New NIG managing director Sonya Bryson speaks to Insurance Times about the insurer’s focus with brokers this year

How do you stand out in a crowded market? For commercial lines insurer NIG, the answer is in providing better service than the rest.

New managing director Sonya Bryson told Insurance Times that the focus this year is making the company easier to do business with.

“We’ve got an established regional network and staff who know brokers and have great relationships with them. In tangible terms, this will involve designing a series of ‘customer experience pillars’. These include themes such as ‘treat me like a real person’, not a ‘process’. ‘Exceed my expectations’, ‘earn my trust’, ‘make it as effortless as possible for me’.

“These will help reduce brokers’ frictional costs, make us easier to deal with and deliver a great product at the end of the day,” Bryson says. The introduction of the experience pillars builds on last year’s theme of making doing business with NIG ‘effortless’.

“Service will be the key differentiator for us. We want to find ways to be relevant and first on the brokers’ mind in terms of placing commercial insurance in the UK market,” Bryson comments.


NIG has been investing in its e-trading services, with a centre of excellence in its Peterborough office. The site handled 150,000 phone calls and 50,000 web chats last year.

“No other part of our business talks to brokers so many times as they do in our centre in Peterborough”, Bryson states.

The company is still learning from the data and how it can offer better service to brokers.

“It’s about making the business attractive, knowing they’re going to get the right price on your extranet. You’ve got to make sure delivery is right so they come back to you again and again.”

Part of the process of refining its e-trade proposition has been to make question sets shorter. This is one part of what Bryson believes the business needs to stay one step ahead.

Consolidators and commissions

One of the biggest headwinds the insurer faces, due to the nature of its direct to broker business, is pressure brought about by consolidators, Bryson admits. She says broker consolidators are putting pressure on commissions, which in turn makes it harder to get the required returns.

Other challenges facing NIG this year are mainly the same things other insurers are also having to get to grips with, such as claims inflation and unpredictable weather.

Another challenge for the insurance industry is the rising number of escape of water claims. NIG has a big property book, and claims of this nature have been on the rise. Properties tend to have more bathrooms and the quality of fittings used in repair jobs are going down, added to this, access to make repairs is becoming more challenging as pipes etc are often concealed behind walls. All this puts pressure on claims costs.

The rise of consolidators can lead to a squeeze on commissions for insurers. NIG judges each case on its merits.

“What model do they [brokers] want? How much are they asking for and how much value does it provide? Occasionally we say ‘no’. We have to make our own return and it needs to make sense for us as much as them. Simply asking for more money without anything in return often isn’t going to fly. It is difficult and it’s not going away” she says.

“It means that we need to use things like the underwriting tools that we have at our disposal, make sure they are finely tuned and ensure our risk selection is as good as it can be to deliver the right loss ratios which will allow us to be flexible,” Bryson adds.

“There’s always alternative competitors looking for growth and that’s another reason not to concentrate on just one broker cohort. You need that spread to be able to balance the books.

“NIG is 125 years old this year. We haven’t got there by playing fast and loose and hoping the return comes at the end of the day,” she insists. “The products that you’re selling at the end of the day have to do what they say on the tin and be backed up by a very strong claims proposition.”

Underwriter churn

For brokers, building a close relationship with an underwriter is often beneficial, for example when agreeing on flexible wording and exclusions. So it was no surprise to see the issue of underwriter churn at some insurers highlighted as a concern in Insurance Times’ broker service survey.

But underwriter churn is not an issue for NIG, insists Bryson, who took over from Neil Manser in the summer. “It’s really important to us that those broker relationships are maintained.”

The company does a huge amount around reward and recognition both locally and nationally, she says, adding that NIG champions promotion from within, as evidenced by Bryson herself, who formerly headed the Group’s FarmWeb division.

“When we have vacancies, we’ll take our time to fill them,” Bryson says, and adds that the broker dynamic and knowledge of the local market are important factors. NIG does not “just put a bum of a seat”. There are also plenty of examples of people who have left the business and returned, she says. “It shows the fondness, not only of the underwriters who want to come back to the business”, she says.

Direct Line Group

Working for NIG also makes you part of the Direct Line Group (DLG), of course. Direct Line was recently named as the third best ‘big company’ to work for by The Sunday Times. And the benefits of being owned by a FTSE 100 business are obvious. “Not every customer recognises NIG’s brand, but they will always recognise DLG which helps create awareness [of NIG],” Bryson maintains.

Nevertheless, NIG is able to operate independently of the parent group, which the managing director says is “increasingly agile”. This includes a ‘re-platforming’ strategy to improve the internal quote tools, wording, as well as a better pricing algorithm. NIG continues to improve its commercial documentation in response to broker feedback.


One of the many challenges faced by small businesses is Britain’s exit from the European Union. Businesses are and will be stockpiling in the case of a no-deal scenario. To help cater for this, NIG has agreed that insurance policies with stock cover will benefit from a change to the normal seasonal increase extension by improving this to apply for 30 days before and after Brexit. “This will provide some peace of mind for sum insured protection in case businesses have been stockpiling ahead of the decision on Brexit,” Bryson said.