Christine Seib says the big insurers should stop worrying about competition and start some strategic planning
Enough about me, what do you think about me? OK, it's Bette Midler's line but I've been feeling recently like it could just as well be mine. I'm a little self-conscious that the lion's share of my recent columns have been all about me, me, me and my various insurance dilemmas.
It's not just self-absorption that's driven me, honest. I figure that when you're at the top of the insurance career tree, it's can be easy to forget about the policyholders that got you there. The least I can do is use this column to verbalise the confusion about insurance contained in the many letters that come into our office at The Times from policyholders on the brink of a nervous breakdown.
The past month or so has been an interesting one for the insurance industry. For the first time in a long time, we have takeover gossip. A lot of it, no doubt, is fuelled by deal-hungry investment bankers, without much substance.
But the fact that even a little bit of this chat is becoming the subject of analysts' notes could be a sign that, for the first time in a long time, Britain's big insurers have enough breathing space to lift their heads above the parapet, stop worrying about rabid competition for a few minutes, and look at strategic opportunities. It could mean that foreign insurers want to make a bigger play in the UK market. Surely AIG wants to get maximum bang for its buck out of that Man U sponsorship?
Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) was the one that got everyone excited during the past few weeks. With the disposal of its US operations 12 months ahead of expectations the insurer was immediately being touted as a bid target.
Analysts think that a tie-up with Aviva makes sense - no competition issues other than in Ireland, and cost savings to be made. And if not Aviva, other names being bandied about include Allianz and Fortis.
But I don't think R&SA will surrender its independence easily. Andy Haste, the insurer's publicity-shy chief executive, and his team have sweated blood and tears to get the business back into shape. He has impressed the City with the turnaround, and his refusal to promise anything that he cannot deliver. If he can make a good argument for remaining as a standalone business, investors might be inclined to hear him sympathetically.
And if Haste and his board were determined to fight, there's no guarantee that Aviva, in any case, would be interested in a heated pursuit. The Prudential bid debacle made it clear that Aviva group chief executive Richard Harvey is not keen on an openly hostile bid.
Who knows what could happen? But doesn't just the mere prospect of some M&A action make things a little more interesting? Or perhaps it's just me.