Sterling Hamilton Wright aims for £80m in premiums from start-up

A new insurer is set to enter the small and medium enterprise (SME) market.

Sterling Hamilton Wright (SHW), better known for its wholesale broking, is understood to be within weeks of unveiling a new insurer, operating under the name Minerva.

The company will not be a Lloyd's syndicate, but will instead be FSA-regulated, and will write gross premiums of up to £80m in its first year.

It will focus on selling short-tail liability and commercial combined packages to the SME market, with target premiums between £2,500 and £20,000.

SHW divisional director Stephen Duffy confirmed the project was in the pipeline and would be based in the City of London. But Duffy said it was too early to reveal the names of any key personnel.

The insurer, which hopes to achieve a credit rating of A- as soon as it starts trading, will sell its products exclusively via SHW through a network of about 150 to 160 brokers.

Brokers are also being invited to invest in the business, and Duffy is currently drumming up support.

"For the brokers there will be two distinct opportunities," he said. "One is to secure a quality commercial agency and the other is to become a shareholder in it. We've had a fair amount of interest from the provincial market on both accounts."

The SME market is becoming increasingly crowded with major insurers such as Norwich Union, Royal & SunAlliance, AXA and Groupama all targeting business in the SME segment.

Lloyd's is also becoming increasingly interested in the SME market, with Brit this week announcing plans to increase its SME business by more than 40% in 2004.