When is a general insurer not a general insurer?

Ok, I hold my hands up: this week’s comment is not strictly on the subject of emerging risks, but I couldn’t help but say a few words on a story that broke this week: namely that RSA, one of the grand dames of the UK insurance market, with a proud history stretching back to 1710, is to exit the personal lines motor market.

RSA (now owned by Canada’s Intact) said it had decided to exit the personal lines motor market in the UK as it remains competitive and “requires significant scale to drive meaningful outperformance.” The book represents approximately £120 million of annual premium for the company.

Ok, I get that. But a part of me thinks it’s sad that RSA no longer thinks it can achieve significant scale in a sector in which it once used to be one of the leading players.

Another part of me thinks: can a UK general insurer really call itself a UK general insurer if it no longer writes personal lines motor? What next? Home? Commercial packages? Where does all this stop?

I understand that motor insurance is a particularly challenging market at the moment, but isn’t an underwriter’s job to respond to and reflect the changing risk environment?

Another part of me asks: what has happened to RSA? It used to be one of the leading names in the market, writing a broad swathe of business across both personal and commercial lines, across several territories. Now it is a shadow of its former self.

When did the rot start? I’d suggest in 1997, when the merger of Royal Insurance and Sun Alliance was announced. This was a merger that was difficult to bed down from the off, and I’d also suggest that the whole was less than the sum of its parts. 

Since then, RSA has been a study in managed decline, reducing both in the scale of its global offerings and also in the lines of its insurance it actually writes. Quelle sad semaine, to quote one of my favourite poets, John Berryman.

Marcus Alcock,

Editor, Emerging Risks