NU chief executive claims service levels are as good as UK

Norwich Union's (NU) presence in India is set to almost double by the end of 2004.NU Insurance chief executive Patrick Snowball said that by the end of the year the company will have 3,700 general insurance employees in India, up from 2,200 currently. "We have established a good presence in the Indian market now and it's acceptable," Snowball said. "By the end of this year we will have 3,700 people out there."The service levels are as good as the UK and indeed on the selling side now last month one of our Indian centres outperformed the UK [personal lines average]." Speaking to Insurance Times on the release of NU's half year results, Snowball said that while rate increases were slowing, the underwriting outlook in personal and small commercial lines remained favourable.For the six months to 30 June, net written premiums rose 7% in the UK general insurance business to £2.7bn, while operating profit rose from £313m to £408m. The combined operating ratio fell from 99% to 98%, with the personal lines ratio at 99% and a commercial lines ratio of 96%.Snowball said that in commercial "in every book of our business at the moment we are still getting positive rates on that book of business".He said rate volatility was most pronounced in the London market, but fleet and small and medium enterprise business had also been affected. "The challenge is for the discipline to be maintained in the commercial insurance market and to ensure that people don't try and start to write for capacity."On the personal lines side, Snowball said that while rate increases of 2%-3% in household business are "perfectly acceptable", the motor margins of other insurers might be being "squeezed" at present, supply chain savings made over recent years were protecting NU.NU Direct recorded a 19% increase in net written premiums, and Snowball said that while it was the second largest direct writer in the country with £1bn worth of business, he was not chasing the number one spot. The exit of Hill House Hammond (HHH) hit NU to the tune of £50m in exceptional costs, while it realised a gain of £4m on sale of the HHH commercial business. As a group, NU's parent company, Aviva, lifted its operating profit by 37% to £1.13bn, from £828m for the same period of 2003.Its global general insurance operations saw operating profit rise to £613m, from £387m, while the global general insurance combined operating ratio fell from 101% to 97%, ahead of its target of 100% until 2006.

Norwich Union key half-year results

  • Net written premiums up 7% to £2.7bn
  • Operating profit up 30% to £408m
  • Combined operating ratio (COR) of 98%
  • Commercial lines COR of 96%
  • Personal lines COR of 99%