Former agency leader ordered to pay $8.5 million to Prudential for mass poaching of agents

Prudential had proved only 23 leaders and 204 agents and not the 244 it alleged had left because of Mr Peter Tan's wrongful solicitation.
Prudential had proved only 23 leaders and 204 agents and not the 244 it alleged had left because of Mr Peter Tan's wrongful solicitation.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Former Prudential top group agency manager Peter Tan has been ordered by the High Court to pay the insurer $4.8 million in damages, $1.2 million in interest and $2.5 million in legal costs for the poaching of more than 220 agents to rival Aviva.

However, both parties are appealing.

Prudential Assurance Co Singapore has filed an appeal through Rajah & Tann Singapore's Senior Counsel Murali Pillai. It is appealing with regard to the quantum of the damages and legal costs, as well as the judgment that Mr Tan's firm PTO Management and Consultancy (PTOMC) did not dishonestly assist him to breach fiduciary duty.

By contrast, Mr Tan - represented by TSMP Law's Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi - is appealing against being liable for the en masse departure of the agency leaders and agents, the quantum of the damages as well as the order to pay legal costs.

Justice Chua Lee Ming has ruled that the poaching was in breach of Mr Tan's contractual obligation to conduct his insurance business with integrity and honesty.

However, the judge held that Prudential had proved only 23 leaders and 204 agents, and not the 244 it alleged, had left because of Mr Tan's wrongful solicitation.

The court heard Aviva had dangled a $15.3 million sign-on bonus to get Mr Tan to join and it had a war chest of $100 million to poach the agents.

The 227 were from Prudential's then most successful and biggest agency unit Peter Tan Organisation (PTO). Mr Tan became an agent in 1996 before rising to helm PTO, and received $56.2 million in total remuneration from Prudential between 2006 and 2016.

Prudential's compensation was for the income the insurer could have earned from these 227 between May 2016 - when Mr Tan started talking to the leaders about moving to Aviva's financial advisory subsidiary Aviva Financial Advisers (AFA) - and July 2016 when he served out his termination notice.

The 56-year-old had to abide by a non-solicitation obligation when he was with Prudential, but that was because it was an agency instruction. However, it was absent in the agency agreement or manager agreement that Mr Tan had with Prudential. Hence, he was not subject to any non-solicitation obligation after he quit Prudential.

Prudential's claim against PTOMC was dismissed, as the judge found that Mr Tan did not owe the insurer any fiduciary duty, so this firm that was set up for providing services to AFA could not have assisted him to breach the duty.

Mr Tan quit AFA and the insurance industry in March 2020, and is now doing business consultancy.