Aviva has had a hat-trick of senior exits. What is going on? 

By Content Director Saxon East

”Amanda has two styles: to give you a job and let you get on with it, [or] to give you a job and get heavily involved - and sometimes that’s a bit too much for some,” one insurance veteran who has worked with current Aviva chief executive Amanda Blanc over the years told me. 

”She’s an incredible hard worker. Dedicated to the profession. She gets my respect from climbing the greasy pole to the top in insurance. It’s not easy. But while some will like working with her, she’s not for everyone.”

Now, let’s look at the exit of Aviva staffers Patrick Tiernan, Phil Bayles to Ardonagh Advisory and - most recently - Colm Holmes to Aviva’s biggest rival, Allianz.

The departures 

Did Blanc usher them out? Or did they step off the bus by themselves?

Firstly, it’s important to note that the trio would have had good job offers. 

That’s because Aviva’s results, especially in UK general insurance, have been noticed.

Out of the major composites - RSA, Zurich, AXA -  Aviva in UKGI has been the outstanding performer over the last decade. Only Allianz gets close to them. 

Aviva’s latest results of a 90.8% combined operating ratio in the first quarter of 2021 is excellent. There is growth as well in commercial lines. 

Furthermore, brokers rate Aviva highly. On broker service, for example, Aviva gained a very good four stars in our Five Star Rating Report: Commercial Lines 2020/21 survey

Against this backdrop, Holmes landed the top job at Allianz and Bayles was snapped up for a plum role at Ardonagh Advisory. 

Tiernan is chief of markets at Lloyd’s and is still young enough to rub down his feathers with one eye on becoming chief executive of the whole market. 

So that’s one factor for their exits.

Blanc shaping Aviva 

Now let’s try and join the dots together to understand what the current Blanc reign must have been like for them, especially Holmes.

With Blanc’s plan to turn Aviva into a UK champion by selling off foreign companies, the company is now smaller.

That means she can focus more time and attention on the UK.

Moreover, she has a keen interest in UK general insurance, having spent the bulk of her career in this sector. 

Was Holmes being squeezed in his role? Did Blanc want more involvement beyond his liking? 

Perhaps in the end, his departure, along with the exits of Bayles and Tiernan, suits everyone.

Blanc gets to shape and mould the Aviva team exactly as she wants.

Meanwhile, Aviva’s long-standing big beasts have been rewarded for their good work with juicy roles elsewhere. 

Their legacy is a business in great shape for newly-appointed UK chief executive Adam Winslow. 

With Bayles and Holmes gone, Blanc’s many years of experience count even more now. 

Blanc will lead, mentor and energise Winslow plus his team.  

She is their Road to Damascus. 

The situation has the feel of her time at AXA, where she built her own team. 

If you didn’t realise it, you do now: Amanda Blanc is stamping her mark on Aviva in big way.