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Aviva boss pushed into resigning

Shareholders have claimed another high-profile scalp as Britain's biggest insurer announced the abrupt exit of its chief executive.

Andrew Moss's decision to stand down with immediate effect comes a week after investors voiced their discontent over the company's performance by staging a massive protest vote against Aviva's annual pay report.

However, Mr Moss is still in line to walk away with a severance deal worth £1.7 million, including 12 months salary, a portion of his bonus and a pension contribution.

His departure is the latest example of shareholder activism after two other chief executives, David Brennan at AstraZeneca and Trinity Mirror's Sly Bailey, stepped down amid increasing frustrations in the City.

The backlash over pay and bonuses continued when more than 51% of shareholder votes failed to back bookmaker William Hill's remuneration report, including a £1.2 million pay-to-stay award for chief executive Ralph Topping.

Despite the vote at William Hill, the company indicated it would not claw back any of Mr Topping's bonus after chairman Gareth Davis said "it was the right thing for the group, the shareholders and the longer-term future of the business that we retain Ralph Topping's services at this important time".

Barclays, Premier Foods and Xstrata have all suffered significant protest votes in recent weeks, while Unilever, WPP and Centrica are expected to face similar revolts at their AGMs in the coming days.

It is a trend that will be welcomed by Business Secretary Vince Cable who has called for major shareholders to do more to rein in boardroom pay. His department has just finished a consultation over whether to introduce binding shareholder votes which would see companies require the support of 75% of investors to pass pay deals. Votes are currently advisory.

Aviva's share price has declined around 60% since Mr Moss took the helm in July 2007. The performance has most recently been hit by the company's exposure to troubled eurozone economies such as Italy and Spain, and shares are around 30% lower than they were a year ago.

Mr Moss will be replaced on an interim basis by incoming chairman John McFarlane who will become executive deputy chairman with immediate effect and executive chairman from July 1.