Personal and commercial lines split under new UK chief as insurer weighs up options

Speculation surrounded the future of AXA’s commercial business following the departure last week of chief executive Philippe Maso.

Maso’s role has been split between a personal lines and a commercial lines chief executive, reporting to UK chief executive Paul Evans.

Steve Hardy, managing director of AXA Direct, takes over as personal lines chief, although the commercial lines post remains vacant, with AXA Ireland chief executive John O’Neill looking after the UK business temporarily.

Insurance Times understands that AXA is looking outside the company for an experienced head to take over the role.

Meanwhile, speculation focused on customer service director Paul Meehan. Sources suggested Meehan, who was appointed by Maso to shake up customer service in February last year, is heading for the door.

AXA remained tight-lipped about the role changes, although Hardy said: “Paul [Meehan] is talking to John O’Neill about what roles are on offer.” Hardy maintained that Maso’s departure was part of a restructure following the £2.75bn sale of the life business to acquisition vehicle Resolution in June.

Repeating an email message sent by Evans to brokers this week, he said the new structure would improve decision-making in both the personal and commercial lines.

“We want to be flexible and agile and get to our markets quickly. To do that, we had to look at the corporate governance structure, and the best way was to set up a corporate governance structure at UK level,” Hardy said.

Personal lines director Mike Keating, who is working closely with Hardy, moved quickly to defend Maso's record of pulling out of business deemed unprofitable, such as managing general agencies.

AXA UK general insurance lost 18% of its commercial lines turnover in the first half of 2010, compared with the same period last year, although combined operating ratio improved 2.3 points to 104.9%.

Keating stressed that a failure to scale back unprofitable business would have been disastrous. “Personal lines is probably healthier in terms of rate increases because of motor, and we are especially strong in the direct channel,” he said. “Commercial lines is still soft. There is no reason to change our strategy at the moment. We are not going to chase business at unprofitable rates – that is suicide.”

Cover story: Life after Maso.