An insurer on the offensive is good news for the personal lines market, says Andy Cook

Life is about to become very interesting in the personal lines market. Mild-mannered Zurich is about to come out fighting. And Royal & SunAlliance is in its sights. Zurich head of personal lines Ian Owen has announced that overtaking R&SA to become the third biggest personal lines insurer in the UK is Zurich's intention. And in a spirited exclusive chat with Insurance Times (see page 10), Owen revealed that Norwich Union and Royal Bank Insurance Services (the combined Direct Line and Churchill) could be long-term targets.

Steadily over the past year or so Zurich has been lining itself up for an assault. All of the data from its different companies, including Eagle Star, have been put on to one computer system so that underwriters have the largest sample of data possible to use in their decision making.

The companies' products have been consolidated, seeing an increasing focus on Zurich and less on Eagle Star, now the company has one single suite of products covering home and a single suite of products covering private motor.

The good news for brokers is that Zurich's growth is based on them, not on direct sales. Zurich's direct book is less than 30% of its business and Owen doesn't envisage it growing. The products have been designed so that brokers can help consumers choose niched products rather than producing a small range of very broad, catch-all products. And to put money where his mouth is, Owen is paying for a local newspaper advertising campaign that will encourage consumers to consult a local broker.

Is R&SA worried? In an interview in the Top 50 Insurers supplement (accompanying this week's issue) Duncan Boyle points out that profit rides above volume in R&SA's thoughts and the sacrifice of its £400m premium income deal with Halifax earlier this year backs up the stance.

So while R&SA will be concerned, it has other things to worry about.