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Watchdog ends Scottish Widows probe but warns that ‘issues’ remain

Michael Bow
All-clear: Scottish Widows is best known for its advertising campaign featuring a hooded woman in black

City regulator the Financial Conduct Authority dropped a two-year probe into Scottish Widows on Tuesday after finding “insufficient” evidence to take action.

The watchdog is investigating hidden fees in insurance and whether long-standing customers who hold life insurance policies have been treated fairly.

Widows was given a clean bill of health on Tuesday, although the FCA said it would raise “a number of issues” uncovered in the investigation with the firm, best known for its advertising campaign featuring a hooded woman in black.

Four companies are still under investigation: Prudential, Countrywide Assured, Old Mutual and Abbey Life.

“No inferences should be drawn from the closure of the Scottish Widows case concerning the continuing investigations.

The FCA will update the market when decisions are made regarding the status of the remaining investigations,” the regulator said.

A Scottish Widows spokesperson said: “We’ll continue to cooperate and work closely with the regulator.”

The FCA ended its investigation into another life insurer, Police Mutual, last September after finding a similar lack of evidence. The life insurance probe, which focuses on whether customers were hit with unfair penalties on life insurance products, was started under FCA former chief executive Tracey McDermott in March 2016 but has been in the works since 2014.

The review is focusing on books of old life insurance policies that were taken out in the 1980s and 1990s. The average value of each policy is worth between £18,000 and £23,000.

Widows, a former mutual formed in 1815, had faced investigation over the disclosure of exit and paid-up charges for customers after December 2008.