One of the latest people to join AXA Commercial is Sarah Mallaby, in the role of Distribution and Trading Director. Sarah will be responsible for the trading performance and development of the commercial branch network alongside further enhancing broker relationships and customer service.
“It’s a great opportunity for me as AXA is a global brand, a star player in the market and they are heavily investing in future insurance products as well as leading the debate on sustainability and diversity, which matches my business interests and values. The role is appealing as I enjoy running a P&L with the excitement of working towards a financial result and offering great customer service whilst leading a large team to deliver that.”
“My main focus in the short to medium term is to grow our top and bottom line, further improve our sales and underwriting service and invest in our people capability in our commercial branches,” she says.
Although her role is predominantly based on trading, she brings a very rounded experience of insurance with her. Sarah started out in 1995 with, like most of us, no intention of staying in insurance for long. Her first role as a Graduate Claims Trainee at Zurich was supposed to be a stopgap before she pursued the career that her training in law had prepared her for.
But again, like most people, she found that she really enjoyed working in insurance and after four years at Zurich, moved on to what was at the time CGU (now Aviva), still focused on claims.
“I spent nearly 20 years doing various senior claims roles at Aviva and then Allianz. I always wanted to be a Chief Claims Officer,” she says.
But at the time, that role in Allianz wasn’t going to open up any time soon so, to keep her career progressing, Sarah took the advice of a colleague and started to look at how she could transfer her skills and experience into a different kind of role.
In 2017, she took on the position of Director of Broker Markets at Allianz and just under five years later, she has made the move to AXA.
“Taking on that job at Allianz was a big shift – a director-level role, with 500 people across 12 different locations - and not being a subject matter expert was tough. But it forced me to focus on my leadership skills rather than the technical knowledge,” she says.
This meant that she found herself becoming a more inclusive leader, asking for opinions and input which, she found, created a much tighter team unit.
“I was a leader of experts and I’m now a big advocate of avoiding a chimney stack career and getting people to move from one function to another,” she says.
And she’ll need to draw on those leadership skills as she takes on a big role, at a big insurer, just as her team and the rest of the market are emerging from what can only be described as a challenging two years.
For starters, she says that her team will quickly have to find a new way of working and find new rhythms and patterns to ensure that all the work undertaken to transform AXA’s proposition and performance isn’t undermined in any way.
She’s confident that the team will succeed, but she’s acutely aware that everyone’s moving into a market that’s still very much in flux with ongoing capacity issues, market hardening and consolidation in the broker market showing no signs of letting up.
“There’s still a huge amount of change going on in the insurance industry and there was a sense that it was going to slow down after the Aon/Willis deal fell through, but clearly it hasn’t,” she says.
Sarah believes that the market will see a new level of professionalism emerge.
“The best brokers are the ones that are advice-led and specialist. That creates a more professionalised and customer centric approach and while we haven’t yet seen the integration of the consolidation activity, once that’s complete, you should hopefully see a customer centric broker market,” she believes.
And she’s acutely aware of the pressures that a hardening market places on brokers.
“Everything that’s going on makes being a broker more challenging. They have to engage earlier and more widely than they had to in the past, but we’re doing everything we can to support by providing capacity where we can and working with brokers to improve the risk profile of their clients’ businesses.”
While all this upheaval carries on, Sarah’s confident that AXA has moved and undertaken its own transformation at the right time.
“AXA has made a huge investment in the commercial business – systems, data, bringing in people and developing from within. From Q1 onwards, a new AXA will start to emerge, and it feels like a really good time to join,” she says.