Emma Jones assesses the effects of AXA's multi-billion pound Winterthur acquisition

The capture of composite insurance player Winterthur, two weeks ago, has certainly put a spring into AXA's step.

The SFR12.3bn (£5.42bn) acquisition is being touted by the company's chief executive, Henri de Castries, as a "really unique opportunity" that will bolster AXA's market share in leading European countries.

De Castries dismissed suggestions that the price for the Swiss insurer appeared a "bit high", instead insisting that it was a "good price for both sides".

He said: "From 1 January to 31 December [Winterthur] will produce earnings that will be ours. The market value of this business to us is higher than the price we paid."

The deal is unlikely to impact on the UK's general insurance market as it will the rest of Europe, with Winterthur's exposure limited to just the life and high-end independent financial adviser sectors of Britain.

Across the water, however, market share will increase by between 20% and 70% in countries such as Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, strengthening AXA's European franchise, while increasing its exposure to high growth markets.

But the biggest prize of all is exclusive access to the Swiss market, where Winterthur holds a leading position, as well as a growing foothold in the Central Eastern European block and the increasingly attractive Asian market.

"In one shot we now have access to countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland - markets that would have taken years for AXA to build the capabilities to reach that kind of market share."

De Castries is unsure whether AXA's acquisition will spark off other UK-based insurers to flash the cash in the same way, but he cautiously admitted: "We'll have to see."

For the French insurer, at least, "the gun is still loaded" for further acquisitions. But the chief executive was guarded over when the trigger would be pulled again.