The independent action group for current and ex Equitable Life policyholders, funded by contributions.

Equitable Members Action Group

Equitable Members Action Group Limited, a company limited by guarantee, number 5471535 registered in the UK

Correspondence: 15/04/2003 - "Unwarranted smugness from Standard Life" Letter by Paul Braithwaite published in the Financial Times.

15 April '03 - "Unwarranted smugness from Standard Life", Letter by Paul Braithwaite published in the Financial Times

Sir, I read with despondency the rebuttal by Mr Gordon Arthur of Standard Life (Letters, April 11) of what I thought were fair comments from Mr Barry H. White (Letters, April 9). Standard Life displays similarly unwarranted smugness that has so characterised Equitable Life. It reinforces my suspicion that mutuality as a form of governance in a with profits company is an unsuitably toxic mix, given the current regulatory regime.

In the three years since Standard Life repelled Fred Woollard the board has frittered away the estate of £12bn accumulated over decades. Mr Arthur bragged that the company added £1.7bn in bonuses but omits to mention the reductions in everyone's non-guaranteed funds of several times that figure. He says the constitution changes last year "received overwhelming support from the members" when only 7 per cent of the 2.3m members even bothered to vote.

He bragged that over the past two years Standard Life had doubled its levels of new business but I believe the twin-peaks that caused the growth are unprofitable stakeholder pensions and the flight of funds from its discredited peer, Equitable Life - questionable grounds for self-congratulation. Equitable Life, too, has been paying huge bonuses to its self-serving board for the worst-performing years in the society's long history.

The similarities are alarming, as I pointed out at the last annual meeting. They emanate from the unwarranted complacency of the actuaries at the helm and extend through similar patronising "spin and obfuscation", which is inappropriate and unhelpful to the members who own the companies.

Paul Braithwaite