Retiring the flying pigs in favour of a more commercial relationship with brokers, Mark Winlow tells Michael Faulkner about the new focus for Zurich

It doesn't seem that long ago that Zurich ran the flying pigs adverts, promoting the company as the broker's friend. In fact, it has been about two years since the pigs did their last loop-the-loop in support of the broker market.

Since then Zurich has recruited a new head of personal lines in Mark Winlow, replacing Ian Owen, and the company's message has changed. Its advertising no longer promotes the broker market, instead concentrating on the Zurich brand as a whole and the company's direct arm.

Furthermore, the message that Zurich is the "broker's friend" has changed slightly. It has become more of a "commercial friendship", according to Winlow.

"Zurich has suffered from being seen as the broker's friend because brokers would still give some of our business to somebody else. It's partly because we're their friend that they were saying: 'Well you'll understand because you're our friend'."

He explains: "So we've got much more steel in the relationship now. It's a commercial relationship," he says. "The style of Zurich is that we're easier to do business with, but it's a business relationship, rather than being best buddies whatever happens."

So what does this mean in practice? While the company is no longer producing adverts specifically promoting the broker sector, Winlow says, it is still supporting brokers, putting resources into marketing on behalf of core brokers.

"We help run campaigns for brokers on an individual basis. There are people out on the road helping to design marketing campaigns under the brokers' own brands. It's a lot more powerful than Zurich's own broker advertising. It's basically a shift, becoming more smart, with the same amount of investment in broker brands."

In addition, says Winlow, Zurich offers other support such as with regulatory compliance. The company has also just launched a service for brokers to transfer whole personal lines books to the insurer to administer on their behalf (News, 8 September)

Despite the change in advertising focus and the moves to alter the nature of the relationship with brokers, Winlow says in the main the changes put in place by his predecessor remain. One of these was to avoid "channel conflicts" whereby Zurich's direct arm would not undercut the broker channel.

"Ian Owen had made some major changes in terms of bringing together the different channels, sorting out systems, structure, sorting out the brand question because we had a number of brands that we inherited as the organisations came together. The sense of it is still the same."

Winlow claims that the company will still discourage brokers' customers from buying direct. "One of the benefits of having moved to a single system means that if we have details of the policyholder, which we have in the vast majority of broker cases, then we can say: 'But you're a good customer of broker X, perhaps you should be talking to broker X about this.' And that's what we do as a direct operation. So we refer them back to the broker."

But he adds that that if customers are adamant about purchasing direct, then Zurich will not stop them. "It doesn't make business sense for me to say: 'Well I'm not going to sell you that policy on the internet.' You might go to somebody else and buy it on the internet because you've decided you don't want a broker."

Winlow says the company is prepared to "aggressively" market its direct arm, but claims that brokers have indirectly benefited from this.

"We've done some trials in specific regions where we've saturated the area with a number of media, whether it's television, billboards, mail drops, everything else, and the local brokers have seen an increase in new business as well for Zurich.

"Direct advertising on motor had a positive effect on our broker share in that marketplace as well, and also in our household book. So it has had an effect, even though it's advertising Zurich as a direct player."

Just under two-thirds of Zurich's personal lines business comes from brokers, with a quarter direct from consumers and the remainder, about 10%, from corporate partnerships.

Winlow says its broker channel is growing faster than the direct side. "One of the challenges we have as an organisation is this question about conflict. I don't want to slow the growth of our broker channel. I actually want it to continue to grow, and to grow as fast as it can.

"We think we have a strong proposition, in particular we have some unique elements in our portfolio around the range of products which equips us well for the broker marketplace. So we should continue to grow that."

He adds: "The challenge I've laid down is for the other parts of our business to keep up with the broker channel, not to slow the broker channel down and accelerate the others." IT