Under the influence

Few things have demonstrated the City’s regard for general insurance quite as starkly as the behaviour of Aviva’s share price following the news that Mark Hodges would take over in the wake of Igal Mayer’s departure. It barely flickered. While brokers were rolling in the fountains like Spanish football fans on World Cup final night, traders and analysts registered the news with a stifled yawn before shrugging it off as ‘market neutral’. General insurance is rarely a top priority in the wider financial sector, which can make for some interesting dynamics in the upper echelons of the UK’s financial giants. Insurance Times asked me to profile the bosses of the three biggest insurers – and those bosses’ bosses, to find out who’s really pulling the strings.

It’s grim everywhere

What will austerity mean for the North-South divide? Previous recessions have made it worse, hitting the industrial North and Midlands harder and leaving their recovery – if it ever comes – lagging behind the white-collar  South East. According to the economists and brokers I spoke to for this Insurance Times piece, it’s a much more mixed picture this time, even if it’s still not looking good for poor Hull…

Aviva’s logic-defying price rise

The coldest winter in 30 years just cost insurers a further £650m, hitting balance sheets already reeling from a string of extreme-weather-related losses. The vast majority of property damage claims related to homes – 60,200 claims out of 66,600 – so it’s not surprising that insurers are putting up prices for household insurance, raising policy excesses and, in some cases, pulling cover from the most vulnerable areas. Some, like AXA, have been open about it, saying premium levels are no longer sustainable. Its rate rises will be concentrated in the most exposed postcodes, for people over 50 who are most likely to be away at the coldest times of the year, and for second homes and buy-to-let properties. Others are more cagey: Aviva is investing in ultra-precise flood mapping technology to determine, for example, which houses within a postcode are at the bottom of the hill. But its spokesman was adamant that it won’t use this information to give higher quotes to vulnerable homeowners, only to offer better prices to the safer ones. Hmm…

Goodbye Bangalore

If there was a person you really, really wanted to impress, would you leave it to someone you barely knew to answer their calls? That’s the question insurers have been wrestling with as they review their claims outsourcing arrangements and realise they may be losing customers or missing opportunities to detect fraud. Outsourcing appears to be on the decline – only 5% of insurers questioned by Ernst & Young think it will continue to be a major trend. More foresee the rise of “in-sourcing”, even though it can cost insurers tens of millions of pounds to return to answering calls themselves. Something else I learnt while researching the piece: insurance claimants overwhelmingly prefer to speak to Geordies.

Let’s hope they’re at least reading the manual

Fitting a wind turbine or a solar panel might sound a bit beyond your average DIYer, but there are plenty of courses on offer to teach construction workers how to do it. But what about the managers running multimillion construction projects, bristling with state-of-the-art technologies? As I found out in this article for Construction Manager, they’re just kind of muddling through…

Any colour as long as it’s black

Ask brokers or insurers what SMEs want and they’ll generally tell you it’s value for money, great service and the swift processing of claims – all things they pride themselves on already. But ask the SMEs themselves and, while they do want all those things (who doesn’t?), they also have other requirements the industry either doesn’t seem to have picked up on, or for which it hasn’t found an easily marketable answer. Can big business ever really sell the services SMEs want? I investigated insurers’ attempts to produce standard policies that satisfy everyone.

Stalking for dummies

I’ve turned into a bit of an internet stalker lately, ever since researching this “where are they now?” piece for Insurance Times. It’s extraordinary what even a half-hearted Google search can throw up about the most ordinary people. So, for this Inside Housing careers feature, I was fascinated to discover how recruiters use the internet to check up on potential employees, and how people with a less-than-professional online presence can wipe it squeaky clean. It seemed to hit a nerve in the housing sector anyway – the story was one of the most read articles on the website for weeks afterwards.

“I’ve seen 45 minutes of curling since I got here”

Even the most obsessive-compulsive bridezilla would be out of her depth in the world of events insurance. Brokers who specialise in major events start earlier, plan more thoroughly, produce more paperwork, and obtain more detailed weather forecasts. And no event is more thoroughly insured than the Olympics – which will have been a relief to the organisers of the Vancouver Winter Games when they ran out of snow. I spoke to the broker who was running the behind-the-scenes operation to find out what happened

“Give everyone in Britain £1m to spend”

Why have a brainstorming session when you can hold a Dragons’ Den? That’s the thought process that seems to be taking place in organisations across the public and private sectors, and social housing is no exception. And as I discovered in this article for Inside Housing, no Den would be complete without sneery judges and emotionally scarred contestants…

How many Turkish architects can you name?

If the pub quiz at my local ever introduces a round on the world’s largest architecture firms, I will definitely be taking home the beer glass of £1s. This month, I edited BD magazine’s World Architecture 2010, the definitive annual survey with profiles of every single one of the top 100 firms, wherever they may lurk. And where they will mainly be lurking in future is China. There’s an enormous amount of data contained in the supplement, but one consistent theme throughout – the money is headed East, the dominance of the US and Europe is in decline, and when the property market recovers from recession, it’s not going to look anything like it did before.