Talk at Biba was geared towards insurers and who will be devouring who, says Elliot Lane
Delegates flying into Glasgow last week for the Biba conference had a lot on their minds. Wandering around the conference stands and respective hotel bars, the talk was of FSA authorisation forms being filled in and returned. The other topic was consolidation.
But not among the broker fraternity. The gossip was geared toward the world of insurers and which organisation would benefit from devouring the other. High on the list was NIG. Ring-fenced by Credit Suisse, left adrift by Churchill and with the special risks division debacle relatively behind it, there are interested parties sniffing around. Groupama's Amanda Blanc delivered her message that its distribution strategy was looking at around 40 different deals involving intermediaries. Each are worth up to £1m, she said. So through its broker channel, the insurer is actively seeking an extra £40m in gross written premium (GWP).
But as a broker-only insurer, why not just buy another broker-only operation? As one source said: "Why waste the time with the small fry deals - cut out the middle man and buy an insurance company with the distribution channel already established."
Of course, this could be regarded as the "sledgehammer-to-crack-nut" syndrome and many insurance companies have tried and failed to grow through acquisition.
Cherry-picking business to fill in the gaps has been de riguer for the past year but shareholders are getting frustrated and the "organic growth" mantra from the executive boards is wearing thin.
To give an indication of how voracious the gossip has become, even the benign force Fortis has entered the mix. Fortis UK chief executive Barry Smith has quietly but steadily secured a strong position in the UK market. Hence its Belgian parent would like to get a premium price for the operation. But with the motor market softening and talk that some of the new entrants in the motor arena, such as the high-street retailers and building societies, are ready to pull out, any prospective buyer should choose its moment carefully.
And then there's Citigroup, which is hawking its wares around town, with one eye on Aviva and the other on Abbey...
If nothing else, silly season this year looks like it might be quite fun.