The insurer wants ‘to work with all brokers’, according to its distribution and trading director

Axa UK is targeting broker schemes as “a growth area” in the year ahead, with the insurer’s distribution and trading director, Sarah Mallaby, confirming that the company is very much “open for business” when it comes to partnering with brokers.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Mallaby explains that Axa UK has spent the past few years “building our schemes and speciality lines” business, which she believes is “a real bright spot” for the insurer and an approach “that makes us a little bit different because lots of insurers brought their authority back in-house [post-pandemic and] didn’t want to be doing delegated authority and schemes arrangements”.

She continues: “We really see it as a growth area to get into specialist schemes and speciality lines, financial lines and professional indemnity in particular, but all schemes in the main. There are motor ones and there are specialist property and casualty trade schemes that we’ve got as well.

“We are open for business and as the distribution and trading director, my key role is to grow our top and bottom lines - it’s probably my number one focus.

“It’s a difficult, hard market and you do that by relationships. That’s one thing the pandemic has told us is [that] relationships with key brokers are absolutely critical for everyone’s success.”

Despite this intention, Mallaby adds that Axa UK does not have “an open door” for every single scheme that crosses its teams’ desks.

“We all learnt the lesson during the pandemic [that] broker wordings were very wide, so our technical team have a very good process now for checking wordings and making sure there are no silent clauses that might be left wide open and also using data,” she says.

For her, where brokers are “very specialised” and have “expertise”, Axa UK is then “very interested in talking to them”.

“Schemes and delegated authority [arrangements] give us another distribution model, which is helpful. It’s all about getting balanced and mixed portfolios across the whole commercial business,” Mallaby adds.

Sarah Mallaby (002)

Sarah Mallaby

Business backbone

Mallaby emphasises that Axa UK wants “to work with all brokers”, from the “very new brokers” through to “some very large regional brokers [that] are independent, [which] are our core business and the real backbone of our business”, as well as larger international and national brokers. The insurer also connects with broker networks.

Mallaby continues: “Our strategy is to trade locally in recognised insurance markets and that’s really, vitally important. There are 12 commercial branches up and down the country and despite the pandemic, there is no intention to close any of them.

“Building those long-term partnerships is really vital for the success of our business. We tended to [focus on] SME business historically, [but] mid-market and mid-corporate is very much our sweet spot.”

Axa UK has “a proposition and a relationship management programme” for each broker segment it works with, Mallaby explains, ensuring that it is “accessible” for broker partners.

The insurer wants “to be very proactively engaging with brokers around renewal books and new business opportunities, getting really quite visible in the market around that. But also, just generally getting out and seeing [brokers], understanding what is going on in their world and how we can support them”, Mallaby adds.

Technology spend

To assist these broker partnership ambitions, Axa UK is “heavily investing in our technology”, Mallaby says, “so our people can work from home and be seamless with those in the office”.

This project work includes “investing in our mainframe systems and platforms so that our underwriters and teams [can] spend more time speaking to brokers about products and services [and] understanding customers’ needs and [spend] less time doing data entry”.

Mallaby hopes this approach will make the insurer “much more responsive and much more focused on relationships and discussions with brokers, rather than [just having a] very transactional trading relationship”.

She tells Insurance Times that these technology updates are being rolled out now – brokers should expect to reap some benefits from this programme in 2022.

“[This] is a priority for me, to make sure that gets implemented as planned so that the brokers do feel the improvement in service at the end of the day,” Mallaby adds.

Axa UK also plans to support brokers outside of a strict underwriting remit, providing informative content and webinars on topics such as risk and compliance, leadership challenges, human resources and marketing, including digital marketing.

“That whole broker proposition and learning zone is being expanded out to see if we [can] expand our reach and the sort of things we talk to [brokers] about other than just underwriting,” Mallaby explains.

“It’s that wider business services we’re moving into.”

Reinvigorating broker service post-pandemic

Axa UK’s investment in technology is clearly geared towards improving service standards for brokers – something Mallaby admits needs to be a focus following homeworking challenges that arose from the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’ve all recognised that there’s been operational challenges and some insurers have managed to get through because they’ve got very clear points of contact. Others have really struggled,” she notes.

“It’s been fair to say [that] our infrastructure really wasn’t set up for working from home. We did it overnight and we did a good job to get people operationally functional, but I wouldn’t say it was any better than that.

“[Moving from] mainframe telephony systems to mobile phones, inevitably people then lose track of who they need to contact and if that person is not available it, doesn’t automatically ping to the next person.

“It’s been a bit clunky and we did see some service pinch points.”

To combat these distinct service issues, Mallaby says Axa UK is “working really hard” on “being much simpler, much more transparent and more accessible for key decision-makers, so people know who they need to contact”.

She continues: “New technology being rolled out will definitely give us an uplift in how we engage with our brokers and our end customers to make it much more responsive.

“I’m not going to say I’m going to wave a magic wand and it’s all going to be perfect overnight, but certainly the ambition is to reinvigorate our service and be much more accessible.”