The insurance contract that could make the client a billionaire

by Nicolas Heffernan04 Mar 2015
When seven-year-old Max-Hervé George was given a life insurance contract by his father he probably never imagined it could lead him to become a billionaire before he was 30.

But George, now 25, is being taken to court by Aviva France over the contract that could make him wealthier than the company that wrote it.

He was given a Fixed Price Abitrage Life Insurance Contract, the brainchild of L'Abeille Vie, which was later taken over by Aviva France.

The contract effectively lets George invest using hindsight. Funds are given a fixed price for a week, irrespective of market fluctuations in the meantime.

So a fund might be given a set low value on Friday, and by the following Thursday he can invest at that price even if the price has gone up for everyone else.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, when L'Abeille Vie issued the contract, trading in this manner was not so dangerous for companies because fund prices were not published as often and trading could sometimes take days.  Indeed, L'Abeille Vie was not the only company to offer it, with Axa and a group now owned by Allianz also offering them, with thousands given out to clients at the time.

As the insurers recognized the potential dangers, as trading methods changed and sped up, the contracts were no longer given out. The banks tried to get out of the contracts they were already tied into by offering to pay a small sum to give up the right to trade in this way.

Most people agreed. But around 30 of the contract-holders didn't and George is one of these.

Aviva is taking George to a French appeals court, but 64 decisions are unfavourable to Aviva.

Remarkably, if George wins he could be a billionaire by the end of the decade and worth more than Aviva itself after two decades.

Consider the potential windfall for George if he wins.

An expert appointed to assess the claims, found effectively the families investments grew in value at 68.6 per cent a year for a decade from 1997. As of 2007 the family’s investments were worth €21m, with €1.4m belonging to George.

If the 68.6 per cent a year growth rate continues, and €1.4m becomes €93m the payout could be enormous, especially with the quite significant market crash in 2008, George could have picked the best performer each week as markets rebounded in 2009.

George continues to arbitrage time but is now in a strange position. Each week he grows his fortune by trading the past with precision, but cannot say how rich he is. “This report is until 2007, so what about 2007 to 2014?” said Mr George to FT Alphaville. “The amount of the arbitrage is 100 per cent exactly, because I don’t know the amount of my contract.”