Straight-talking Amanda Blanc looks to put wind in Aviva’s sails

The firm could be separated into life and non-life divisions, or UK and international, for example. Significant divestments could offer a solution without a formal breakup. Blanc says she will consider all options, including investing where she sees opportunities for growth. 

A split may not be the panacea that some investors wish. Tulloch spent eight months preparing his strategy after his appointment in March last year, only to opt against any major sales, feeling the offers received for the Singaporean business did not reflect its profitability. 

“As we have seen with Prudential plc’s split with M&G, business splits may sound exciting in theory but in practice they are very hard and complicated, and if they were going to create significant value, would likely have been done years ago,” says Alan Devlin, an analyst at Shore Capital. 

The benefit of Aviva’s current diversified model could offset any advantages that may be produced by a split, he says. 

The hefty dividend – currently on hold due to pandemic-induced uncertainty – will also be under the spotlight.

Tulloch opted not to follow his three predecessors, who all cut the payout upon arrival. The yield is about 12pc based on its 2021 financial forecasts – far higher than Legal & General’s 8pc or Phoenix Group’s 7.4pc – implying that investors may be able to tolerate a reduction. 

Blanc, who once stacked VHS tapes at her local video store, will need to build bridges with customers and also contend with an economic slowdown and the challenge presented by Covid-19. 

Aviva is under pressure over its refusal to pay out on business interruption claims by some of its customers and is one of 16 insurers whose policies will be examined in a case being brought to the High Court by the City regulator next month. It is also being threatened with legal action by struggling pubs, hotels and restaurants for its refusal to compensate them.

Blanc, who is jetissioning all her other jobs except a voluntary position as chair of the Welsh Professional Rugby Board, intends to meet her daunting in-tray head on. 

“In life you get one opportunity to make a first impression and Amanda lives up to that. I think within 10 minutes of talking to her… you knew she was destined for something,” says Mistry. 

Aviva’s share price was up 3.5pc on Monday afternoon, suggesting investors are enthused by Blanc’s fighting talk. They will demand that she backs it up with action in the coming weeks.

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