Legal & General sees the world differently from other insurers. It has made a habit of divining opportunities where peers see none and doubling up on businesses that make rivals wrinkle their noses. A decade ago it bought Hermes’ index tracking asset management business before low-cost trackers were fashionable. It is now one of the biggest shareholders of British companies, just behind BlackRock of the US.
And while peers have fretted that annuities need much capital backing, L&G has increased its share of the bulk annuities market where employers shed their defined benefit pension liabilities by buying lifetime incomes for staff.
Nigel Wilson, chief executive, says he is just sticking to the plan mapped out six or seven years ago — that was all about demographic shifts, globalisation, and the increasing needs of the elderly for care, housing and slow-burn inflation-proofed retirement incomes. L&G set out its stall then as a provider of the full range of investment, savings, pensions and risk management.
Insurance remains unpredictable. There are always surprises. Few analysts expected L&G to be able to release £126m of longevity reserves in the half year because people are dying faster than thought. The word on the street was that we are living longer.
But L&G sees farther ahead than many. That is worth remembering when Mr Wilson rubs his hands at Standard Life turning its back on insurance to merge with Aberdeen Asset Management. Fund management is a high margin, less regulated and less capital-heavy industry where companies take a percentage of the assets they manage as their due. Mr Wilson’s reaction makes one think that some or all of these things will change.