AXA focuses on small contractors, as NU eyes property

The battle for the small and medium enterprise (SME) market has stepped up a gear between AXA and Norwich Union (NU). AXA is relaunching its products for small contractors via its e-commerce business, to allow its brokers to do business online.

AXA commercial marketing manager Phil Watts said: "It basically offers a self-service for our brokers. We want to promote more e-transactions between our brokers and ourselves."

A number of brokers had been piloting the scheme over recent weeks and AXA plans to roll it out in the market over the coming weeks.

"It will be spread geographically without any restrictions. It is not just about new business, because brokers will be able to update online and renew policies as well," said Watts.

AXA commercial has 700,000 construction industry clients in the UK. This equates to 18% of the total SME market.

Watts said AXA received £432m in gross written premium from the construction industry in 2000. "That was in a relatively soft market, so our projections in the hard market and substantial rate increases are extremely optimistic."

NU is also planning assaults on SMEs. Its product is aimed at property owners with fewer than five buildings. It is expected to be launched at the end of this month. An NU spokesman said: "We are looking at releasing and updating a number of broker-focused products and services in the coming weeks. But we are not in direct competition with AXA.

"It doesn't surprise me that it is focusing on the online market as it has nailed its colours to the e-commerce mast."

Joint managing director of broker Stuart Alexander, Stuart Reid, said: "As a broker I'm delighted to see more products online and the continual promotion of e-commerce in the market.

"It doesn't surprise me that NU is looking at property. All insurers seem to be heading that way at the moment."