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Standard Life CFO on how she made it to top finance role

Michelle Perry | April 24, 2012
Few people will tell you frankly -- and many would struggle to even acknowledge - their regrets, weaknesses or strengths, especially those sitting on the executive boards of the UK's top companies. But then Jackie Hunt, chief financial officer of FTSE 100 insurer Standard Life, is an exception in many senses.

In its full year trading statement published on 13 March the insurer reported a 28 percent rise in annual operating profit of £544 million, well ahead of forecasts of £476 million. The performance was driven by strong growth in its Canadian business, where profit rose 70 percent. Its shares rose 2.7 percent to 243.9p, spreading a rally of about 16 percent since the beginning of the year.

To counter market conditions and low consumer confidence without cutting prices to secure new contracts what Standard Life has chosen to do is focus on existing customers. "The majority of flows we get will come off existing schemes where you have people who'll contribute more and that's where we've turned our focus. As long as new business is a bit slower because of the economic conditions we'll focus on existing business and ... make return off the back of that."

Hunt and her fellow board members are making sure the 188-year old business doesn't go the way of other venerated and well-established financial institutions in this prolonged financial crisis. And it is this point she wishes to emphasis, that business leaders are about building and nurturing sustainable companies that last hundreds of years despite the current public perception that business is about a fast buck.

The current anti-business sentiment spreading from politicians and the public "troubles" her. "It started as a lack of trust from the banking crisis and it does seem to have spread beyond that. I absolutely fundamentally believe that there's been no other thing that has created greater social good than the whole concept of enterprise. It's vital that we do amend this perception and turn around this sense.

She's clear that Standard Life embeds strong values into its business "more than anywhere I've work", but whether others will follow the strict governance and transparent pay structures the business applies "remains to be seen".

For now however Hunt can only influence the business she helps run, but if her boldness is a sign of the times and her advice heeded by women then we can only hope to see more women heading to the executive board as well as filling non-executive roles.


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