Insurer seeks to heal broker rifts after last year’s withdrawal from personal lines

After a tough couple of years, NIG has unveiled a new brand and a club for selected brokers, NIG First, in a bid to position itself as a commercial-only insurer open for business.

The insurer will be hoping to rehabilitate its image following ongoing speculation surrounding its future as part of RBS Insurance.

Last year, it had to repeatedly deny rumours that the parent company planned to sell it off ahead of its flotation.

NIG has also provoked criticism from many of its peers over its ‘Guaranteed to Beat’ offer to improve on competitors’ rates on certain products during March and April.

Managing director Jon Greenwood, who was appointed in the middle of 2009, has spent two years assembling his top team and developing his strategy. The new line-up, which is full of fresh faces for RBSI, includes director of commercial underwriting Martin Hall and director of sales and distribution Dave Parry.

In all, NIG has made more than 50 senior appointments since Greenwood came into post, 32 of them externally.

In an exclusive interview with Insurance Times, Greenwood outlined his plans for the business. “I don’t think anyone is under any doubt now that we form an important part of RBSI going forward,” he said.

A core plank of the strategy has been focusing on commercial lines. Last summer, NIG withdrew from the personal market in a surprise move that angered many brokers. Many had a long-established history of trading with NIG on motor.

The insurer came in for considerable criticism at the time, but it is now looking to strengthen its key broker relationships with the launch of NIG First, a club for about 70 of its preferred brokers.

Each member broker will get a different set of benefits from the club, according to their needs. There is no size threshold for membership, but NIG will expect a certain amount of business in return.

Greenwood said: “We have some very strong broker relationships. We knew we needed to be more choosey about the way we delivered resource and services.”

Asked whether NIG First risked alienating the brokers that were excluded, Greenwood commented: “We are trying to deliver increasingly great service to every broker we deal with. The fact that we are differentiating does not mean the service we provide to other brokers is not going to improve.”

Greenwood and his team were keen to emphasise the insurer’s focus on regional offices.

NIG’s new products and its drive for business were already showing in the first-quarter results, Greenwood pointed out. Released last week, they show 383,000 policies in force at the end of March 2011, up from 352,000 at the end of the previous quarter and 264,000 year on year.

Asked whether the Guaranteed to Beat offer had brought in much of this new business, NIG strategy director Ben Thornton said: “Guaranteed to Beat applied to certain products offered on our extranet. It’s a small part of the overall story.”

The new branding (logo pictured above) has been created to build on the heritage of the previous design, keeping the colour purple but with a modern twist.

Greenwood said: “We have used this moment to take a long, hard look at how we want to portray ourselves as a business – what we want the business to stand for, its culture and role in the marketplace.”

RBS Insurance, which includes Direct Line and Churchill, is expected to be sold or floated by 2013 on the insistence of the European competition authorities, following the government bail out of its parent bank.

Talking points ...

- NIG has a long heritage and broker relationships going back decades. Will brokers be willing to change their perceptions of the insurer?
- 'Guaranteed to Beat' was a controversial initiative, provoking widespread condemnation from rival insurers. Is NIG buying business, and if so, will it start to show in its combined operating ratio at the end of this year?
- A broker club is not a new concept: Aviva's Club 110 is the best known example. Can NIG First stand out in a crowded marketplace?