(Adds CEO comment, details)
By Richa Naidu
LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Edinburgh-based insurance and pensions group Standard Life Plc reiterated concerns that a vote next month for Scotland’s independence could create economic and financial risks and said it was sticking to plans to move operations out if necessary.
Standard Life, which has so far been one of the most outspoken Scottish firms about issues around independence, drew up detailed contingency plans in May to potentially move some operations out of Scotland to protect itself from upheaval if Scots voted in favour of splitting from the United Kingdom.
The insurer said at the time that it would not hesitate to move parts of its operations to England or register its funds there to protect its market position. Any relocation could put some 5,000 Scottish jobs at risk.
Standard Life said on Tuesday, as it reported first-half results, that it had not been given any clarity on the economic and financial concerns it raised including those about Scotland’s currency, regulations and European Union membership.
“In making our comments, we were not seeking to make a political comment. It was very much round about how we think about factors that impact our business,” Chief Executive David Nish said on a media call.
Many Scottish businesses, particularly in financial services, have been hesitant to voice their opinions or concerns about the vote for fear of backlash from clients, investors and politicians.
“We are unaware of any significant amount of money being withdrawn with regards to this,” Nish said, adding that the company had received “a very strong measure of support” from shareholders for its plans.
Nish’s comments come before a crucial referendum debate between Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond and former UK Chancellor Alistair Darling is set to air live on Scottish television on Tuesday evening.
Standard Life posted a 12 percent rise in first-half operating pretax profit to 339 million pounds ($571.7 million) on Tuesday, beating analysts’ average expectation of 321 million pounds in Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The insurer said it was benefiting from the British government’s decision last year to automatically enrol workers in company pension schemes, adding that it expected over 300,000 new auto-enrolled customers in 2014.
JP Morgan Cazenove analyst Ashik Musaddi said the results were in line to slightly ahead of his expectations and maintained an ‘overweight’ rating on the stock.
Assets under administration rose 4 percent to 254.1 billion pounds in the six months ended June 30, while fund management arm Standard Life Investments posted a 5 percent increase in third-party assets to 108 billion pounds.
Standard Life’s London-listed shares were up 1.5 percent at 0925 GMT.
Its dividend rose 7.3 percent to 5.6 pence. ($1=0.5930 British pounds) (Reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Louise Heavens and Jane Baird)