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Standard Life’s Jackie Hunt gets a chance to shine with interim CFO role

David Nish’s elevation to the chief executive role at
FTSE-100 pensions and financial services group Standard Life has resulted in an
opening for his deputy Jackie Hunt, who was made interim group CFO with
immediate effect on 9 November.

The company is engaged in a formal recruitment process to find the new CFO,
but Hunt will take on those duties in the meantime and will attend board
meetings – though she will not be appointed to the board.

For Hunt, who only joined the business at the beginning of 2009 from Norwich
Union Insurance where she was CFO, the news marks a golden opportunity to try
out the group finance job at a time of great change in the pensions industry –
and to gain more prominence and understanding of board machinations while her
boss Nish gets to grips with the CEO role. Sandy Crombie leaves the business in
March 2010, so Hunt will have the chance to be in board meetings with him while
the business conducts the handover.

Most of the UK pensions majors have had new FDs in the past couple of years –
though they have usually come from those same companies. Hunt’s appointment is
the latest in that trend alongside another female FD, Evelyn Bourke, who joined
Friends Provident earlier this year from Standard Life, where she had worked
alongside Nish. Bourke and her CEO at Friends, Trevor Matthews, both hail from
Standard Life where they worked until mid-2008 and were both also on the list of
names for the CEO job there; Bourke in particular was said to be well liked by
analysts.

The amount of moving around among pensions company FDs of late may make the
task of recruiting a FD harder for Standard Lifer, given that it has taken a
handful of key names off the market – which may strengthen Hunt’s case if she is
angling to remain in the group FD role beyond an interim period. South African
Hunt qualified as a chartered accountant with Deloitte before moving to its New
Zealand practice and then onto PricewaterhouseCoopers’ global capital markets
group, with whom she worked in New York, Zurich and London. She joined Royal
& Sun Alliance’s capital management team in 1999 where she worked before
joining Aviva in 2003. At Aviva she had a number of finance roles including
group FD of Irish car insurance business, Hibernian, and director of group
financial reporting, before joining Norwich Union Insurance in 2007 as CFO.

Neighbourly advice
Hunt’s appointment as deputy FD at Standard Life was announced last September
and she took up the role on 6 January this year. The interim role puts her, for
a time at least, among the handful of female FDs in the FTSE-100, alongside
Friends’ Bourke, Burberry’s Stacey Cartwight, Cairn Energy’s Jann Brown and 3i’s
Julia Wilson. If she feels like getting some advice from a fellow female FD, she
only has to go 100 metres down the road from Standard Life’s offices at 30
Lothian Road in Edinburgh to Cairn Energy’s offices, 20 doors down.

In hindsight, it could seem as though Hunt’s arrival at the business at the
start of 2009 heralded the beginning of a grooming process for Nish’s possible
promotion. She is Standard Life’s first deputy FD and at the time the company
said her appointment would allow Nish to focus on broader strategic issues as
she would take over responsibility for external financial reporting, its
performance management, tax and finance shared services operation (though Nish
remained firmly in charge of risk management). Nish called the appointment
“ideal”.

Hunt joins at an interesting time for the pensions industry as Resolution,
the industry aggregator founded by Clive Cowdery which recently bought Friends
Provident and listed on the FTSE-100, is on the prowl for large acquisitions and
may well be examining Standard Life, as well as its other major rivals. Perhaps
one item near the top of Nish’s agenda will be preparing the defence against any
approach; as interim group FD, Hunt will be included in meetings discussing this
is if it arises and be able to add her opinion to the mix.

In late October, Standard Life published its interim management statement
which showed positive results for the group, including an increase of £15.3bn in
total assets under management in Q3 and increased inflows across its life and
pensions and investment businesses. “I am delighted to be handing over a
business that, having positioned itself well to cope with the financial crisis,
is in the right place to benefit from the recovery as and when it comes,” said
Sandy Crosbie of the results.

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