What can you tell us about your career in the Insurance Industry to date?
I started my career in the Finglas Branch of PMPA in the early ’80’s as a motor and home clerk and spent the next ten years dealing with customers at the front counter and on the telephones while I studied for my ACII. To this day meeting customers expectations provided me with a great foundation for dealing with people in every aspect of my career. I then moved to GRE, a wholly owned broker business and worked in the technical underwriting department before being seconded to work with Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) for two years on Business Process Engineering including Change Management.
AXA bought GRE in 1999 and this coincided with my move into a few different managerial roles including Claims Manager on two separate occasions. These roles came either side of being in charge of the Direct Call centre with over 160 staff.
Prior to my appointment to my new role of Broker Director, I was Head of Underwriting for ten years involved in both pricing and underwriting for both of our ROI and NI businesses on all classes of business. This role in particular prepared me for my Broker role and enabled me to build relationships with many of my key broker partners who are now working with me to profitably grow our broker business.
In addition, being the dedicated Broker Director of a new AXA Executive Team with improved decision making and ability to optimise ‘All Ireland’ synergies will benefit AXA and also brokers in both ROI and NI through strong partnerships.
AXA Worldwide is one of the leading insurers globally. How important is this strength to your relationship with the Broker channel?
I think this is very relevant to Brokers as being part of a large Global Insurer gives us financial strength, a strong well recognised Brand and access to expertise. All Brokers are keenly aware of the need to deal with a financially strong Insurer and of the need to build long term relationships with an Insurer that has a long term commitment to this market.
Within Ireland as well as the P & C business that you know, we also have the headquarters of AXA Life Europe in the IFSC, 350 staff in Shannon as part of the Genworth Lifestyle protection business and an operational Centre in Athlone for AXA Assistance. Close links with the Broker Business in AXA UK in particular means I have easy access to Broker partnership arrangements, new products and their performance and most importantly Broker digital technology that is already developed and can be re-used within the AXA Broker business to drive improved efficiencies and competitive advantage.
How relevant was the recent Setanta Insurance Court ruling and what impact will the ruling have on Motor Insurance, moving forward?
AXA was happy with the recent Setanta Insurance Court ruling as it removes uncertainty and the inequitable position of Insurers being responsible for the failure of competitors. It also provides a route to justice for people who have suffered injury and loss through no fault of their own.
Brokers will need to invest more in the digital insurance space and this will require changes in processes, products and operating model. Larger Brokers will also need to become more sophisticated users of customer data analytics in the market. AXA would be prepared to assist our Broker partners in facing these future challenges.
AXA Ireland have established a Brexit Committee comprising several members of the Executive committee and this team are working closely with their counterparts in AXA UK and AXA Group. This team are also keeping the AXA Ireland board, the CBI and the UK Regulator up to date on our thinking and plans.
The Setanta cost for the Industry was estimated at around €90m gross and €70m net after including the remaining funds of Setanta, AXA share of this was anticipated to be around €17m. However despite this judgement there continues to be uncertainty over the right level of outstanding claims reserves – uncertainty over average cost, inflationary pressure, discount rate, increasing uninsured driving. Our pricing strategy will continue to reflect our latest view of claims costs and aims to achieve an acceptable COR across the U/W cycle to achieve our target return on capital. Overall I reiterate that the Setanta judgement is good news and removes the potential unlimited liability on our balance sheet and will make Ireland a more attractive place to do business. I do hope, however, that lessons are learned for the future.
What impact will Brexit have on the financial services industry…do you see any light at the end of the tunnel?
Both AXA Ireland and the AXA Group were disappointed with the outcome of the Brexit referendum, however, AXA Irelands priority, for Customers and Brokers, is that Brexit does not impact the ease with which people can do business with AXA, or indeed impact the cost of doing business with AXA. In order to enable this to happen AXA Ireland have established a Brexit Committee comprising several members of the Executive committee and this team are working closely with their counterparts in AXA UK and AXA Group. This team are also keeping the AXA Ireland board, the CBI and the UK Regulator up to date on our thinking and plans.
What are your main priorities for the year ahead?
Firstly, I was delighted that AXA did so well at this year’s IBA Broker Service Awards and I would like to thank the IBA and their members for their support, these awards reflect our commitment to the Broker market and the great staff at AXA.
Secondly and thankfully many of our objectives for Brokers set at the start of the year are in good shape and on target. I am delighted to have inherited an excellent Broker team who have helped my transition into my new role of Broker Director.
I feel that many of my Brokers are seeing a real change in focus and more importantly an AXA Broker team that is delivering for them. That said there is always more work to be done including:
l Continue to develop profitable business and most importantly continue to deliver excellent customer service to our Broker partners
l Being the easiest company to do business with though improved technology
l Exploring additional areas to diversify our Broker business
l Developing a new strategy for our All Ireland Broker business that will show commitment to the Broker market and a clearly defined road map for the next five years
Separately, AXA over the next while will look to have greater diversification into SME. Although we have been active in this market over the last number of years in a measured way, we have plans to increase our product propositions and become a bigger player in the SME market over the next three years.
Going forward, good people with a strong work ethic and focus on key priorities will be key to consistent delivery and service to our Broker partners.
Differential pricing continues to be a bugbear for many brokers….can you comment on this long-standing issue please?
As I have been meeting Brokers since my appointment last January, differential pricing on Car between Direct and Broker channels has been mentioned on more than a few occasions and not solely in relation to AXA.
Close links with the Broker Business in AXA UK in particular means I have easy access to Broker partnership arrangements, new products and their performance and most importantly Broker digital technology that is already developed and can be re-used within the AXA Broker business to drive improved efficiencies and competitive advantage.
To minimise the impact of any pricing differential however, there is strong need for Insurers and Brokers to work together to simplify processes to make the channel as efficient as possible particularly in relation to embracing new technology.
There is no doubt that a clear pricing channel strategy must be in place to reflect the cost of distribution including commission and expenses. At the same time, this strategy must reflect the continued strength and importance of the Broker channel. AXA Broker has seen good growth in 2017 and is adding customer numbers. To minimise the impact of any pricing differential however, there is strong need for Insurers and Brokers to work together to simplify processes to make the channel as efficient as possible particularly in relation to embracing new technology.
What are your expectations for the future of Insurance Brokers in Ireland?
I believe Brokers are certainly going to remain very relevant in the future as long as they give value, most importantly professional advice and provide excellent service to their customers. This is particularly true in the commercial insurance space. Brokers have done well to maintain their share of the overall market in the Republic in recent years despite the growth of the internet and heavy brand spending by direct players. However, Brokers will need to invest more in the digital insurance space and this will require changes in processes, products and operating model. Larger Brokers will also need to become more sophisticated users of customer data analytics in the market. AXA would be prepared to assist our Broker partners in facing these future challenges
Finally, any hopes for the rest of 2017?
Profitable growth for AXA, good weather, continued delivery for our Broker Partners, Leinster Rugby to win a trophy for the first time since 2014 and continued success for the Raheny under 11’s GAA team who I coach in both hurling and football.
There is no doubt that a clear
pricing channel strategy must
be in place to reflect the cost of
distribution including commission
and expenses. At the same time, this
strategy must reflect the continued
strength and importance of the
St Tiernan’s Laragh Classic 2017
proudly supported by Friends First
Friends First and St. Tiernan’s Cycling Club recently launched the Friends First Laragh Classic and with it a new and exciting route for one of Ireland’s premier road races on Saturday 2nd September 2017. As the final race in the Cycling Ireland National Series, the Laragh Classic, now in its 5th year, has established itself as a tough closing event which always produces a worthy winner. The former circuitous route based around the picturesque setting of Laragh, County Wicklow, has been altered for this year now incorporating one of Ireland’s most renowned climbs, the Wicklow Gap. Last crossed competitively in the An Post Rás in 2014 and forming part of the 1998 Tour de France on its visit to Ireland, the Gap brings an element not usually seen in domestic racing to the fore.
Speaking at the launch of this year’s race programme, Tom Browne, CEO of Friends First commended the ambition of a relatively young race and the new and exciting additions to the course, saying ‘The race is growing in stature year on year. This year’s course reflects the ambition of St. Tiernan’s and is a fitting finale to what has so far been an exciting 2017 Cycling Ireland National Series. Not only do we have a fantastic course for 2017 we are also hosting the first standalone women’s Friends First Laragh Classic which is something we and St. Tiernan’s are proud to be a part of.’
Further information on the Friends First Laragh Classic is available on the St. Tiernan’s Cycling Club website.
Pictured are current leader of the 2017 National Series, Mark Dowling with Tom Browne, CEO Friends First and Ciaran McKenna, President, Cycling Ireland.