Equitable Life selects B-M to manage crisis

Equitable Life has turned to Burson-Marsteller to run a crisis

management project as the troubled life assurance firm battles to

improve relations with policyholders.



B-M has been selected for the brief having pitched against Chancery

Communications, and Equitable's retained agency the Maitland

Consultancy.



It is understood that B-M will assume responsibility for a campaign to

gain policyholders' backing for plans to secure its long-term future

through the £1bn takeover of the firm by Halifax.



Halifax paid an initial £500m for the assurer, with the remaining

half to follow if agreement is reached with policyholders on the issue

of payouts.



The B-M team is likely to report to Equitable PR head Alistair

Dunbar.



Maitland will continue as Equitable's retained agency.



As part of the brief B-M will liaise with members of the Equitable

Member Action Group, which represents disgruntled policyholders,



The group's chairman Paul Braithwaite told PRWeek earlier this month

that Equitable's communications with members had been 'a textbook study

of how not to handle communications,' (PRWeek, 3 August).



The firm's troubles began in July last year when the House of Lords

upheld a Court of Appeal ruling that the insurer must honour its

commitment to paying bonuses to policy holders.



Unable to meet the £1.5bn fallout from the case, and having failed

to find a buyer, the society closed its doors to new business in

December.



Controversy erupted again this year when it slashed 16 per cent off the

value of its with-profits pensions on the same day that it announced to

members Halifax's £1bn takeover.



In December, Equitable chiefs Alan Nash and Chris Headdon resigned amid

the crisis, only for it to later emerge that they would pocket £90,000 a year pensions.



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