Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) has made underwriting and claims handling its top priorities, its finance director said.

According to Julian Hance, customers can expect:

  • tough underwriting as the company strives to hit target

  • price increases likely to drive away customers in less profitable lines

  • emphasis on claims handling to force down costs.

    Hance outlined the group's strategy after it unveiled "disappointing" results.

    R&SA made a group operating profit of just £16m for the whole of last year, down from £462m in 2000.

    With World Trade Centre losses estimated at £215m and an increase of £384m in reserves against asbestos claims, the combined operating ratio for 2001 was 112%.

    Even excluding World Trade Centre costs, its combined operating ratio last year was 104.7%. This was above its target of 103%.

    The combined ratio shows claims and expenses as a percentage of premiums earned.

    Hance said improving underwriting results was his top priority and insisted R&SA would still hit 103%, but declined to say how long it would take.

    He said: "The 103% was relevant for a particular mix of business in the group when we set the target in 1998.

    "The mix of business has changed a lot since then. And it's not the combined ratio itself that matters as much as the return on capital to shareholders."

    He admitted the company had "a long way to go" on improving claims handling.

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