms' past glories, and doing precious little for the returns they get from the business, Mr Moss said that Phoenix was active towards members of the schemes he took on.