Household and motor books hit by extreme weather, but new business rates up 40% on January 2009

The Co-operative Insurance is aiming to better its 2009 operating profit in the full year of 2010, despite recording lower first-half profits year on year.

The insurer made an operating profit of £11.7m in the first half of 2010, down 13% from the £13.6m it made in the first half of last year. Co-op’s director of general insurance David Neave put the relatively poor performance down to losses from adverse weather in the UK in January, which he said had affected both the household and motor books.

According to Neave, about two-thirds of The Co-operative Insurance’s book is motor, of which the majority is personal lines. He said he expected the company to benefit from the large rate increases the industry is putting through to counter rising bodily injury claims.

He said: “We are highly geared to that rate increase from both a growth and a profitability perspective.”

Neave said that the insurer’s motor rates for new business are 40% higher than they were in January 2009, which he described as “a particularly strong performance”.

The rate increases look set to continue for the rest of the year, according to Neave. “Some of the inflationary pressures on motor, slightly less so on home, have continued. Our expectation is that the market prices will continue to rise,” he said.

“Our intention is to track those market movements. As a consequence we would expect to see our earned income rising and we should benefit from that in profitability terms. Our firm expectation is that we will run out 2010 with an improved bottom line performance relative to 2009.”

Neave says The Co-operative Insurance is seeing particularly strong growth in the number of insured vehicles from its broker channel. “We remain comfortable with the additional business we have written there, not least given the prices that are coming through and the prices we forecast will continue to come through,” he said.

The Co-operative Insurance’s premiums earned in the first half of 2010 were 15% up on those reported for the same period in 2009, Neave said.

Unlike some companies with a heavy focus on motor business, The Co-operative Insurance had not had to boost prior-year reserves, Neave said. “Our reserving has shown a fairly solid performance but we still have to reflect the overall rising cost of claims in our rates,” he said.

'A three-digit COR is fine'

For most insurers, a combined operating ratio of more than 100% would be cause for concern. But David Neave insists this is not the case for The Co-operative Insurance, and that a direct comparison of his company's COR with those of other UK general insurers is unfair.
"As a mutual, we have a different mix of capital, investment income and profit expectation. Therefore our COR requirement is higher than a Plc would be and sometimes the comparability of those figures gets confused," he said.
"Internally we don't have to hit a two-digit COR. We can meet our requirements with a three-digit COR."
Neave declined to provide a first-half COR for The Co-operative Insurance. Actuarial consultancy EMB's analysis of motor insurers' FSA returns puts the firm's full-year 2009 COR at 154.1%, markedly higher than the market average of 119.3%.
"The way our COR and loss ratio has been represented in some of the analyses of FSA returns has materially mis-stated our performance.
"We have had to write to some of those analysts and correct them," Neave said.