In his role as director of UK regions for QBE Andy Fitzgerald (pictured) sees first-hand the subtleties and nuances that separate one region from another – but also the common threads that link the furthest bounds of the UK.
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“People want to do business with their local markets,” he said. “They want to trade with people they know, and I don’t think that’s any different whether you’re in Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast or anywhere. That is the underlying theme. And they want to deal with people who are empowered to actually make decisions.
“With all these things, you get different characters, and you get brokers who have expertise in different market segments, industry verticals etc. So there are differences but it’s all underpinned by them being the same in terms of who they want to trade with and how they want to trade.”
Fitzgerald stepped into his newly created role in May 2022, taking on responsibility for leading QBE’s UK regions business and for the growth of its portfolios in line with the wider group’s ambition to grow significantly in the UK by 2027. The span of his remit includes six offices in Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester – and core to his focus is bringing these together under the banner of a business consistent in its targeting to brokers and the deployment of its expertise and products across local markets.
“We’re looking at a growth trajectory,” he said. “And that’s not exclusive to the UK regional business. The UK within QBE, and the wider insurance division, is looking to grow and we’re really a subset of that… With the regions, we have got a real opportunity to grow because I think we’ve been a net beneficiary through lockdown and COVID. Because we were certainly able to respond quicker and more effectively compared to a lot of our peers.”
The response of the team through the turmoil of recent years has been recognised by the market, and a lot of goodwill has been built up towards the business. With growth on the agenda of most players in the market, Fitzgerald noted that that are several reasons why he believes QBE’s UK regions business will win the day, and the first of these is down to the strength of its team.
Right now, the business is investing to find the right people for the new roles that are coming available as a reflection of its strategic development to date, and where this growth will take it next. Finding good talent at the moment is a challenge for any firm, he said, and he and his team are taking a measured approach to this to ensure they find the right people who represent a solid fit for QBE and its growth ambitions.
“A QBE underwriter is always quite technically orientated,” he said. “A good technical background is probably one of the things that sets us aside, as we can look at and trade more difficult risks than a lot of our peers. Of course, that doesn’t mean to say we just want to do that. We do want to broaden our package offering in the commercial combined segment. I think we’ve made great progress in that over the last couple of years. But compared to some of our peers, we’re probably underweight in [that space] so it’s an area where we really want to concentrate and build things.”
QBE launched its new Contractors Combined product to meet the needs of the mid-market contracting sector earlier this year, he said, and its first several months of trading have gone very well. Having the ability to package together its contractors’ offerings under one product is a real boon for brokers and insureds alike, and he can see the opportunity it offers for further expansion in this space as well.
“I think that’s one of the benefits of bringing this alignment together – that we’re not just selling one product line but can actually cross-class our motor, casualty and property lines,” he said. “And if you can do that effectively, that makes a big difference. Especially if you’re competing against one of your peers who don’t write one of those classes of business. It gives us a better spread of risk and the opportunity to be more meaningful to individual clients by writing more than one line of business.”
In addition, the UK regions business has invested in its financial lines business – a sector that has seen quite tough times in recent years, particularly across PII and management liability. Although QBE is a sizeable market player in this sector in London, he said, its regional account was not traditionally a large one. So QBE faced the conundrum of whether to invest further or simply do business out of London.
“We’ve chosen to invest in it and that will continue over the next couple of months,” he said. “We recruited Gill Rhodes as regional underwriting manager, financial lines, and we’re lucky we’ve got someone who’s very experienced in that segment to come in and lead the business. And we’ve got a couple of roles to fill supporting [that growth]. It’s not going to be immediate, we’ve got a lot of ground work to do just setting the scene. But financial lines is generally seen by most as a growth area… and we want to be part of that.”
Fitzgerald highlighted that all of these developments are against the backdrop of QBE’s wider proposition which is about bringing together effective claims handling, risk solutions and options to clients and brokers – while making them aware of the wider proposition that QBE can deliver.
“We are exclusively trading through intermediaries but I think we’ve just got to be mindful that there is an end customer who has a lot of challenges, especially in the current economic environment, where there has been a lot of disruption,” he said. “[…] We’re mindful of that and we have a focus on what customers want, and not necessarily on what either we as an insurer or a broker want to give them.
“So where possible, we have discussions with clients to find out what’s on their minds and adapt our proposition accordingly. We can’t do everything everyone wants but I think being very clear as to what we can do, providing good value for a good proposition in terms of claims, and contributing to help them manage risk, however, we can [is key].”