Insurer boss insists he’s ‘loving’ the role, despite taking over at a time of crisis for the industry

Taking the reins of a major UK insurer amid the maelstrom of the Covid-19 pandemic could be seen as rather unfortunate, yet that is the very situation new Ageas chief executive Ant Middle has faced.

Middle was promoted to the top job internally, having previously acted as the insurer’s chief customer officer; he took over from former boss Andy Watson. 

Middle told Insurance Times that he had taken over in “pretty unique circumstances”, but insists that two months in, he’s loving the role.

”I don’t think too many people would have contemplated the demands of taking on this role in the midst of a pandemic,” he admits.

There have been lots of things that have needed to be handled differently, such as communication, managing customers and other technical aspects.

“There was a lot to think about”, he says, adding that he did have time to plan, as well as support from outgoing chief exec Watson. 

”He was great at helping me through the transition and having worked with him for several years, that’s nothing less than I’d expect from Andy.”

Middle also cites plenty of support from the market, as well as internally. 

”We’ve had to adapt, but our people have responded.

”There’s a lot of pride in the business. We’ve been able to maintain a service response to brokers, customers and we have some fantastically committed people. The challenge certainly focuses the mind”, he says.

Raising the bar

Despite inheriting a good team and a business built on solid foundations, Middle insists he wants to “raise the bar”.

”Every business can get better and we want to create a long-term success story,” he says. 

Middle has been part of the Ageas executive team for several years now - this contains ”a good blend of experience”.

”There’s longevity in the business alongside fresh eyes,” he says.

Th executive team includes the likes of chief underwriting officer Adam Clarke, for example, who has been with the business for a decade. “He’s a well-respected and popular member of the team”, Middle adds. 

There is also claims leader Robin Challand, who has been at Ageas for almost 30 years, and Lyn Nicholls, the company’s HR director who has also spent over 10 years with the insurer.

Added to the mix are Mark Collins, the company’s new chief information officer, chief financial officer Jonathan Price, who joined the business at the beginning of last year, and Evan Waks, the company’s chief risk officer.

Middle’s own former role has been split into two appointments. Caroline King was hired as customer operations director and a chief distribution officer role is due to be filled by the second half of this year, he explains. That will complete his team.

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Keeping brokers happy

Middle insists that Ageas’s strength is drawn from its broker and intermediary relationships, which account for 85% of its business.

”Broker, intermediaries and distribution is absolutely at the heart of the business. It always has been and I can’t see why that wouldn’t be the case in the future,” he says.

The company is seeking to develop and refresh these relationships.

It plans to bring a new proposition to market in the second half of 2020.

”That proposition will enforce our appetite in personal lines, where we’re well known, and it will underpin our ambition to expand in commercial and commercial SME business,” he says, adding that this is an area the company has been working hard to build.

Covid-19 lessons

Middle and his team have also been mulling over the lessons the Covid-19 pandemic has taught the business. 

One of the ways the company hopes to boost its broker relationships is through the launch of a video account management model.

”Everyone’s got used to Zoom and [Microsoft] Teams. It works perfectly well,” he says. ”We want to embrace that and make the most of that way of interacting, so we’ll be introducing a range of our brokers to our video account management model as well.”

Although Middle states it is too early to draw definitive conclusions from the pandemic fallout, it does give the business “a lot to think about”.

”We’re in the midst of it still,” he adds. ”There will be a period to step back and reflect.”

Operational change

In operational terms, all insurers and brokers have had to rapidly adapt their working styles yet still find a way to maintain business functions, as well as continue to interact with their own people, customers, brokers and regulators.

The operating model of businesses during the crisis will create a legacy, he explains. 

That model won’t necessarily be the one we see today, but it could be a blend, Middle says.

He adds that it’s important for the business to take positives from how it has reacted to the pandemic, such as increased flexible working, customer communication and how cover can be adapted.

Middle thinks the industry as a whole has adapted well to the challenge of home working, which was forced on businesses by necessity.

”We are only four or so months into that period of operating in that way, so there’s more to learn.

”From a staff perspective, [home working] offers potential benefits. Employee feedback is running at a record high. Adaptations have suited many people.

”We need to stick with this operating style and not be tempted to go back to the old way of working too quickly.”

About 90% of Ageas’s workforce is working from home at the moment, and Middle says productivity is at an acceptable level.

This could be an operating model for the future, with obvious advantages including reduced expenditure.

”If there’s a business advantage that makes us more competitive, then of course that’s something we’d look at. I can see there being a blend of operating styles in the end. Could I tell you what that will look at today? No I can’t,” he says.

There have been more challenging areas too, Middle admits, referring to the FCA test case on business interruption (BI) cover.

”We’ll have to reflect on the outcome and focus on what we need to do next in terms of addressing the broad industry reputation.

”In the short-term, I can’t say with hand on heart that the test case has been positive [for the industry].”


A subject close to Middle’s heart is workplace diversity. He has been leading the company’s diversity inclusion agenda in recent years and says there has been some “really positive work” carried out.

“We are committed to being an employer inclusive of everybody. The workplace should be a place where you can bring the best of yourself. We’re as serious as we should be about the topic. Its incredibly important to me, but there’s always more to do,” he says.

One of the company initiatives on this front involves collecting data to report on the business’s ethnicity pay gap. The problem with reporting such data is that it is reliant on staff disclosing this data to the company, he points out.