LONDON (Reuters) - British insurer Aviva (AV.L) plans to launch a new product to cover small and medium-sized businesses against cyber attacks later this year as part of an expansion of its specialist insurance division, its chief executive for UK insurance said.
Aviva, which made 3 billion pounds of operating profit in 2016, also wants to take on the risk of more company pension schemes and is mulling the future of operations in several countries, including India, Andy Briggs told Reuters.
Aviva, which traces its origins back to 1696 as a fire insurer, has been in turnaround mode since Chief Executive Mark Wilson took over in 2013. In 2015, it bought rival Friends Life, which Briggs ran, to become Britain’s largest life insurer.
The only listed British insurer with a large presence in life insurance, general motor and home insurance, Briggs said the firm’s healthy balance sheet meant it could now grow its share of the corporate and speciality markets.
“We are smaller there at the moment but it’s an area where we are building capability and we are looking to grow,” Briggs said, after a period when balance sheet struggles had limited its ability to write such business.
“Now we’ve got a much stronger balance sheet (and) we are more open-minded to deploying capital.”
Corporate and speciality risk involves insuring complex risks in anything from oil rigs to footballers’ legs and is dominated by Lloyd’s of London. It also includes cyber insurance, a market expected to grow, particularly after last month’s “ransomware” attack across the world.
Aviva has an “up to five percent” share of the corporate and speciality risk market in the UK currently, Briggs said.
It already has a small presence in the cyber market and also provides commercial motor, commercial property and employer’s liability insurance, but does not offer insurance in specialist sectors such as marine, energy or aviation.
Briggs did not specify where the company would like to expand, beyond cyber.
In the bulk annuity market, Aviva has started quoting on deals up to 1 billion pounds, ratcheting up from its previous focus on sub-250 million pound deals, Briggs said.
Many British companies with defined benefit, or final salary, schemes - whose liabilities total around $2 trillion - are looking to offload that risk as continued low interest rates have pushed them into deficit.
The UK bulk annuity market is seen expanding to at least 12 billion pounds this year from 10 billion in 2016.
“For a good four or five years, Aviva has been the major player at the smaller end of the market - we are moving into the mid-sized deals,” Briggs said, where the company would compete with rivals including Legal & General (LGEN.L).
After the 5.6 billion pound takeover of Friends Life, Briggs said future deal plans would be more modest - sub-300 million pounds - and possibly tech-related, as traditional insurers compete with digital start-ups.
Chinese online finance giant Tencent Holdings (0700.HK) and hedge fund Hillhouse Capital took stakes in Aviva’s Hong Kong business earlier this year and Briggs said that deal could be a template for other Asian markets.
A tie-up with western tech firms was also possible, he said.
“(Our) technology is exactly what the Amazons and Googles and Facebooks would want, so ultimately if they want to make an insurance offering to their customers, it would be far quicker and easier for them to do that by partnering with Aviva.”
As Aviva looks to the tech future, it is mulling the future of more mature businesses, Briggs said, including the sale of Spanish joint venture stakes left after it pulled out of three for 475 million euros last month.
“Having sold the majority of the Spanish business you need to then ask the question ‘what do we do with the balance? Might it be up for a sale?’ It’s a sensible question to ask,” Briggs said.
Friends Provident International, which a source told Reuters earlier this year could be sold for $500-700 million, and Taiwan are both under strategic review, Briggs said, and plans for those businesses would be decided first.
“That’s our focus”, he said, adding that although it was too early to say what would happen, the firm would also examine its Italian business and its Indian joint venture with Dabur Invest Corp (DABU.NS)
“We are not satisfied with where we are today.”
Editing by Simon Jessop and Mark Potter