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Standard Life CFO on how she made it to top finance role

Michelle Perry | April 24, 2012
Few people will tell you frankly -- and many would struggle to even acknowledge - their regrets, weaknesses or strengths, especially those sitting on the executive boards of the UK's top companies. But then Jackie Hunt, chief financial officer of FTSE 100 insurer Standard Life, is an exception in many senses.

In fact, apart from the Canadian arm of the business, Hunt says "we are no longer a risk business".

"We've always been quite clear in terms of shareholders assets that we don't have a very aggressive risk appetite at all," she clarifies.

Back in 2009 Standard Life sold off its bank to Barclays for £226 million. Although profitable the 10-year-old bank was wholesale funded by about 70 percent and so when the credit crisis started in 2008 the insurer had to keep so much liquid asset to support potentially adverse impacts on the bank that it was managing a business that "was more like something you see on the high street. And that doesn't play to our skillset", she says.

The following year the insurer also sold its healthcare business for £138 million to the South African group Discovery Holdings. "Great business, but it's a market where you need the scale to negotiate with private healthcare providers. We either had to double up the stake in that or accept that it was a consolidating market and for the economics we needed to sell out."

As for the euro crisis, Hunt says the business didn't waste any time in acting to minimise exposure to the euro. "From a primary perspective there's no real exposure. None of our other businesses operate in any exposed areas other than a small Irish business which is well funded."

Apart from making sure that the assets that back various pools of liabilities aren't exposed into the euro zone, the CFO has also put caps on some of the geographic areas "where we've said we don't want exposure, and we've also put caps on certain institutions where we have a view about their credibility".

"We've done a lot to make sure we are well protected against what can happen in the euro zone," she reiterates.

Despite the economic uncertainty, Standard Life's performance in the first nine months of the year has been robust and at the last trading update in November Nish said the company remained "on track to transform the operational and financial performance of the group".

In its third quarter trading statement the company reported group assets under administration of £191.1 billion, down 2.9 percent. But long-term savings new business sales were up 10 percent to £15.5 billion "after broadly maintained sales in the quarter".

"If you look at the numbers we last published ... We had very strong growth in the first half of the year and a little more muted in the third quarter, but when you look at our relative performance versus markets that had slowed down significantly then we are performing strongly," says Hunt.


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