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Club Life looking for more capital to grow

By Philip Macalister

Friday 1st August 2003

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Rumours circulating the market that Club Life is being sold, or is going out of business, are incorrect the company's chief executive Naomi Ballantyne says.

However, it is true that the shareholding in the company may change in the near future.
Essentially the company has grown so quickly that it requires more capital to meet its regulatory or solvency requirements.

In the past cornerstone shareholder Hellaby Group, staff and advisers have provided chunks of capital.

Hellaby has put in about $10 million through equity and sub-ordinated debt instruments for its 65% stake.

According to Ballantyne it has "reached the end of its capacity" and it is time to find a new capital provider.

Hellaby chief executive David Houldsworth says his company doesn't want to put more money into Club Life as it has a big enough stake already.

This is partly because the company doesn't fit its key requirement that companies it invests in provide strong income streams.

"Our desire is for others to participate (in the company)," he says. "We are trying to find other people to share the vision."

"We are not forced sellers," he says.

A number of options are being considered at the moment and these include another financial services company taking a stake in Club Life. One rumour in the market is that ING are interested in buying into the business. This rumour gains added currency as the firm has made no secret of its desire to add insurance products to its armoury.

While Ballantyne will neither confirm nor deny ING's involvement, she does say that that sort of organisation would be "a fantastic partner" as it has established distribution channels, there is no product conflict, they have the resources to help the business grow, are committed to the industry and wouldn't be looking to find cost savings by merging to similar companies.

ING managing director Paul Fyfe describes the rumour as "unbelievable".

He confirms the company wants to get into the life insurance market, but it has made no decision about how it will go about it.

Ballantyne says there are a number of options under consideration at the moment for finding new capital.

Houldsworth says Hellabys isn't looking to exit Club Life at the moment, rather it wants another source of capital.

However, whoever does become involved in the company could well end up buying Hellaby's stake.

Ballantyne says, depending on how the company grows, it could need between $17 and $30 million over the next three years.

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