Insurer plans to double share of regional SME market in three to five years

Brit has set its sights on breaking into the top five of UK general insurers as it looks to increase its presence in the regional commercial lines market.

Brit Insurance, a wholly owned subsidiary of the global insurer, currently has a 2% share of the UK market - estimated to be worth approximately £20bn.

It plans to double its share in the next three to five years to compete against market leaders such as Royal & SunAlliance and Zurich, which together have an estimated share in excess of 50%.

Dane Douetil, group chief executive of Brit, said: "We anticipated a shift of business to the regions as the market softened and this is reflected in a 7.3% increase in [Brit's] non-London premiums in 2005."

With new regional offices opening in Leeds and Manchester in 2005 and Reading in 2006, Douetil said the insurer had positioned itself to achieve business growth when market conditions are right.

He said: "We have not chased volumes in 2005 and early 2006, but we have now put the infrastructure in place across the regions to catch that opportunity."

Brit denied suggestions that it was "sitting on its hands" in developing UK business.

It insisted that growth had not been pursued "during the softer market conditions" because it would have meant "reducing pricing excessively".

Brent Escott, managing director of Brit Insurance's UK division, said: "We want to build a good reputation as a UK insurer and not just as a route to the Lloyd's market."

' Meanwhile, Brit reported a 46% slump in 2005 profits to £62.4m, due to heavy US hurricane losses of £244.3m.

The combined ratio was 105.2%.

Brits UK business saw profits double for the year to £112m with a combined ratio of 78.4%, described by Douetil as a "cracking" yet "unsustainable" low.