LIFE and pensions group Standard Life revealed a fourth quarter sales rebound today as it hailed the return of investor confidence in equities.
UK sales leapt 38% to £2.88 billion over the last three months of 2009, limiting the decline in worldwide new business over the full year to 7% - far better than expected in the market.
Edinburgh-based Standard Life - which recently appointed finance chief David Nish as its new chief executive - said it had seen record levels of third party assets under management as investor nerves eased amid recent stock market rises.
Jackie Hunt, interim chief financial officer at Standard Life, said there was a definite "improved market sentiment", with investors moving from heavy cash holdings into more investment, risk-based products.
Shares in the group rose 4% as investors cheered signs of a recovery in demand for pensions and equities based products, with other insurers such as Prudential and Legal & General also benefiting from a shares boost.
Standard Life’s fourth quarter hike in sales showed a marked improvement on the 20% plunge recorded in the previous three months.
New life and pensions new business still declined by 10% to £10.1 billion over the full year after a tough first half.
But UK pensions business soared by 42% over the final quarter, with demand shooting up for its DIY-style self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) and as interest in pension investment began to pick-up.
By the end of the year it had 27% more SIPP accounts and 36% more SIPP funds under management, at £11.8 billion.
A rush for customers to take retirement benefits ahead of the minimum age increasing from 50 to 55 provided another surge in activity, resulting in a short-term rise in pension outflows.
Standard Life said there was also more business in the corporate pensions arena in a sign the wider economic recovery was beginning to feed through.
Pension and protection providers had been hit hard by the the recession as job losses and lower wages meant less group corporate business.
The housing market slowdown also impacted sales of related insurance products.
Over 2009, Standard Life’s protection sales plunged by 71%, but doubled in the last three months.
The group said it saw "good prospects" for its SIPP and group pensions offerings, as well as its wrap investment platform - an online portfolio management system which more than doubled funds under management in 2009.
Barrie Cornes, analyst at Panmure Gordon, said: "With a new management team and a strong fourth quarter sales performance the outlook going into 2010 looks positive."