Hiring ACE UK president on top of Brit regional acquisition proves serious intent

There is certain to be discontent among some of QBE’s middle management team who were overlooked for the deputy’s job at the insurer.

That is according to market participants, who believe that QBE has proved it is serious about taking over a significant chunk of the market with the appointment of ACE UK president Richard Pryce as deputy chief executive of QBE European Operations.

And, despite describing Pryce’s departure as a big loss to ACE, they believe newly promoted Pat Drinan will be a boost for the company.

Bluefin chief executive Stuart Reid said there would undoubtedly be some “irritation and frustration” from those managers who thought they were in line for the deputy’s job at QBE, but it was up to the management team to placate them.

He said a trimming of the workforce was inevitable given QBE’s acquisition of Brit UK, and it was usually middle management that suffered. “There are a lot of changes around the market and this won’t be the end of it.”

‘A class act’

Drinan, formerly ACE director of corporate risks, UK and Ireland, has stepped up to the role of regional senior vice-president of accident and health for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He will also be responsible for ACE’s life insurance operations in the region.
David Robinson has taken over from Pryce, reporting to chairman of ACE European Group, Andrew Kendrick.

“I think Pat is a class act,” Bluefin’s chief executive Stuart Reid said. “Pat is very well respected in the market, so that would be good internally for ACE.

“Richard is a bit of a loss for ACE, but it does prove that QBE are very serious about their intent on taking over a significant chunk of the market.”

But Reid warned that, following the Brit UK acquisition earlier this month, QBE needed to be careful not to alienate those that did business with each company.

“They have to ensure that they don’t alienate some of the friends that each of the businesses themselves have made,” he said. “In a lot of cases people were either big fans of QBE or Brit, but not necessarily both, and I think trying to hold onto both while making very tough decisions is going to be a big ask for QBE.”

In QBE’s level of management below Pryce are chief underwriting officer for property and casualty Ash Bathia, marine chief underwriting officer Colin O’Farrell, motor managing director Matthew Crane and reinsurance chief underwriting officer Jonathan Parry.

Goodwill is crucial

QBE’s acquisition of Brit is expected to fulfil the insurer’s ambitions to become a top-five property player. The deal for Brit’s regional renewal rights will give QBE a 5% market share of UK regional business.

Under the new management structure, Brit UK’s chief executive, Ray Cox, and QBE’s head of UK national, Elliot Miller, will lead
the integration of the Brit and QBE regional UK operations and locations.

QBE has also taken about 130 staff from Brit from eight locations across the UK, not including back-office staff such as claims handlers. Jelf chief executive Alex Alway said: “Clearly Ash is formulating a formidable team [at QBE] and I think it shows a real determination to invest in the management structure to capture the mood on the back of the Brit acquisition.”

Alway said there would be a “keen sense of anticipation” to make sure the management restructuring at QBE was sorted out quickly. “The asset they have bought is Brit and its relationships, and the last thing they want to do is dismantle that and lose the goodwill they have acquired,” he said.

In terms of ACE, Alway said anything that strengthened the management team had to be viewed as a positive, but added that the company still had more work to do in the regions.

Talking points …

● Is ACE’s appointment of Pat Drinan an indication that the insurer wants to expand into the mid-market?
● How will QBE’s new man Richard Pryce (pictured) look to assert his authority and stamp his mark on the company?
● Will there be more comings and goings between the two insurers, given the similar nature of business and movement of personnel both ways?

Pass notes: ACE and QBE

What other changes have been made at ACE?
Phil Sharpe has moved to the role of chief operating officer, UK and Ireland retail insurance, from director of casualty and major risks for UK and Ireland, and will report to UK and Ireland regional president David Robinson. Andy Hollenberg, who has been replaced by Pat Drinan as regional senior vice-president, accident and health for EMEA, has moved to another region with the announcement of his new position being made shortly. Moving the other way, claims director Andrew McBride has joined ACE’s New York office in a group claims role.

What did QBE’s deal for Brit include?
The deal comprised the acquisition of Brit Insurance’s UK regional business. QBE acquired all of the insurer’s renewal rights, operations and assets, but there was no transfer of Brit UK’s historic business. All of Brit UK’s underwriting and support team also joined QBE.

What challenges does QBE face following the acquisition?
With a number of both the companies’ regional offices operating in similar areas, QBE could decide to restructure the business and make redundancies. But owing to Brit’s popularity with brokers, any tinkering with the management could prove to be a step too far.