AXA Insurance chief signals change of direction with hunt for new board

by Elliot Lane
After five weeks in the job, AXA Insurance chief executive Peter Hubbard has some first impressions of the business.

"We have to be even more focused on the customer and there must be more accountability around the company - people have to be more accountable for their actions," he says.

Last week the company announced it had started a recruitment drive for a new marketing director, customer services director and an IT director, and all three positions will be at board level.

Hubbard says the drive is about finding the "right people for the right job", which could mean employing executives from outside the insurance industry.

His overall strategy, however, has yet to be formalised and he feels it would be premature to discuss his ideas.

"I don't want to talk yet about my strategy because I have not finalised it. I will be in a better position to talk about it in the summer."

Since August, when Dennis Holt joined as chief executive of AXA Group, AXA management has slowly been peopled by many of his old colleagues from Lloyd's TSB Insurance Services. Hubbard replaced Andy Homer at the end of November. In early December Keith Gibbs joined as head of PPP Healthcare and John Bines, who left Lloyd's TSB for Royal & SunAlliance, was brought in to co-ordinate brand strategy and development.

He stresses that AXA Insurance will not become a mirror image of the past.

"We have to create our own niche and everyone will have a different role to play.

"What we have at the moment is complexity in our internal processes, complexity in how we deal with customers and that drives costs. We must simplify it.

"Lloyds TSB had really defined accountability in amazingly clear roles, which is what I started off last week trying to achieve here."

He insists the premium broker club, which began under his predecessor Homer, will remain and that intermediaries and commercial lines are still core to AXA business.

"Any fears that we are going to pull out of commercial are unfounded."

What about rumours that AXA may move towards becoming a bancassurance operation?

"If the group decides it wants to move into the banking market then that's a group decision - not mine. But the group has expressed views that it is not going to do that at the moment.

"If you were to ask me whether I see the broad scope of financial services increasing customer wallets, then yes I do."

AXA Group has made no secret of its long term objective - to make sure the brand is harmonised across all operations and products in every territory. And the future of the FA Cup is still up in the air, since the FA decided to introduce its multi-sponsorship programme.

Hubbard is totally non-committal about the future of the FA Cup. "That's John's [Bines] decision," he says.

"I think the brand is the sum of all those individual touches that the customer relates to when they see a product. How we pull together as three companies is going to be critical. That's Dennis's [Holt] job."

So will your role be to implement Holt's plans? "Not at all - my job is to be chief executive of AXA Insurance and, therefore, to position the business in the UK and the market in which we operate and to make sure we have an over-arching umbrella of the AXA brand in the UK."