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£36B Brexit business transfer costs UK's Prudential £27M

Transferring European customer assets to Luxembourg from the U.K. in preparation for Brexit has cost Prudential PLC £27 million, the head of the life insurer's U.K. and European business said.

John Foley, CEO of the group's M&G Prudential unit, told journalists on a March 13 earnings call that the company had transferred £36 billion of assets backing mutual fund business to a new fund platform in Luxembourg and had converted the business to SICAV investment funds, which are common in Western Europe.

This was "not a cheap exercise," he noted, but other than the continuing business-as-usual costs of running the Luxembourg operation, he said the company was not expecting further Brexit-related expenses in 2019. He also said M&G Prudential's preparations to minimize the impact of Brexit are "very well-advanced" and that the new Luxembourg platform gives the company "a springboard for further international growth."

Prudential's group CEO, Mike Wells, noted that the conversion of the business "gives our European clients something they are more familiar with," adding: "There is a strategic element as well as a political element to this project for us."

The comments came the day after U.K. lawmakers rejected for the second time the deal Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the European Union, prolonging uncertainty about the U.K,'s future relationship with the bloc.

In addition to dealing with the potential fallout from Brexit, Prudential is also in the process of spinning off the U.K.- and Europe-focused M&G Prudential into a separate listed entity, leaving Prudential to focus on Asia, Africa and the U.S. While declining to give a date for the completion of the demerger, Wells said work on the split continues "at pace."

Completed work includes the first High Court approval as part of transferring £12 billion of annuities to U.K.-based Rothesay Life; setting up a new legal entity for M&G Prudential and hiring a chairman; and raising £1.6 billion of debt.

Wells added that there was "still a lot to do," including hiring a board for M&G Prudential and continuing to work with the Hong Kong Insurance Authority, which will regulate Prudential after it splits from M&G Prudential.

Prudential boosted its operating profit to £4.83 billion in 2018 from £4.70 billion in 2017. UBS analysts praised the company's "positive numbers" in a research note. Panmure Gordon analyst Barrie Cornes described the earnings as solid, while pointing out in a note that they were "slightly flattered" by some one-off gains, including a £441 million mortality reserve release.

The insurer announced along with its results that it is buying a majority stake in African life insurer Group Beneficial, which operates in Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire and Togo.