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On the money

Giving investors paws for thought

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Pets aren’t just for lockdown, they’re for life. That, at least, is what investors including the UK’s Octopus Ventures and Munich Re Ventures are banking on after a capital-raising exercise that, according to the FT, now values the unquoted Many Group, parent company of pet insurance brand Bought by Many, at a staggering $2bn.

In the UK alone, 3.2m households have bought a pet during the pandemic, but Many Group’s new money, it seems, is earmarked for expansion in the US, where only one owner in 50 currently buys pet insurance. That compares with one in three in the UK and three in five in Sweden, where pet insurance first got off the ground.

Bought by Many is part of a growing breed of “insurtech” companies that use technology to disrupt the insurance sector. It was set up in 2012 to allow customers in niche areas, from pet owners to hobbyists, to club together to buy cover. Five years later it turned from introducer to provider and focused on the pet sector.

Charity begins in the boardroom 

Robert Kotick, CEO of Activision. Tony Avelar/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chief executives’ pay packages never fail to fascinate, as this week’s rankings of the top dogs at S&P 500 companies and bosses at the big UK charities underline. The Wall Street Journal’s league table of S&P leaders revealed that Paycom Software founder Chad Richison weighed in with the biggest CEO package of 2020, at more than $200m – up from $21m in 2019. Seven chief execs received compensation valued at more than $50m, compared with two in 2019 and three in 2018.

Pandemic “winners” were prominent in the upper echelons, notably Robert Kotick of videogame maker Activision Blizzard and Leonard Schleifer of biotech giant Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. Elon Musk was bottom of the pile, with zero reported pay last year, although the Tesla supremo has been raking in stock options worth $32bn under a landmark 2018 package.

Back in Britain, the Telegraph, which famously milked the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, has been doing its best to drum up public outrage about overpaid UK charity bosses. Its investigation shows that 270 of them are better remunerated than Boris Johnson – the PM is on an annual £157,372 – and that more than 2,500 charity staffers earn more than £100,000 a year.

The Telegraph does “not contend that all of these pay packets are unjustified”, but claims a Charity Commission report promised in 2019 has been “quietly shelved”. That report was prompted by revelations that Marie Stopes’s chief executive, Simon Cooke, was taking home £430,000, including a sizeable bonus. In all there are 167,000 registered charities in the UK, most of which are run by volunteers or staffed by people paid little more than expenses.

We’re just dying to move in

Covid-19 has revived interest in a rather morbid French property investment scheme that dates back more than 1,000 years, says The Economist. Buyers of property en viager pay upfront for a residence, but only get the keys when the owner dies. Sellers typically receive cash for a third of the value at the time of the sale, then monthly payments based on actuarial calculations about their likely date of death. As mortality rates soared in retirement homes during the pandemic, “specialist brokers reported a surge in enquiries as elderly people sought to remain in their (own) homes for longer”.

Property ads in France often mention the age of the seller as well as a description of the property. The Economist observes that there is plenty of scope for subterfuge: “Canny widows looking to cash out are known to light cigarettes ahead of visits by potential buyers to hint at their unhealthy lifestyles.” And in two cases currently in front of French courts, the authorities allege that buyers did away with their tenants to gain possession of the property.

One cautionary tale reveals what might have driven them to it. In 1965 a 47-year-old notary bought a home en viager from a frail 90-year-old lady. He died 30 years later, but his widow had to keep making annuity payments – the seller, Jeanne Calment, lived to the world-beating age of 122.