What Hiscox's Bluefin jibe really means

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One of the most popular stories on insuranceage.co.uk this week was the news that Hiscox had cancelled its PI agency with Bluefin, the Axa-owned broker.

The account, estimated to be worth around £8m, is not a huge chunk of the overall Bluefin book of business. In fact, it probably accounts for about 1% so I imagine Stuart Reid, Bluefin's chief executive, is not losing much sleep.

But what might make him sweat is the assertion by Hiscox that they took the decision as a result of Bluefin's 'lack of impartiality' suggesting that Axa got preference when it came to placing business. Mr Reid, as you'd expect, took great exception to this claiming that Hiscox simply wasn't an attractive place for Bluefin to place its business. As a result the account didn't grow and Hiscox took its ball home.

That could well be the case but the claim of an Axa bias and lack of impartiality will have stung Mr Reid. He spent much of the first two years at the helm of Bluefin trying to convince the market that the broker would indeed remain independent regardless of who the parent company was. Indeed, he has already pointed out that Axa is only it's third largest partner.

Axa Commercial Lines has made no secret of its desire to secure more Bluefin business - and why shouldn't it? It should, in theory, be able to secure a chunk of Bluefin business commensurate to its size. But the problem is that its ownership of Bluefin will always raise eyebrows if it manages to win more business from its subsidiary.

Until Hiscox's outburst, no-one has openly questioned the broker's independence but it was a huge concern for insurers back when the organisation was formed out of Stuart Alexander, Layton Blackham and Smart and Cook. A lot of work was done to allay those fears but the pendulum swung too far to the detriment of Axa and what is going on now is a correction of that.

It could be that Hiscox's move was sour grapes or it could be that they have articulated what many in the industry are too diplomatic to say publicly and this must be worrying Mr Reid. Regardless of whether there is any bias or not, Hiscox's statements have pointed to the elephant in the room and once again raised those doubts about Bluefin's independence.

It appears that Mr Reid is caught in a classic Catch-22 - he can't punish Axa by not giving it business simply because of market sensitivities but at the same time, the more that goes to Axa, the more jittery the market will get and there may be other's who share's Hiscox's concerns and take a similar decision.

As it stands, it's only £8m and no big loss to a company the size of Bluefin - as Mr Reid pointed out, the firm has another 359 agencies it can turn to. That impartiality jibe may have been a cheap shot but it has the potential to be a sucker punch.

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