Staying ahead of the game

Norwich Union veteran and director of intermediary business services Greg Gladwell talks to Michelle Worvell about his strategy for getting the insurer back on top of the pile

When he started at Norwich Union (NU), aged just 18, Greg Gladwell, now director of intermediary business services, probably never dreamed he would still be working in the same firm in 2005.

It is fair to say that Mr Gladwell has been around the block - in the nicest possible way. He has changed his role every 18 months within the insurer and this has given him a good grounding in areas of the business from underwriting, to overseas insurances, to claims integration.

He admits that having been in his current role for nearly three years this is the longest job that he has stayed in. Reporting into Ken Wallace, his current role includes, in his words, doing "anything and everything" to keep the frontline trading staff - whether they are underwriters or salesman - trading and selling. His job specification also involves anything from arranging hospitality incentives and deals to what he describes as "the less exciting things" like regulation, management information and logistical support.

"When I joined Ken's team we were shrinking," Mr Gladwell explains. "We had just come through a merger and like most companies, when you go through a period of change, relationships unfortunately get broken and so other companies service was much better than ours."

Carefully does it

Mr Gladwell admits the insurer had become quite cautious in its underwriting approach but that when he joined the team in May 2002 it coincided with a push for profitable business and the remarketing of NU under the tag of "open for business".

"We repositioned ourselves with brokers by declaring that we wanted to start growing again, post-merger. We think this approach has been successful as we have been top in terms of customer satisfaction in the Best Survey syndicated research of the six leading companies in the last seven quarters in eight."

However Mr Gladwell does confess that in the last quarter its position has dropped to third place. He justifies this by saying that, although NU has still improved, other large insurers like Royal & Sun Alliance (RSA) and Zurich had put in particularly strong performances.

He says: "We have had a wake up call. Other insurers like RSA and Zurich have come through strongly so we need to sharpen our act up a bit. My contribution will centre around repositioning the deals we conduct with brokers and re-energising our sales force of 120 through incentives and targets." As well as the sales force, Mr Gladwell also looks after 1,380 other members of staff including underwriters that write on a case-by-case basis, team managers, surveyors and 60 offshore staff.

"Much of my time is spent improving team manager effectiveness and measuring staff for efficiency and effectiveness," explains Mr Gladwell. "What is less well publicised - as both NU Direct and some of the corporate partner deals get a lot of PR both externally and internally - is that NU, through its broker channel, has £950m of personal lines premium and about £2.1bn of commercial premium."

Profit margins

He points out that broker business with NU is over half of what it does and that in terms of profitability three quarters of the profit in 2003 came from the broker side, a figure that he says will rise in both 2004 and to even higher levels in 2005.

Mr Gladwell insists that one of its unique advantages is that NU still has more locations across the country than any other company - 44 in total.

"We believe this is important as brokering is a people business and relationships are really important. Not only have we got more branch offices than other insurers we also have 400 staff situated in brokers' offices and this is something we are looking to continually expand as well as pushing for more sites.

"If someone wants to give us £1m worth of new business we will put someone on site to service it. When you look at the figures you will see that we have over 600 staff interacting with brokers on a face-to-face basis, supported by 1,400 staff who are underwriters or providing back office support. So it somewhat surprises me when offshoring gets a lot of attention as far as broker business is concerned."

Mr Gladwell says NU is increasingly looking to do deals with brokers for slabs of business of consolided accounts and feels strongly that many brokers need to re-assess whether they have too many suppliers which would not necessarily be to their advantage.

He explains: "If you look at the corporate partner end of insurance, a pretty small corporate partner that may have a £20m account with NU and a sole supply arrangement will be able to generate a lot more leverage.

"We are potentially moving into a period of flat rating or even decreasing rates on the motor-fleet side. Brokers' returns are going to be getting lower and margins will be cut. There is an opportunity for brokers to look at the suppliers they use and consider, 'do they need agencies with every company to access every market?'"

Mr Gladwell also expresses concern over the fact many brokers are still trying to transact personal-lines business in the traditional way instead of through self-servicing. He says brokers should consider the costs involved both for themselves and insurer.

In terms of service standards from the insurer to its broker partners, Mr Gladwell acknowledges that brokers it has surveyed rate the 'people-based elements' of servicing as their major concern and that it needs to keep working hard to replicate its success in other areas of the business on the claims side and in some of the broker servicing functions.

He adds: "I think this would overcome some of the other issues where relationships have been broken. We are now reaching a period of stability after previously moving a lot of customer servicing work around the country. There should be very little movement over the next couple of years and this should help us to rebuild relationships and staff skills."

Mr Gladwell certainly has a strong sense of purpose and it will be interesting to see whether this determination to implement change will pay off in the near future.

GREG GLADWELL - BIOGRAPHY

- Greg started his career at NU as a personal and commercial insurance underwriter.

- By June 1997 he had been promoted to Barclays claims manager followed in March 2000 with a role as Nationwide Building Society claims manager.

- Greg became director of integration following the announcement of a merger between CGU and Norwich Union.

- In May 2001 he became director of claims services where he shaped the future agenda for the division and established the effectiveness of all component operational units during short-term role tenure.

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