Watson says the insurer will focus on reversing the trend of falling premium income now the insurer has achieved a stronger profit position
Ageas is to focus on reversing its shrinking premium figures this year, after returning to stronger profitability in 2018.
Largely helped by a vastly improved post-Ogden motor performance, the insurer posted an overall profit of £77m for 2018, compared to £25m in 2017.
Profitability was made a “very strong priority for 2018,” according to chief executive Andy Watson. But he told Insurance Times that the actions taken to restore profitability had been a factor in premiums dropping 9% from £1.36bn in 2017 to £1.23bn in 2018.
“As the year has progressed we’ve seen that premium income has come off a bit,” Watson said. “Part of that is deliberate, as we have been prioritising profit.
“We’ve exited a couple of arrangements that were unprofitable for us and we’ve made sure our pricing and underwriting is in line with restoring our profitability, in what has been a soft market for most of 2018, both in motor and household.”
Having restored profitability, Watson said the insurer is in a strong position to reverse this trend of falling premiums and grow the business again. He said this was the focus for 2019.
“Was premium income a big concern for us last year? No,” he said. “Is it something we will focus more on in 2019? Yes.”
The insurer introduced Ageas as a customer-facing brand last year, and Watson revealed part of its plan to increase premiums was to develop the direct brand of Ageas.
But he clarified that the broker channel was still its leading route to market, and said Ageas would remain “one of, if not the biggest, supporters of the broker model in the market”.
“We will concentrate on our core largest channel, which is broker, as we have done previously, and in addition, because it’s not an either/or, we want to grow our business under the direct brand of Ageas,” he explained.
Ageas has been undergoing a restructuring of senior management since the end of last year, but Watson said the broker management team had intentionally remained fairly constant to prevent disruption to good relationships.
Major changes saw Ant Middle become chief customer officer and Adam Clarke take up the role of chief underwriting officer from the beginning of this year.
Watson said the pair had brought a “fresh pair of eyes” to the broker channel.
“They’ve been out in the market meeting all our brokers,” Watson said. “They’ve been welcomed into those meetings, and we are starting to see a pipeline of new opportunities in the broker channel.”
Ageas in January announced proposals to close two call centres in Stoke-on-Trent and Port Solent, putting around 400 jobs at risk. The decision was based on the increasingly digital buying habits of customers.
No redundancies are planned in broker-facing roles, and Watson promised that the proposals would not have a detrimental effect on brokers or their clients.
“While the proposed closure of Port Solent and Stoke is a very significant move for us, we’re working very closely with all members of staff impacted by that and it should have no impact at all on the service that we provide our brokers, and indeed to our and their customers”, Watson said.
He revealed “the majority” of the 209 at-risk Port Solent employees had taken up the opportunity to remain with Ageas based out of the Eastleigh office. And he said progress was positive around redeploying members of the Eastleigh sales and services team, which is also due for closure.
Ageas’ third route to market is through partnerships. Restoring profitability to the partnerships channel was one reason given for the need to scale down its number of UK offices. The partnership with car manufacturer Vauxhall is one due to end in May 2019.
Watson said it remained a key income generator, and that Ageas would look to make new partnerships where there is the opportunity.
“We made a decision to exit from some of the partnerships, however we continue with a number of partnerships that we are very positive about. Indeed we will be working very closely with those partners to build a business that is mutually beneficial for them and for us.”