Personal and commercial lines broker arm to merge under Amanda Blanc’s control

Amanda Blanc, AXA Commercial Lines

Brokers have told AXA’s new personal lines broker boss Amanda Blanc that she faces significant challenges in building up ties with regional brokers.

Following the announcement that the personal lines and commercial lines broker are to merge under her control, Blanc said it was a “real opportunity” to push relations with regional brokers much harder.

One Answer Network managing director Paul Muir said AXA’s push was a positive sign that the high street broker was still very much in demand.

But he added: “If AXA want to be successful at that, they need to start opening dialogue and looking at ways to work with the brokers. RSA have been very good. I found that they’ve realised their appetite is back, and know that good relationships can create great accounts. Hopefully, AXA are also seeing that.”

Clear Insurance Management chief executive Howard Lickens said: “Write [Blanc] off at your peril because she’s an extremely effective manager. For businesses like mine, we love high net worth household, but I don’t see a business like AXA directly as a player for us.”

AXA has strong relationships with some of the large personal lines brokers, such as Swinton and Budget, but the thrust into regional broker territory is likely to bring AXA head-to-head with Aviva.

Aviva has enjoyed growth with personal lines brokers over the last two years. AXA is already intent on ramping up its SME offering, a stronghold for Aviva.

In the past two years, Aviva has rolled out Personal Best, to offer brokers similar deals to what customers can buy direct, and upped its connections with the major software houses such as SSP and Open GI, to offer real-time pricing to brokers.

But Blanc said it wasn’t about Aviva, rather about competing hard with all the rival brands that had regional broker relationships, by proving to brokers that AXA could offer quality service and products.

Blanc said personal lines was “not new territory” following her experience at Towergate and her role on the AXA Insurance board.

She added: “My immediate priority will be to ensure we integrate the businesses as quickly and smoothly as possible for both our employees and customers.”

Talking points …

● Could AXA in Paris sell UK personal lines if it fails to make a healthy underwriting profit by 2015? AXA Group has shown its ruthlessness in the UK by selling the life and pensions arm for £2.5bn in June 2010.

● Can Blanc take all the workload? AXA has given her a commercial combined ratio target of 95% by 2015 and wants her to grow the commercial book, from around £800m to £1.2bn in revenues. These are tough targets.