Insurance Times talks to key figures in the market to hear their reaction to Igal Mayer's departure
“He was captain chaos,” scoffed one broker, jubilant at the news that chief executive Igal Mayer was departing Aviva in the UK. It was a typically personal response to a tenure that has been characterised by rows, rivalries, and disagreements played out in the press.
When Mayer, formerly Aviva’s Canadian chief executive, took the helm in the UK a little over two years ago, he immediately made waves with his public support for “independent brokers”. Or, read the other way, his reluctance to do business with the consolidators, at least on their terms.
In many ways, Mayer had little choice. It was the heyday of the consolidators, with commissions reaching eye-watering levels and the power concentrated entirely on one side of the value chain, slap-bang in the middle of a soft market. Mayer was determined to change all that.
“There’s no doubt that when he came in, he had a pile of shit to sort out,” admitted one market source. “But he just didn’t go about it in the right way.”
What Mayer did was make a series of public statements, saying he would limit commission plus expenses to 30% in all cases, and making his preference for independent brokers clear.
This was coupled with the launch of Club 110 and the Broker Independence Group, informal networks for smaller brokers, aimed at encouraging long-term loyalty to Aviva and replacing a few relationships with big brokers, with many relationships with smaller ones.
In these, of course, the balance of power would be quite different. But the strategy was not without its dangers.
“He pissed off all his major distributors,” added another market source.
The negotiations between Mayer and the major consolidators have quickly become the stuff of legend: a series of fraught and highly personal exchanges – including one, it’s rumoured, that saw a certain chief executive escorted from Aviva HQ – left a lot of bad feeling.
It played out better with the independent brokers though. Chief executive of alliance Brokerbility Stuart Randall commented: “Igal took a very risky sort of approach and I thought it was working. They lost more business than they wanted too but I thought they were on track.
“I think he had a very strong strategy and it needed time to play out. He upset a few people but you don’t please everyone if you have a strong plan.
“I thought he was a good man and I liked him a lot. I’m disappointed that Igal is going.”
In recent months, following half year results which saw close to £1bn wiped off its commercial premium, Aviva has been looking to rebuild bridges. The UK’s biggest insurer has been knocking on the consolidators’ doors, agreeing to deals that it wouldn’t have touched 18 months ago.
It has also been quietly dropping rates, despite its bullish statements on hardening the market.
But there was a bombshell dropped on this “kiss and make-up campaign” last month, when sales and marking director John Kitson announced plans to retire in March. To many brokers, Kitson was the acceptable face of Aviva and it was immediately assumed that his departure, ostensibly for personal reasons, was linked to disagreements with Mayer.
For many brokers, Mayer’s card was marked long ago. There was celebration and not a little Schadenfreude among those contacted by Insurance Times this week.
“He messed up everything he touched,” said one. “This is excellent news for the broker market,” said another.