The Kiwi boss of big UK insurer Aviva will pick up £6 million ($12.1m) in pay and benefits after being abruptly ousted by the board.

Mark Wilson, who once claimed he had inherited a lazy "couch potato" when he took on the top job in 2013, was informed of the decision on Monday on what sources described as a "difficult day", reports the Daily Telegraph.

Sir Adrian Montague, currently non-executive chairman, will assume executive responsibilities until a successor is found. A person close to the board's thinking said they wanted someone inside the insurance sector.

Wilson grew up in Rotorua and graduated from the University of Waikato – where he received a distinguished alumni award in 2017.


Sir Adrian said that Wilson was leaving the company, which provides life insurance, general insurance, health insurance and asset management to 33 million customers, in a stronger state than when he joined.

"We have agreed with Mark this is the right time for a new leader to ensure Aviva delivers to its full potential," he said.

Wilson's exit comes months after investors were left furious with Aviva over a plan to cancel £450m of so-called preference shares, which tumbled on the announcement and led to a paper loss of around £1 billion for investors. Aviva later reversed its decision.

Around the same time Wilson took up a board seat at rival fund management giant BlackRock, further angering some in the City who saw it as a conflict of interest.

The decision to replace him is understood to have followed months of discussions, but one source insisted his exit was unrelated.

The insurer said the search for a new boss was expected to be completed within the next four months. New Zealand-born Wilson will advise the company until April next year.

"When I joined Aviva, the company was in poor health. Aviva is very different today. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve and now it's time for me to move on to new things," he said.

Under Wilson's watch the business has halved the number of markets it operated in and improved its financial performance. The turnaround prompted him to declare in 2016 that "Aviva was a couch potato and now we can run a 10k in quite a good time".

However the firm has not grown as fast as its closest rivals Prudential and Legal & General, and the share price hardly moved on Tuesday at 464p.

Russ Mould, of AJ Bell, said that Wilson was actually in the job for longer than the average FTSE 100 chief - at 5.8 years versus an average of 5.2. "Mr Wilson is the 18th FTSE 100 chief executive change announced this year, which is an unprecedented amount of management change among large-cap companies."