Far-reaching restructure begins with creation of two new roles, but job losses will follow

Amanda Blanc was expected to make a big impact when she took the reins as chief executive of AXA commercial – and two weeks into the job, she hasn’t disappointed.

As revealed exclusively on insurancetimes.co.uk on Monday, Blanc has overhauled the insurer’s management, merging some functions, introducing others and planning to strip out layers of bureaucracy right down to the local branches – all of which she has pledged to keep open.

Blanc has established a new top team structure, with two key appointments and two new positions. The appointments are Stuart Reid continuing as chief executive of Bluefin, and claims boss David Williams taking on additional responsibility for underwriting, following Roy Watkinson’s departure last week. There will be further job losses, but Blanc said she did not know at this stage how many or where they would be.

Asked whether the job losses would be motivated by cost-cutting or merely a wish to put her own team in place, she replied: “Both. Every insurance company has to have a manageable and efficient cost base, but it’s also about having talented people in the right roles.”

The new positions are managing director of intermediary and direct, and commercial director. The first is a market-facing, trading position that didn’t previously exist at AXA but is similar to functions at rival insurers – for example, Janice Deakin at Aviva. The commercial director, meanwhile, will develop and design new products.

Blanc had this to say about the new roles: “The managing director of intermediary is very much a trading role. It’s an exciting role, facing the customers, being out and about, asking what they want. The commercial director role is then about building that for them, making sure it’s the right thing. It will take in sales, marketing, product development, e-commerce. We’ll also be asking: how do we segment brokers? What do they want? Are they looking for product, price, exclusivity?”

The rest of the top jobs will be filled over the next month – and external appointments are most definitely on the cards. While Blanc was quick to say “there are a lot of talented people in AXA”, she also candidly admitted that she foresaw a number of external appointments. With her wide market knowledge from both sides of the broker/insurer fence, Blanc is well placed to make informed and powerful signings. Her former employer Towergate will be watching its staff closely over the coming weeks. Blanc refused to be drawn on whether she could bring former colleagues over with her, saying only that she was bound by the usual covenants. Her other former employers, including Groupama, could prove happy hunting grounds, as will rivals like Aviva and Allianz.

Since Blanc’s appointment, there has been fierce speculation about her plans for Bluefin, AXA’s broker, which has been brought under her remit. Reid’s continuation as chief executive will not be a great surprise. More dramatic is her decision to integrate the businesses’ HR, finance and IT operations, bringing them far closer together than ever before. This can be read as a signal of intent, and a first step towards the insurer getting more obvious value out of Bluefin – for example, through targeted tied agencies.

Finally, Blanc has pledged to return power to local branches and not to scale back the insurer’s presence across the country. “Every part of the new structure must put decision-making back in the local branches and as close to the customer as possible,” she said. “It’s important we’re responding to feedback on the ground and making sure we haven’t got any unnecessary bureaucracy.” As such, she plans to merge sales and underwriting functions in the local branches to ensure quick decision-making.

Blanc will spend the next 30 days developing the structure underneath the top team, and the branch offices, as well as her appointments. Six weeks after that, she expects the whole plan to be implemented.

All change at AXA commercial

  • Further job losses are on the cards, but the number is currently unknown.
  • Underwriting and claims will be brought together under David Williams.
  • Two key new jobs will be introduced, with the appointment process for the top team underway.
  • Stuart Reid will continue as chief executive of Bluefin; IT, finance and HR functions of the two businesses will be brought together.
  • No branches will close; sales and underwriting will integrate to improve decision-making.