UK retail boss adds that the business is ‘in a very robust position to move forward and evolve’

Insurer Axa has paid out £75m for Covid-19-related business interruption (BI) claims following the Supreme Court’s appeal ruling in January 2021, confirmed Tara Foley, the firm’s chief executive of UK retail.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Foley explained that “within Axa, we have paid out on £75m in claims already” as the firm continues “to work through” the backlog of BI claim submissions.

Describing the coronavirus pandemic as “this extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime event” that has had “such significant impacts on all of us”, Foley emphasised that Axa “can understand and empathise” with the plight of small business owners who faced financial difficulties as a result of the UK’s fluctuating lockdown restrictions last year.

She said: “In terms of business interruption, the businesses within the UK [that] are the backbone of the economy, the SMEs, I completely empathise with their situation and also feel that we all have to do our bit to support these businesses through this because it’s been so difficult for them.”

In June, for example, Axa France offered 15,000 restaurant owner policyholders a €300m business interruption support package, providing a fixed lump sum indemnity settlement to cover the equivalent of 15% of 2019’s catering turnover activity for the time period when lockdown measures were imposed between 14 March 2020 and 29 October 2020.

At the time, Axa France chief executive Patrick Cohen said the initiative was designed “so that everyone can look to the future and focus on the restart of economic activity”.

Within the insurer’s 2021 half year financial results, published earlier this month, Axa said that its Covid costs last year amounted to €1.5bn (£1.2bn), primarily through its P&C commercial business and subsidiary Axa XL. Its P&C underlying earnings improved by 323% in the first six months of 2021 however, partly because last year’s Covid-19-related claims have not been repeated this year.

A ‘robust position’

Foley added that Axa’s UK retail business implemented a number of measures to help support its policyholders during the tumultuous peak of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

For example, “we prioritised NHS, key workers [and] volunteers for car insurance and repairs to make sure they can get out and get where they need to go. We looked at what kind of financial breaks we could put in place for policyholders who were financially vulnerable either as a direct result or indirect result of the pandemic and we also looked at how we could use [artificial intelligence] and remote technology to reach customers”, Foley explained.

Now, however, Axa is “emerging from the pandemic having learnt a lot”, according to Foley.

“We’re, as a business, in a very robust position to move forward and evolve, but taking all of those learnings,” she said.