Amanda Blanc began the new year as chief executive of a reorganised Axa Insurance. Previously the head of Axa Commercial Lines and Personal Intermediary, as of 1 January Blanc has taken on responsibility for the French group’s insurance business in the UK and Ireland, a change that doesn’t seem to have phased her.
“I feel like I’m prepared for it and I’m just very excited about it,” she comments: “It’s great to have the challenge and the responsibility, I like the leadership, it’s what I enjoy doing, so it plays to all of my strengths.”
She adds that she is simply being allowed to step up “as I have allowed people to step up into their roles”, and in terms of how her day-to-day working life has changed, Blanc jokes that all it requires is “more delegation”.
In actual fact there are a number of new paths that Axa is exploring. Blanc says the company is aiming to grow its digital offering: “We are in a world where we can’t carry on behaving in the Luddite way that we have been.”
With two of Axa’s divisions - business insurance and the direct business - already operating on an almost purely digital basis, Blanc feels the company needs to do more of the same. The group is also trying to change its approach to customer service.
Blanc has stepped up to the top spot at a time when most UK insurers are under pressure, after the devastating floods experienced across the north of England and parts of Scotland over the Christmas period. For Blanc this is exactly the kind of scenario in which Axa can demonstrate its new approach to dealing with customers.
“One of our guys stuck his wellies on and walked around Kendall, business to business, door to door, even though they weren’t necessarily insured with Axa, and asking them if they needed help. He was just one of many doing that,” she says.
The company also issued “hundreds of emergency payments at £1,000 a time”, to customers who had already been placed in emergency accommodation, in order to help them get back their feet in the immediate aftermath.
When asked if this might be a more expensive way to do business, she counters: “I think an accountant looking at it might think that - but when your ratings are going up, and customers saying that it really made a difference... it’s virtually impossible to measure that of course, but I do believe it will make a difference.”
With the company pursuing a “growth agenda”, as Blanc puts it, it’s hardly surprising that the Axa name has been thrown about as one of the firms likely to continue the consolidation trend seen in the insurance market in recent years. Blanc herself says this trend is likely to continue: “If you look at the dynamic of the market, what has changed to suggest that consolidation will not continue?”
One potential deal that Axa has been specifically linked to on more than one occasion is a takeover of RSA – just last week City A.M. columnist Mark Kleinman predicted that such a tie-up was on the cards in 2016 – but this is shot down by Blanc. “Axa is big enough in the UK to make a difference, we have a good market share,we’re recognised as a key player. We don’t need to make an acquisition.”