Pru hires Freshfields refusenik to unlock fund

Former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer restructuring head Peter Bloxham has reappeared as a “policyholder advocate” at Prudential just as the insurance giant instructed Freshfields on a headline deal with troubled mutual Equitable Life.

Bloxham will be representing Pru’s policyholders in an attempt to reattribute £9bn of the insurer’s inherited estate of its with-profits sub-fund.

Norton Rose is representing Bloxham in his role as policyholder advocate, with Lovells representing Pru.

As revealed by The Lawyer last December, Bloxham is currently suing Freshfields for age discrimination in a case that is expected to be heard in early summer.

Freshfields declined to comment on the case or on Bloxham’s new appointment.

In a statement, Bloxham said of his appointment: “This potential process is likely to take some time as it is a complex project with a considerable amount of information to be analysed and reviewed.

“My principal task over the coming months will be to familiarise myself with Prudential’s with-profits business.

“I will start by engaging specialists and setting up a team, to enable me to examine the Prudential’s figures and conduct a very thorough review of the underlying data – some of which goes back almost 150 years.”

Freshfields is representing Pru in its purchase of Equitable’s £1.8bn portfolio of with-profits annuity, while Lovells advised Equitable on that deal. These annuities from Equitable will be transferred into Pru’s with-profits fund that is the subject of Bloxham’s review.

Pru will then be responsible for paying out to the roughly 62,000 former Equitable annuitants. The deal is still subject to court approval and to an Equitable policyholder vote.

Equitable’s with-profits annuities were the centre of a protracted legal debate that saw the mutual unsuccessfully sue its accountants, Ernst & Young, for £2.2bn and its directors for £3.3bn. In those actions, Equitable instructed Herbert Smith.

By 2001, there was a gap of £4.4bn between the stated value of clients’ policies and assets actually held by Equitable Life.