On the eve of launching a revamped distribution strategy, Groupama's new distribution and customer services director Amanda Blanc reveals her plans to Michelle Hannen

Timing, says Amanda Blanc, is everything. At least it is with regards to Groupama's new distribution strategy, which Blanc says will be different to others in the market. She says its February launch date has allowed Groupama to factor in an "enormous amount going on in the marketplace"."With regulatory changes the market seems to be changing in terms of rates maybe not being quite as strong as they were last year," Blanc says. "My plans for distribution are really to build something at Groupama which reflects what's happening within the market."She says research has told Groupama it needs to get closer to brokers and it is this factor which will underpin the new strategy. "Too often I've sat in discussions where we've guessed at what is of value to the broker. Brokers just want people to deal with. They like dealing with people whom they know, they like dealing with people whom they trust. "The team here at Groupama is a team that they do trust and they do want to deal more with them. Clearly we have to meet their requirements, what insurance company doesn't? But we think we can do that," she says.

More playersPart of Groupama's plan is to take advantage of the failings of other insurers to provide brokers with good service and access to markets. Blanc says: "Intermediaries want more players. They want to be able to deal with other companies. Traditionally, some companies have made it quite hard for them to deal with them. "What we want to do is to say to them, we're here, we want to write some business with you, and certainly my initial feedback from them is great, come and talk to us, and that's what were going to be doing." Blanc's remit also extends to customer service, but she says that as an intermediary-only insurer, brokers are Groupama's customers so the two roles are intertwined.

Satisfy needs"All my teams will be working to one aim and that is to understand firstly the needs of the customer and then to meet those needs," Blanc says. "You don't have to be brilliant in this market to do something a little bit different, because I think insurance companies have continually failed to impress the intermediary market in what they deliver. "So what we're aiming to do is to hopefully satisfy the needs of some of that community."She says in order to do that, visiting brokers in their own environment is essential. "It's absolutely fundamental to get out there and actually see some of the customers. "Too often you can spend too much time sat in your office guessing what customers want," she says. As a consequence of that attitude, Blanc says her diary for January has been "pretty packed full of broker visits", something she expects will continue throughout the year. Unlike other insurers, Blanc says Groupama does not intend to offer brokers a programme of regulatory assistance. In fact, she says that brokers know that they need to be ready for January 2005, and insurers have a tendency to underestimate how professional they are. Instead, she says Groupama will ensure that the way it services and administers business aids brokers in coping with regulation."It's not our intention to replicate what other companies have done. They've already done it so really for us it's building on what our customers still say they want," she says. "It's fair to say that it would almost be an insult to brokers to say to them now that we can help them with regulation because they are already down that road."

Redefine marketTalk of the softening market prompts Blanc to redefine the market as "less hard". She says rates are dependent on both insurers and brokers "holding their nerve"."What we will need to do, subject to the market, is show flexibility. Work with our customers to make sure that we do the right thing. Will we be stupidly trading? No, we won't. "That would be in nobody's interest because every insurer wants to make profit, every broker wants to make money and if we reduce rates they have reduced commission. It's as simple as that," Blanc says. But ultimately, she recognises that as in any market place, market forces will prevail."It is an insurance company, we must be flexible. We can't just say that's it and not negotiate; that's part of our role. That's part of the way the market works."If more capacity floods into the market then who knows? All we can do is fulfil our words with actions and I would challenge anybody to come back to us at Groupama and say that we're doing something different to what we say we're doing."Blanc says the underlying mantra at Groupama is profit before volume, and where practical, this will dictate their risk rating."We want to grow the company, we've got a very solid base to grow the company and that's how we will be growing it, solidly, not stupidly," she says.

Amanda Blanc in personLives: South CheshireFamily: Married with one childCareer: Blanc began her career as a graduate trainee with Commercial Union (CU) in Luton, eventually rising to become a regional manager at the company. After ten years with CU, Blanc stepped out of insurance by joining Ernst & Young as a management consultant.But the call of insurance was too strong and after a year she left to join AXA as a regional director, a position she held for the last four years before joining Groupama.

On insurer-broker relations:"You don't have to be brilliant in this market to do something a little bit different because I think insurance companies have continually failed to impress the intermediary market in what we deliver."

On the softening market:"Brokers don't want it to happen and they want insurers to hold their nerve. Likewise, we want them to do the same thing. We have an interdependency in this area."

On Groupama's business strategy:"We want to grow the company, we've got a very solid base to grow the company and that's how we will be growing it, solidly, not stupidly."