Distribution director for regional brokers believes the insurer is currently ‘underweight’ when it comes to cyber insurance provision – but there is still ‘headroom to really push on’ in this line of business

Aviva is planning “a significant focus” on its cyber insurance provision for broker partners over the next three years by investing in specialist regional cyber underwriters, according to Ryan Birbeck, the insurer’s regional broker distribution director.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Birbeck explains that Aviva is currently “underweight” when it comes to delivering cyber insurance solutions to regional UK brokers, hence why the insurer plans to bolster its underwriter headcount in this specialist field – not only to provide adequate cover options to brokers, but also to train them on cyber risks to enable richer client conversations.

He says: “Over the next three years, [cyber will be] a significant focus for us.

“We feel underweight in that space given our strength with regional brokers across the board. [Cyber] is an area where there is headroom for us to really push on in SME. We’ve done that by investing in underwriters.

“Part of their roles are going to be to train brokers on cyber - we want them to have a level of knowledge [that helps them] to have great conversations. Hopefully, [that] will translate [into] business for us.

“Coupled with our existing online cyber product and the fact that [we] cross-sell automatically on existing business in our mid-market space will hopefully make cyber a bit more accessible for brokers.”

Although Birbeck does not have a ringfenced target total headcount for Aviva’s new cyber underwriting team, he is starting off the new year with 10 specialist cyber staff – this includes three regional cyber underwriting leads in the east, north and west regions, as well as seven extra cyber specific underwriters.

Ryan Birbeck

Ryan Birbeck

“Cyber has been an ever-changing segment,” Birbeck continues.

“Insurers need to provide broker partners with the support to have better conversations with their clients because businesses are so digitally reliant now post-pandemic - it is a risk not to have that cover.

“We need to, with our broker partners, demonstrate the value of why [cyber cover] is important and why the premium is worth paying. It’s an area that we need to continue to educate [on].

“There’s definitely a need for clients to fully understand the risks that are in place if they don’t have a standalone [cyber] product. But also to understand that if they do have [cyber cover] within other areas of their policies, just where that cover does and doesn’t operate.

“That’s why we see the value of brokers because they can translate that to their clients really effectively and help them navigate what is a difficult environment.”

Aviva’s October 2022 SME pulse survey, which polled 512 British SMEs, found that 34% of respondents have no cyber insurance provision in place.

What part of Aviva does Birbeck oversee?


Birbeck joined Aviva in May 2022 after more than 16 years at rival insurer Axa.

His role is focused on supporting Aviva’s partnerships with around 15,000 regional brokers - these relationships generate around £1.2bn of gross written premium and exclude global brokers and the six largest national brokers in the UK.

His team assists Aviva’s global corporate and specialty, SME and personal lines businesses.

Four-pronged 2023 strategy

Aviva’s emphasis on cyber insurance forms only one part of its four-pronged regional distribution strategy for 2023, however.

A further focus this year will centre around digital trading, which “will continue to get significant investment”, Birbeck notes.

He continues: “It’s a fast-growing part of our SME proposition and we want to continually increase the confidence that our brokers have to place risks in that space.

“What we’ve done this year is really stretched and broadened out the commercial combined online product to widen the [number] of trades and businesses that it will fit. We’ve made some of the covers modular to try and make it more accessible.

“Now, the challenge to me and my team is to take that message out externally and demonstrate to our brokers that they can place more of their complex clients through a digital channel.

“It’s efficient for them – they get their documents straight away – and, through artificial intelligence, [we can] suggest cross-sell and things like that.”

The third element of Birbeck’s priority list for 2023 is “continuing to drive growth in [Aviva’s] regional mid-market” division and “really push that business forward”. This was also a key agenda item in 2022, leading the insurer to hire an additional 35 regional underwriters.

“We’ve got the product in place, but we want to do more new business next year,” Birbeck says.

“[In 2023,] we want to be really clear with our brokers that new business growth [and] customer growth is a key part of what we want to achieve.”

Closer connections with brokers

The final part of Birbeck’s new year strategy centres around ensuring that brokers fully understand and utilise the spectrum of services that Aviva can provide.

This includes promoting technology driven efficiencies that can be achieved through the use of the insurer’s digital self-service platform or online claims portal, as well as supporting brokers’ recruitment challenges by allowing them to “access our apprenticeship levy so that they can fund apprentices in their own business”.

Birbeck tells Insurance Times that he aims to make brokers “aware of that breadth of product and depth of proposition” that Aviva has in order “to join up the right parts of Aviva with the right parts of brokers to help both of them succeed”.

He adds: “That’s where I hope to take what is a great business and take it to the next level.”

Birbeck confirms that brokers can expect to see “continued investment in [Aviva’s] broker channel” this year, creating “an evolution of what we have now”.

For Birbeck, this means broadening current specialty lines products, continuing to develop Aviva’s digital tools – such as its Commercial Intelligence Tool, which flags underinsurance – and improving self-service administration processes.

He also plans to expand the use of data led distribution to ensure Aviva makes “informed decisions underpinned by really in-depth knowledge that we have on our broker partners”, as well as support “brokers through the net zero transition”.

He says: “We want to evolve with the broker market.”