A historical hub for the county, Maidstone has a thriving and varied economy, generating £5bn in GDP, boasting a 100,000-plus workforce and an unemployment rate a full percentage point lower than the national average.
In March 2022, that economy was made up of nearly 65,000 businesses, a 0.8% increase on the previous year and a near 31% increase on 2010’s figures. One of the fastest growing sectors is construction, which grew more than 17% in the last year, a far cry from Maidstone’s agricultural roots.
Of course, Maidstone has suffered as much as any other British town through the Covid years, but there is an optimism and buoyancy that is hard to ignore. This perhaps explains why AXA is placing so much emphasis on its Maidstone branch and has invested in its team and operations over the last three years.
Maidstone has a thriving and growing economy and AXA has the local underwriting appetite to help local brokers service it.
“Maidstone has always been a strong local market for Kent-based brokers” says Terri Driscoll-Cooper, the Maidstone Branch Manager.
“Our key priority has been to get more meaningful and regular engagement with our brokers and reinvigorate the branch. There’s been some change of personnel over the last couple of years, but we’ve brought the right people in and we’re in a very strong place to deliver the right kind of service and proposition to our clients.”
The Maidstone branch has undergone something of a transformation, as Terri explains:
“AXA has committed to a branch network for a reason - because it works and ensures we’re positioned to trade locally and face-to-face with our broker partners. We’ve made a significant investment in people, to grow the capacity of the branch and to improve the level of service we provide.”
Jason Claydon, Branch Underwriting Manager, says they’ve built a team that has a dynamic mix of experience and youth, putting everything in place for the Maidstone branch to grow its share of the market.
“We’ve listened to brokers, and we’ve built a strong proposition and approach in response,” he says.
“Brokers can now form long-term relationships with our people in our branch. We’ve empowered the underwriters a lot more, encouraged them to be hungry for business and ensured they have the confidence and the resource to take ownership of these relationships. We’re now heavily focused on everyone owning the responsibility for building relationships.”
The growing construction market is of particular interest to AXA, a long-standing and leading player in the sector. It’s a strong and valuable sector but one that, while growing in Maidstone, is labouring under well publicised troubles – supply chain issues, the rising and volatile cost of materials, labour shortages and even the looming threat of new regulations.
But it’s a good example of the approach that the team in Maidstone is taking to the local market, to risk, and to their own newly expanded capabilities.
“We’ve started that engagement process already with broker roadshows, to remove any preconceptions about our appetite and the authority our underwriters have, stressing the stability, hunger and empowerment in the branch,” says Jason.
“It’s about making sure that both we and brokers are making the most of that increased underwriting authority, as our underwriters are able to make more decisions and find more solutions, faster,” adds Terri.
That new-found authority is just the start of the changes that have taken place in Maidstone. There was a very strong base to build on, but they now have the structure, the team, the authority, and the appetite to make a real impact in the market.
As Andy Rolfe, Distribution Manager, explains, the message to our brokers is clear and unambiguous: “We’re open for business, with a very broad proposition and much more underwriting authority, so come try us out”.
The main way the team intends to build relationships is through the service it provides. This was identified as a key point of differentiation for AXA – getting the basics right, first time, every time, and ensuring that the service that brokers and clients receive is as expected, and consistent.
And those relationships won’t just be with the distribution team – they’ll be with everyone in branch who is relevant to a particular case. This is underwriter-led market engagement, with a focus on face-to-face trading.
“We haven’t changed everything overnight. We’ve evolved from where we were, we have a clear plan, and now the focus is on execution and delivery for our broker partners and clients” says Andy.
The Maidstone branch is the gateway to everything that AXA has to offer for local brokers, managed and maintained in Maidstone with local AXA contacts.
“All I would say to brokers is don’t assume you know what we’re capable of in the Maidstone branch,” says Terri.
“We’re already writing much more complex business in branch, cases we wouldn’t have written two years ago. So don’t pigeonhole us – come talk to us, and we’ll show you that this is an entirely different and much more exciting proposition than we’ve ever had before.”