Standard Life’s £302m bonanza for investors

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STANDARD Life said its shareholders will get a £302m windfall after strong growth in its home market drove a better-than-expected 65 per cent increase in annual operating profit.

Britain’s fifth-biggest insurer will pay a special dividend of 12.8p per share on top of a regular payout of 14.7p, up 6.5 per cent.

Edinburgh-based Standard Life also reported an operating profit for 2012 of £900m, ahead of the £853m expected by analysts in a company poll.

The improvement was driven by Standard Life’s core British division, where operating profit rose 58 per cent.

“Standard Life has delivered a substantial increase in profitability and has a strong capital position supporting increased dividends to our shareholders,” chief executive David Nish said. “Standard Life has undergone considerable change over the past three years. As a result we now have significant opportunities for further strong and sustainable growth.”

Standard Life, which was ahead of its main rivals when it began phasing out commission payments to middlemen in 2006, is seen as one of the main beneficiaries of regulatory changes this year that ban such payments. The pensions specialist is also expected to gain from new rules which automatically enrol workers into company retirement schemes.

Standard Life shares have risen 60 per cent in the past year, beating a 20 per cent gain for the European insurance sector as a whole, after the company achieved bigger-than-expected cost cuts in 2012 from investments in new technology.

The group, chaired by Gerry Grimstone, said: “Overall, while the market remains competitive, our business model, propositions, distribution capability and strong balance sheet mean we are confident we can deliver ongoing improvements in value for our customers and share- holders.”

Standard Life has offices in Leeds and Chesterfield. Shares closed last night at XXX