Fewer church thefts and tighter underwriting contributed to profits turnaround

Ecclesiastical has the firepower to increase its stake in specialist broker Lycetts after posting pre-tax profits of £79m, chief executive Michael Tripp said.

Ecclesiastical turned round a £22m loss in 2008 to produce its second-best result last year, due to tighter underwriting, improved investment returns and fewer church metal thefts.

The specialist church and charity insurer paid out only £1m on church metal thefts, compared to £12m in 2008. The incentive for thieves was affected by plunging commodity prices and better church security.

Combined operating ratio improved from 100.8% to 89.6% and gross written premium was up by 11% to £427.7m. When asked about acquisitions, Tripp said there was an opportunity to increase its 40% stake in Lycetts, which controls £70m premium income in farms, estates, historic houses and fine art.

Tripp said: “We bought a minority stake in Lycetts 12 months ago, and there are opportunities to work with them to take the stake forward a bit.”

Tripp said he wanted Ecclesiastical to stay as a specialist insurer. He said: “The fact that we are not driven by quarterly results is helpful. We are customer-driven.

“It is at times like this that our proposition is attractive and meaningful, when people are looking for value for money and not just the cheapest price.”