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Budget changed way we think about pensions, says Loney

The Chancellor's radical budget for savings has "fundamentally changed the way we think about pensions", Royal London chief executive Phil Loney has said.

Mr Loney was unveiling Royal London's 2013 results which showed an 18% rise in new business and a 16% uplift in its surplus capital.

Royal London employs 1,200 in Scotland, largely at Scottish Life, its historic pensions arm which is set to disappear as the group unifies under one brand. Mr Loney said in February that in the event of a yes vote in the referendum the insurer would "do what we do with any foreign markets — we look at it and decide whether it looks attractive".

Last week Mr Loney said the proposed pensions price cap of 0.75% from April 2015, announced by Pensions Minister Steve Webb, would "do very little to improve competition in the workplace pensions market".

But yesterday the former Lloyds executive sounded a more upbeat note in response to the Chancellor's radical removal in 12 months' time of the requirement to convert personal pensions into annuities.

"We welcome the removal of the requirement to convert pension savings into an annuity," Mr Loney said.

"Greater flexibility is certain to improve the attraction of pensions as a savings vehicle at just the time when more people than ever are joining corporate pensions as a result of automatic enrolment."

Mr Loney said the group welcomed the relaxing of the rules on small pension pots, which can now be refunded in cash up to a £30,000 limit instead of £8,000, and went on: "The imminent removal of all limits has fundamentally changed the way we think about pensions.

"We have a strong track record for innovation in the market for income drawdown and we expect many more savers to choose this option once annuities are no longer compulsory."

But he warned that the reforms would "increase the need for good advice in the run-up to retirement". Mr Loney added that in a year of regulatory change alongside tough market conditions, Royal London achieved "one of the strongest profit performances in the recent history of the group".

Pre-tax profit on the EEV standard, before a mutual dividend of £81m (£88m in 2012), was up 72% to £551m, though that included a one-off £150m gain from the acquisition of the Cooperative Group's life and pensions business last July. Under the IFRS standard, which includes updated pension liabilities, the improvement was 17% to £551m. The group added £318m in bonuses to policies (£282m) and funds under management rose 48% to £73.6bn, including £20.4bn from the Cooperative.

New business profits were up 18%, but Mr Loney said: "A slight decline in existing business profits reflects an increase in investment in the business to support a number of key goals — our auto enrolment programme, our move to operate under a new Royal London brand, and the launch of our direct business later in 2014."

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