The insurer’s chief distribution officer outlines his plans, including supporting banks with data and growing business within the regional market

Gareth Hemming’s career at Aviva spans more than 30 years. He first started out working for the insurer as its personal lines assistant, but after a series of senior roles he took over from Phil Bayles as chief distribution officer in April this year.

Hemming initially joined Norwich Union straight from school after completing his A Levels, prior to the merger of Commercial Union and General Accident (CGU). On 21 February 2000, CGU announced a merger with Norwich Union to become CGNU, later rebranding as Aviva come July 2002.

”I was offered roles with General Accident, Commercial Union and Norwich Union, so you could say I was destined to be in Aviva. I ended up taking the Norwich Union role as my dad’s best friend was a broker who had trained with Norwich Union and he recommended them,” he tells Insurance Times. 

”My first job [at Aviva] was a personal lines assistant. I remember my first day – I spent it filing. I am dyslexic so it took a while and the result wasn’t strictly alphabetical. They moved me onto underwriting the next day.”

His previous posts at Aviva - including an 18-month tenure in a “turnaround job” as managing director for personal lines and a stint as managing director for SME - furnished Hemming with expertise in distribution strategies and the broker market.

During Hemming’s career at Aviva so far, he has also seen the brand catapulted onto comparison websites, which helped the insurer move from a shrinking, loss-making business to one that is growing and profitable.

He said: “I love that we have built very strong teams in Aviva across the trading, personal lines and distribution teams and I am proud of the part I have played in creating that - more than anything, Aviva is teams business.”

Furthermore, as commercial transformational director between March 2012 and May 2013, Hemming was involved as Aviva introduced software company Guidewire into its commercial system. 

At this time, Aviva additionally ran a programme called Systems Thinking, which looked at how it underwrote risk - this led to a change in the insurer’s regional organisation which Hemming oversaw.

Because of these numerous projects, Hemming believes the insurer was in a “good position” when the Covid-19 lockdown happened - he deems his involvement in these programmes as his standout career achievements at Aviva to date. 

‘Ask it never’

Banking relationships now come under Hemming’s control in his current role as chief distribution officer.

He says: “Obviously the transition of the banks from branch-based trading to digital. We are integrated into Barclay’s, [HSBC] and Santander’s mobile banking app, helping them through the FCA’s pricing practices. Making the most of digital in that world is an exciting opportunity.”

The insurer aims to roll out its ’Ask it Never’ concept into these banking apps - this eliminates questions for insurance quotes by using publicly available data instead.

Hemming points out that banks get customer interactions primarily through their apps. Aviva therefore hopes to help them sift through this data traffic to successfully promote products like home insurance, for example, but without interfering with why the customer initially logged on. 

He compares this to the MyAviva app, which allows customers to manage their policies digitally.

“We felt like we are in a good position to help [banks] as we are trying to do the same with MyAviva - how do you make insurance more accessible? Lead on a digital service, but at the same time enable customers to understand the availability of a wider product suite without interfering with what they are doing,” he explains.

Aviva partnered with Santander on home and travel insurance in October 2020.

Emerging post-lockdown 

In terms of immediate ambitions, however, Hemming is keen for Aviva to be “very present” in the insurance market as the UK unwinds from the coronavirus lockdown.

Hemming continues: “By that I mean how do we make the move to face-to-face interactions again where they make sense, but don’t lose some of the benefits that remote working creates?

”I don’t want people travelling around for internal meetings pointlessly, but equally I do want the teams to be visible in the market. Sitting down and having the conversations that are best had face-to-face and, most importantly, for brokers to feel that we are very easy to access.”

He is also passionate about the regional market, which he describes as any business placed outside of London.

“I want to see us grow in that market, particularly the SME element. I think we are in a great place there but there’s more we can do and I’m keen to see us make the most of that opportunity,” he says.

Meanwhile, under managing director of commercial lines Nick Major’s leadership, Aviva’s global corporate and specialty (GCS) arena has grown.

“We have done that under relatively narrow distribution and I believe we have the opportunity to open that up for the next stage of GCS growth,” Hemming adds.