Swiss insurer signals second-half campaign to tackle 2010’s £200m premium slide

Zurich’s decision to return to the personal motor market in the second half of 2011 is a sign both that the insurer is looking to grow again and that the motor market is truly back on its feet.

In an exclusive interview with Insurance Times, Zurich’s senior UK management confirmed that £200m had been wiped off its personal lines premium in 2010, following aggressive rate hikes on motor.

But personal lines manager Karl Bedlow (pictured opposite, left) said the Swiss insurer would return to competitiveness in the market later this year. “2011 is a game of two halves. We need to get through the process of making sure we’ve got all the capabilities we need, and the proposition and delivery designed in the right way. Then we’re looking to enter the market again in a more substantial growth phase in the second half of 2011.”

Zurich will have a fight on its hands to regain the trust of brokers burnt by its decision to push up motor rates by one-fifth. In 2010, broker frustration was demonstrated when the insurer slipped from 11th to 24th place in Insurance Times’s annual Broker Service Survey.

But UK chief executive Stephen Lewis insisted Zurich was known for its technical discipline, and that brokers appreciated this. Asked whether brokers valued consistency, Lewis replied: “Absolutely, but our consistency is in the way we bring technical discipline to the market.”

Lewis added that Zurich would be seeking growth in other areas of the market, but not at the expense of profit. “Let’s make sure we’re comfortable; then we’ll be ready to provide the capacity,” he said.

“We’ve been in these markets a long time. Sometimes it just gets too painful and, when that happens, we step back. It doesn’t mean we won’t be there supporting our distribution over the medium term.”

He added that one of his priorities was making Zurich easier to do business with. The insurer has a reputation for weighty bureaucracy and its European matrix management structure. However, Lewis has recently overhauled the UK management, giving Bedlow, commercial boss Dave Smith and Zurich Municipal boss Anne Torry full responsibility for their divisions. He is also conducting a review of the company’s legacy IT systems.

“We’ve got to become easier to deal with,” he said. “We’re a big operation, complex and with many routes in, and we’ve got to continue to work to make that ease of doing business much simpler. We have to make it easy for our customers to get the access they require, and to give our people the tools to do the job.”

Talking points

- How do brokers feel about Zurich? Will they support a re-entry to the personal motor market?
- How easy is it to do business with Zurich? Has the new top management structure changed things on the ground?
- How important is consistency of markets in brokers' relationships with insurers?