IL&P close to insurance deal with Ulster Bank (Irish Independent)

04 November 2011
ULSTER Bank and Irish Life & Permanent (IL&P) are close to finalising a tied agency agreement to install the country's largest life insurer as the sole supplier of life products across Ulster's 140 retail branches in the Republic of Ireland.

The deal marks another coup for IL&P which already has tied agencies with EBS, Halifax and Permanent TSB and has recently boosted its share of the overall life and pensions market to 37pc.

Other insurers who had pitched for the Ulster Bank tied agency are understood to have learned of the bank's decision yesterday, prompting industry concerns about the competitive impact of a further boost to the most dominant player in the life insurance market.

A spokeswoman for Ulster Bank last night stressed that no contracts had been signed, but confirmed that "advanced negotiations" had begun with Irish Life "following a review" of Ulster Life assurance business.

Those negotiations are "with a view to having a tied agency agreement to provide Ulster Bank with bancassurance products including pensions, protection, investments and regular savings," she added.

A spokesman for IL&P declined to comment.

Relevant staff at Ulster Bank are understood to have been briefed on the likely deal yesterday, ahead of its formal signing in July.

The details of the agreement are expected to cover the 140 Ulster Bank retail branches in the Republic, but won't include Ulster Bank's Wealth Division, which will continue to offer life assurance products from across the spectrum.

Industry sources suggested IL&P's win would come as a blow to Friends First, which has spent more than a decade as the tied agency of choice for the 60 First Active branches that are soon to be absorbed into Ulster.

A spokesman for Friends First declined to comment. It is understood that Friends First opted not to formally tender for the Ulster Bank business, having decided to focus its efforts on the broker market.

IL&P was the original tied agency for First Active, but lost the contract to Friends First in 1998 following IL&P's decision to merge with Permanent TSB.

The latest development gives IL&P some comfort in a savage life insurance market that suffered a 45pc collapse in income in the first quarter of the year. Irish Life's own trading has seen an increase in market share from 32pc in 2008 to 37pc in the first quarter of 2009, despite a 41pc fall in life and pensions sales in the first quarter.