(Corrects in seventh paragraph to show UK workers have option
to opt out of auto-enrolment)
By Chris Vellacott
LONDON, April 30 British financial services
group Standard Life plc said the automatic enrolment of
UK workers on to company pension schemes was helping boost its
assets, though analysts said inflows were relatively modest.
In a trading statement on Wednesday, Standard Life said its
assets under administration rose 1.5 percent in the first
quarter of the year to 247.8 billion pounds ($417.43 billion),
driven by net inflows of 2.4 billion pounds.
Though growth in assets was positive and in line with
forecasts, analysts at Bernstein Research said it was "subdued"
because of a tough comparison with a strong start to 2013.
Standard Life shares dropped around 3 percent in early
Chief Executive David Nish said 60,000 new customers started
saving for their retirement through 285 auto enrolment schemes
set up for companies by Standard Life during the quarter.
"We continue to benefit from having positioned our business
well for regulatory changes," he said on a conference call with
Britain's government made enrolment on to company pension
schemes automatic for the country's workers last year, leaving
them the option to opt out.
Nish also said the group welcomed a move by the government
to liberalise how retirees use their pension pots, even though
the move prompted a 50 percent fall in sales of Standard Life's
annuities after it was announced in March.
The reforms mean retirees will no longer be forced to buy an
annuity on retirement and will be free to invest their pension
pots as they see fit.
"We see the changes as a significant opportunity to address
the UK's long-term savings challenge making savings more
attractive," he said.
Nish said the impact on Standard Life's earnings would be
limited because annuities accounted for only 6 percent of the
group's operating profit in 2013.
He said the long-term impact of the reforms remained
difficult to predict.
"It will be some time before we understand the long-term
trends," he told a conference call on Wednesday.
Standard Life recently sought to boost the size of its fund
management arm with the acquisition announced in March of Ignis
Asset Management from insurer Phoenix Group.
The funds unit Standard Life Investments saw a 2.3 percent
increase in the assets it manages for external clients during
the quarter, bringing the total to 189 billion pounds.
($1 = 0.5936 British Pounds)
(Reporting by Chris Vellacott; Editing by John Stonestreet)