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'I'm a builder': QBE chief seeks stability, then growth

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QBE Group CEO Andrew Horton wants a more stable strategy and leadership – and has highlighted areas where the insurer can grow.

It’s early days for the Cambridge-educated former Beazley chief, who took on the role in September but only landed in Australia this month.

Much like recently-installed Australia Pacific CEO Sue Houghton, he wants to spend time getting to know the local business, its people and partners, but gave an indication of his early thoughts in an interview with insuranceNEWS.com.au.

He wants QBE’s divisions to work more closely together, and share learnings between Australia, the US and Europe.

“I’d like the three divisions to help each other a bit more,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“I’m interested in the three CEOs focusing on the success of their own division but I think there are many things which are similar, and there are products that they could share.

“I’d like to leverage the broad skillset that we have because within QBE we know something about everything, within insurance. I would like to bring the organisation together.”

He says the US division needs more stability, but also sees opportunity in that market.

“[From the outside] I saw them as a more erratic competitor in the US – doing different things, going into one line and then pulling back a bit and then going into another line.

“We have to find a strategy and we need to stick with it. Insurance is all about long-term relationships and consistency and we haven’t really had a consistent strategy in the US for a number of years, so I would like to give it that consistency.

“It is a market you can grow in if you are consistent and you offer a good service.”

Another area where he sees potential is Australia’s highly competitive personal lines market.

QBE is a giant in the intermediated sector but is still dwarfed by IAG and Suncorp in personal lines, and the likes of Allianz and Hollard have boosted their market share in the last 12 months thanks to major acquisitions.

“I’d like to look at our position in the personal lines space,” Mr Horton told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“Why do we have the amount of personal lines that have? Why don’t we have more, why don’t we have less? If we have a reasonable position in it, what is stopping us from building it?

“I think I am a builder, so I do like the idea of, this is what we have got in the portfolio, how do we build all elements of the portfolio.

“I’m sure the competition is really good, but there are a number of people throughout Australia who trust us with their insurance. Why can’t we get that number to be greater?”

Mr Horton replaced interim chief Richard Pryce who had taken the helm following the sudden departure of Pat Regan last year. And he says people and culture will be a priority.

“The people agenda is really important to me. Are we the company that everybody wants to join, stay at, make their careers at?

“I want to ensure the culture is as good as it can be and I think I’m starting from a reasonably high base.

“Everybody is pretty passionate about the company and the success of the company so I want to build on that.”

Central to making QBE an attractive place to work could be the company’s response to changing workplace expectations post-COVID.

Mr Horton says he’s seen different approaches across the world, and there’s work still to do on QBE’s model.

“The hybrid working issue is something that we have got to get our heads around and ensure we end up with something that works for both the employee and the employer,” he said.

“I don’t want to overreact by saying we’re getting rid of all the offices at this point in time.

“We’re in the early days of the hybrid model and I would like to end up with the best [model] we can that works well for everybody.”

In terms of industry challenges, Mr Horton says one stands out – affordability.

“Is insurance going to become unaffordable if you’re living in regions of the country which are susceptible to cyclones, flooding and other things?”

But he says it’s not an Australia-only phenomenon.

“There is an international challenge for the insurance industry to try and determine a solution, and that’s not an easy one to do.”

He says he’s witnessed losses from US hurricanes balloon in recent decades due to the impact of climate change, but also as a result of increasing numbers of higher-value properties in hurricane exposed areas.

“So the hurricanes are getting more intense and the value of property is that much higher, so the industry losses now are so much greater.

“That’s happening everywhere, including here in Australia. So it’s a tough one for the industry to manage because the capital in the industry has not been rising at the same rate as the cost of catastrophe losses.”

He says the insurance industry has a key role to play in addressing the climate change challenge.

“It’s good that the industry’s voice is getting louder. The insurance industry is trying to cooperate on a whole range of issues across the world, which is a positive thing to do.

“When I looked at QBE from an outside point of view they were almost leading in their thought process as far as climate change, and Environment Social and Governance more broadly.

“I’d like to keep us there.”