UK customers telephoning Admiral insurance for a motor quote next year may be surprised to hear their request dealt with by an operator with an American or Canadian accent, writes Mike Cooper.

The direct motor insurer is considering opening a North American call centre to reduce the need for costly shift-working among its almost 1,000 telesales staff.

Admiral plans to regularise its staff's working hours to between 9am and 6pm by taking advantage of the six-hour time difference with North America.

Insurance staff at its Swansea and Cardiff call centres currently work shift patterns lasting until 10pm.

From next year, the insurer aims to re-route calls from UK customers after 6pm to a North American call centre where it would be daytime.

Louisa Scadden, spokeswoman for Admiral, confirmed the plan but said: "Discussions are at an early stage, although it is likely we will be opening a call centre in north America in the New Year."

However, Admiral's chief direct rival Churchill poured scorn on the idea.

David Hiddlestone, Churchill's business development manager, conceded the move would enable Admiral to maintain its opening hours without shift working by trading in an English-speaking country.

But he said: "My gut feeling is that it would be an expensive move considering the cost of trans-Atlantic telephone calls that would be charged to Admiral's freephone number. And there could be horrendous problems in terms of training and maintaining a firm's business culture overseas."

He added: "It has not crossed our mind to follow Admiral."