Ellen Bennett comments on the AXA departures

Peter Hubbard will be sorely missed. In his seven years as chief executive of AXA, he built a strong personal reputation among brokers that survived the service problems which plagued the insurer last year. And his sudden departure is followed by that of his right hand man, Mark Cliff, as revealed by insurancetimes.co.uk on Monday. Cliff had been in discussions with his new employer, Fortis, for some months, but his departure two days after Hubbard’s is surely more than coincidence. Before this week’s events, he may even have been tipped as a potential successor to Hubbard, with whom he worked closely over a number of years.

AXA has started the year by getting its house in order – the departure of Chris Blackham and Paul Meehan from its broking business Venture Preference was just a few months ago. It claims that there are no more big departures on the horizon, and that there won’t be a wholesale reshuffle of the top brass. With Stuart Reid now in sole charge at Venture Preference, and Cliff not being directly replaced, AXA has become an altogether leaner outfit. Now the new, slimmed down management has to get on with the job – and for new chief executive Philippe Maso y Guell Rivet that means winning back the trust of brokers and managing the firm’s controversial distribution strategy. The market will be watching closely.

‘ “Interest in networks is at an all time high,” says Broker Network chief Grant Ellis (page 6). How right he is. With Broker Network prepared to offer a £10,000 golden hello to the first 50 firms to sign up to its new associate membership, Purple Partnership offering to help new members find ways out of restrictive contracts with rivals, and Willis launching a new network to sit alongside its existing one, the heat is on. The networks are in a race to sign up new members, with each one a boost to their overall market value. Ellis admits that he has spoken to all his rivals about potential mergers and acquisitions, and it’s no secret that Westinsure chief Denis Morgan would be open to the right offer. Consolidation has ripped its way through the broker market like a forest fire: expect the same to happen now in the network arena. IT