Insurer’s saviour bows out as premium and profits soar

RSA chief executive Andy Haste quit this week, following an eight-year spell in which he transformed the company.

He will be replaced at the end of the year by RSA’s chief executive of international business, Simon Lee.

Haste left on a high note as RSA Group’s net written premium shot up 10% to £4.1bn for the half year, from £3.8bn in 2010, and pre-tax profits rose to £376m from £302m.

But some believe Haste has left RSA vulnerable to a takeover bid after a failed attempt last year to yank away Aviva’s general insurance arm for £5bn.

Shore Capital analyst Eamonn Flanagan said: “The market often has a short memory, but we believe it is worth remembering just how bad a shape RSA was in in early 2003, when Haste joined as chief executive. To us, RSA was then not far away from insolvency.

“The exit from the USA, the disposal of the life company and numerous other corporate actions stabilised the group before the next stage of the rehabilitation commenced …namely focused, profitable growth. The 2011 interims signal just how far RSA has come, since the dark days of 2003 and before.”

Haste’s departure is likely to fan the flames of expectation that RSA could be the subject of a bid.

Flanagan said Haste’s departure, which comes a year after the failed Aviva bid, will “lead to speculation over the corporate future of the group”.