Terry Murden: Who'll be sitting where when the music stops?

TREVOR Matthews was the chief executive Standard Life never had, or looks like never having. As he hops from one life assurer to the next nothing can be ruled out.

His appointment yesterday as CEO of Aviva's UK operations came as a surprise, apparently even to his own family who only heard about it on Wednesday night, the day he started a new job as vice chairman of Friends Life.

Matthews is regarded as one of the insurance sector's bright sparks, an industry veteran with international experience as well as a wealth of ideas and ability. His departure from Standard Life three years ago still rankles with those who felt he had more to offer the company.

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When he arrived at Lothian Road in 2004 he was instantly installed as favourite to succeed Sir Sandy Crombie. His supporters were frustrated at the drawn-out succession process and the failure to anoint Matthews even though he helped turn a huge loss into a profit. He made the sort of friends in the City that the company had not previously enjoyed and at an important time in the run-up to its 2006 flotation.

Matthews also helped in the cultural revolution at Standard Life, sweeping aside the complacency and resistance to change that had almost brought it down, ushering in a more transparent and competitive spirit.

Even after he left, to join Friends Provident as chief executive, some thought he would be back, either as a returning CEO or as head of an acquirer.

When Clive Cowdery's Resolution acquisitions vehicle bought Friends Prov, renaming it Friends Life with a plan to mop up other insurers, it looked like Matthews could turn his attention on Scottish life company assets.

But he again surprised everyone by relinquishing the job, leading many to believe he'd given up on UK insurance and was preparing to return to his home in Australia.

Then came yesterday's announcement.

Speculation about why he's changed his plans may revolve around his relationship with Resolution boss Cowdery. He kept himself busy at Friends Life, integrating subsequent Resolution acquisitions: Bupa insurance and Axa's UK life business.

But some say Matthews became impatient with progress and that Cowdery wasn't moving quickly enough to build a new insurance giant around Friends Life.

Was that why Matthews decided to hand over the job to Andy Briggs, brought in from Lloyds Banking Group, and a former head of Scottish Widows?

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In simpler terms, the Aviva job was another opportunity too good to pass over.Whether or not it sets up Matthews for a tilt at the top position is another matter, but there is no suggestion group chief executive Andrew Moss is going anywhere soon, despite some choppiness in performance and publicity a couple of years ago that the CEO could have done without. Moss has now put that behind him and he'll be looking forward to forging a new relationship with his Aussie colleague.

But the City's eyes will be focused on the new man and what he brings to the company as the industry undergoes a bout of musical chairs. Matthews replaces long-server Mark Hodges while Toby Strauss, quit as Aviva Life boss to head up Lloyds life and pensions, which includes Scottish Widows. Who'll be still sitting when the music stops in anyone's guess.

'I told you so' moment as Centrica confirms closure

POLITIcians would be advised to take note when companies issue warnings about the implications of their actions.

Gas company Centrica said the recent tax hike on North Sea assets would make its south Morecambe Bay field uneconomic and that it may be forced to mothball it.

Well, it has done just that. The field has remained closed after a brief shutdown for maintenance.

Chancellor George Osborne should take note. Not only is this a worry for those working in the area, but it leaves Britain exposed to importing gas when UK supplies are being frozen because of an ill-considered domestic tax. Oil and gas prices do not move together and the hike in the supplementary charge has left the gas industry at an unfair advantage.

Centrica now finds it cheaper to buy the gas it needs from abroad and the freeze on production means the Treasury is now losing revenue.

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