A review of the week on insurancetimes.co.uk

The Insurance Times supplement, Top 50 Brokers, threw up some surprises this year and online users were particularly keen to find out which brokers had made it on to the list. News that Willis had lost its place as the UK’s third biggest broker was the most popular story of the week. The global broker was ousted by Acromas Holdings, the company formed from the merger of the AA and Saga last September.

Aon and Marsh retained the first and second positions respectively, with Willis pushed down to fourth place. Aon’s position is set to be further strengthened with the news that it is set to acquire reinsurance broker Benfield, which was ranked seventh on the list.

The remaining top 10 places were filled by JLT Group, Towergate Partnership, BGL Group, Swinton Group and Venture Preference.

Online readers were also keen to download a preview of the Top 50 list a day in advance of its publication, while subscribers have also been busy reading and downloading the supplement in full, via insurancetimes.co.uk.

News that IAG UK chief executive Neil Utley had set a timetable for the sale of its UK portfolio including Equity Insurance brokers, private motor group Hastings, and underwriting agency Advantage, was the second most read story of the week. In a leaked internal memo to staff, received by Insurance Times, Utley confirmed that the insurer had received approaches from a number of trade buyers and was currently putting the finishing touches to a prospectus.

He said the business was likely to begin its sales pitch to interested parties by the middle of this month. The bidding is set to be concluded by the end of November, and the business could be sold before the end of the year. Likely bidders currently include Swinton, Heath Lambert and Zurich. A management buy-out involving Utley, backed by private equity, could well be the preferred option.

Aon’s £844m bid for Benfield, a deal that had been tipped by many senior market figures in recent years, was one of the major traffic drivers of the week. Reports suggesting Aon is on the lookout for more big acquisitions, brought visitors flocking to the site.

Aon’s chief financial officer, Christa Davies, pointed to Aon’s enormous balance sheet flexibility as a possible source of cash that could be used for future deals. As Insurance Times reported last week, Aon is believed to be eyeing up a bid for another broker, JLT.

IAG’s full-year results was the fourth most read story of the week. The Australian insurer reported a net loss after tax of A$261m (£123m) for the year ended 30 June 2008. In 2007 it made a net profit of $552m. The loss included almost $400m of restructuring and impairment charges.

The company posted an insurance profit of A$448m down from A$767m in the previous year. Gross written premiums increased 5.6% to around A$7.8bn. In its UK assets, the insurer posted a non-cash after-tax write-down of approximately $350m. It said Equity Red Star remained profitable and Advantage showed improvement.

The news that David Simpson, managing director of Sheraton Services, the third party administrator arm of Lloyd’s broker John Holman & Sons, had died, struck a chord with readers.

Email: danny.walkinshaw@instimes.co.uk

Most read

The most read stories this week on insurancetimes.co.uk:

1. Willis loses No 3 spot
The results from Insurance Times annual Top 50 brokers survey.

2. Utley sets timetable for Equity bidding war
Leaked IAG UK memo reveals approaches from trade buyers and work on prospectus.

3. Aon lines up more acquisitions
Aon is on the hunt for more major acquisitions following its 700m pounds takeover approach for rival broker Benfield last week.

4. IAG posts 261m dollars (Aus) loss
Australian insurer reports 350m dollars (Aus) non-cash after-tax write-down in UK assets.

5. David Simpson dies
Death of managing director of Lloyds service company Sheraton Services.