Scottish Widows chief executive Archie Kane has pledged to retain customer service roles in the UK, but signalled that the company could still send more jobs abroad as he oversees continued reform at the Lloyds TSB-owned insurer.

Kane has presided over a turnaround in the fortunes of Widows but is adamant that there will be further improvements at the Edinburgh-based business.

When he took over in October 2003, Widows was reeling from the fall-out from the mis-selling of precipice bonds and, like virtually every other life company, had to devise an alternative product range when customers turned their backs on with-profits after the post-millennium stock market crash.

A measure of Kane's success in streamlining the business is that it has been able to repatriate around £3.6bn of capital to its Lloyds TSB parent company in the last three years.

This has been aided by a focus on simpler and less capital-intensive products and a move to cut excess costs from the business.

But Kane, 55, who oversaw IT and operations at parent company Lloyds TSB before taking on Widows, continues to style himself as a driver of change. One element of that is an ongoing search for ways to cut costs through outsourcing.

He said: "We look at it from the point of view - does it make commercial sense and does it make operational sense to do these things?"

Among the changes wrought by Kane was the transfer two years ago of some data processing jobs to India. Also, State Street now handles much of the behind-the-scenes work at Scottish Widows Investment Partnership.

Widows employs around 4000 staff in the UK but Kane is adamant that while there could be scope for further outsourcing or offshoring, there will be no repeat of Lloyds TSB's aborted attempt to move some call-centre functions overseas.

"What we will not do is outsource consumer contact," he said. "We own the contact with our customers, we have to stand and communicate face-to-face or via the telephone with our customers.

"But things like medical underwriting or administrative processing that goes on behind the scenes, and if it makes commercial sense to do it, then we will avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so like any sensible firm."

Asked whether that meant there was scope to outsource further work overseas or to other companies within the UK, Kane said: "We always look to improve our efficiency and effectiveness so you have always got to keep an eye on those things.

"That has not meant we have decreased our employment in our businesses in Scotland and mainland UK.

"What it has allowed us to do is grow the business and develop and improve our services which would have been more expensive to do otherwise."

Kane does not dwell on the changes he has helped drive at the company over the past four years since he replaced long-serving Widows chief Mike Ross.

At the time Widows was stomaching a £1.9m precipice bonds mis-selling fine from the Financial Services Authority and its fund management operation Scottish Widows Investment Partnership had suffered several high-level departures. Meanwhile, Lloyds TSB faced criticism that it had overpaid for Widows when it bought it in 2000.

Kane mentions Widows' improvement in sales and profitability during his tenure but he added: "I would never say I am happy. I am one of these people who are constantly focused on things still to be done.

"The whole industry has had a challenge and that challenge has been to improve consumer confidence and to find a way of developing products and service which is much more understandable and tangible for consumers and Scottish Widows has been engaged in that journey. It is an ongoing challenge."

Kane, who trained as an accountant in Glasgow, points to his work as strategy director of TSB during its merger with Lloyds in 1985 as a formative experience that convinced him of the need to be hands-on.

"It was a huge complicated deal to make sense of. I realised you cannot do these things sitting around. You have to make things happen. You have to drive these things through."

In his current role he is keen for Widows to expand its position in the pensions market and to build its presence through its key distribution channels, bancassurance - namely sales via Lloyds TSB branches - and via independent financial advisers (IFAs).

"I still think there is plenty of opportunity there. And to continue to build on the back of the brand. We are lucky to have a strong and distinctive brand."

Kane is almost evangelical about the power of the Widows brand and a calendar featuring the iconic widow hangs in his office in Lloyds TSB's London headquarters.

He is also unwilling to dismiss the notion of Scottish Widows as a life company at a time when other companies are ditching what is sometimes seen as a tarnished label.

"Scottish Widows is a life and pensions company and there is no getting away from that. The core focus of the company is very much about helping consumers prepare for their long-term financial needs. That really is what it is all about."

Investment products will clearly be a focus of the coming year. Dean Buckley,formerly of HSBC and Prudential, joined this month as chief executive of Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (Swip), which Kane chairs.

Swip was the largest fund manager in Scotland by assets under management when it was formed by parent company Lloyds TSB's merger of the investment operations of Scottish Widows and Hill Samuel in 2000. But it has since lost ground to Standard Life.

There has been speculation that Buckley might seek to shake off what is seen by some as a staid life company culture at Swip.

But Kane makes much of Swip's status as a standalone business with its own board and said the flow of funds from Scottish Widows and elsewhere in the Lloyds TSB group gives it scale and keeps costs down.

"(Buckley) may develop new strategies and let it into new areas, that remains to be seen. One thing I think he will do is develop and grow the business."

One mission will be to increase sales from the US, Middle East and continental European.

But how much time does Kane really devote to Widows given that his portfolio of roles includes a place on the main board of Lloyds TSB Group, as executive director for insurance and investments as well as a member of the Takeover Panel, serving on the Treasury's retail financial services group as well as, from last summer, the high profile role of chairman of the Association of British Insurers?

Kane reckons 70% to 80% of his working week is spent on Scottish Widows and Swip. This is quite a long week however, with Hamilton-born Kane usually hitting his desk around 7am. He typically does not leave work for another 12 or 13 hours. Then it is often off to a dinner although Kane says he is restricting these to "one or two" a week. A portion of his weekend often gets devoted to paperwork as well.

Indeed, his desk moves quite a lot. When he is not in Edinburgh looking after Widows, he is in London at Lloyds TSB HQ, or in Wales overseeing the company's general insurance operations.

For that reason much of Kane's relaxing is done on the road. He is an avid reader of "pretty much everything", having recently finished Ian McEwan's Atonement, as well as Eric Clapton's autobiography.

He said: "Scottish Widows is very important to me and takes a lot of my time and focus and I care a great deal about it but there is a lot of stuff I do as well."