Herbert Smith frozen out of Standard Life demutualisation

Standard Life has finally held a beauty parade for its massive demutualisation, but it is understood that the mutual has not asked Herbert Smith’s star corporate insurance team to pitch for the work.

Corporate insurance teams from Clifford Chance and Lovells have been interviewed over the last fortnight. It is also understood that the mutual has seen Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Sources say that Herbert Smith has not been called, although the firm refused to comment. During the demutualisation bonanza at the beginning of the decade, the City firm was considered to have probably the leading corporate insurance practice.

Herbert Smith and Lovells together sewed up the demutualisation, sale or flotation of Equitable Life, Liverpool Victoria, National Mutual and Friends Provident. However, the firm’s leading corporate insurance partner Marian Pell, with whom Standard Life had a strong relationship, retired in 2002. She was replaced as head of the financial institutions group by partner David Willis.

Conversely, Lovells corporate insurance rainmaker John Young became the firm’s surprise senior partner last year, although he has retained key client relationships and still dedicates around 30 per cent of his time to advisory work.

To the fury of many policy-holders, Standard Life’s board announced on 31 March that it intended to go down the demutualisation route, having fought off two earlier carpetbagger campaigns. Activists have complained that, unlike two years ago, windfalls are likely to be negligible due to the economic climate and Standard Life’s poor financial performance.

Law firms led by Herbert Smith and Lovells have reaped tens of millions of pounds in fees from the demutualisation bonanza, and whoever gets the Standard Life deal can also expect a considerable payout. However, the plan can still be scuppered when policyholders vote on demutualisation next year.