Insurance Times Interview with Neil Manser: New driver at NIG’s wheel

06 February 2017

Neil Manser’s path to the insurance company C-suite may have been unorthodox, but there is no doubt it has given him some interesting perspectives on the industry.

Among which is why he is more excited than ever for the future of motor insurance, even while other insurers are exiting the market.

Appointed managing director of broker-only commercial lines insurer NIG in March 2016, Manser’s CV takes in experience as an accountant for Ernst & Young, a securities analyst and an investor relations head.

It’s not unknown for equity analysts to defect to the companies they study, and in 2009, Manser left his job as an insurance analyst for investment bank Merrill Lynch to join stock market listed Lloyd’s insurer Brit Insurance as investor relations head.

Two years later, he moved to a similar role with NIG parent Direct Line Group.

Now he’s at the sharp end of the business, running NIG.

“I was very lucky that from my mid-twenties I was dealing day in and day out with chief executives and chief financial officers of major listed companies,” he says.

“It gives you a fantastic training and understanding of the DNA of an executive; how they operate in a marketplace and the strategies they evolve.”

Starting out as an outsider looking in, exercising his analytical skills as an analyst, and then developing his strategic instincts in an investor relations role, was great training to take into his current position, he says.

“I naturally have a bias to having an external view which is helpful. In this industry, as a company you have to be outwards looking as well as inwards looking,” he says.

So where is NIG today? NIG has been on a good trajectory over the last years, and seen improvements in its profitability over the last five.

When Manser joined as head of the business, his role was to continue and build on that record.

“In any market there will be winners and losers,” he says.

“But it is vitally important that you don’t lose touch with your customers or how your people are feeling and the role you play within the wider organisation.

Evolving the product

“And you have to constantly evolve the product, the proposition and the service.”

Part of his role has also been to integrate the e-trading operations and the regional business.

However he does feel that NIG is “pigeonholed” too much as an SME insurer, when its scope is much wider. Manser says: “We are experts at SME, there is no doubt; but our portfolio extends beyond that.

“So it is important that we maximise not only the e-trade side of the business, but that we extend that knowledge and leverage that expertise into the broader commercial business.”

Manser is keen that NIG stresses its credentials as an insurer that can deal with larger SME and mid-market policies that are less transactional than some of the smaller premium e-trade business.

However, the former investor relations man, described by Direct Line Group boss Paul Geddes as a “rising star”, says e-trading will continue to remain a core part of NIG’s strategy.

NIG has topped the Insurance Times E-Trading Broker Insight survey for the last two years.

In this year’s survey of 246 brokers, NIG came out as top e-trading provider overall and also topped the poll in eight of the survey’s 13 different service criteria.

Manser says NIG’s top-rated e-trading performance doesn’t just happen by chance: “It comes through dedication, commitment and actively getting feedback from brokers.”

This goes back to NIG’s core strategy: improve the broker proposition, deliver better service, and be as competitive as possible.

“You need to continuously get better at each part of it,” says Manser.

NIG will need to be at its best to help brokers in these challenging times for the UK insurance industry.

Consolidation of the broker market continues apace, Brexit has created uncertainty over the future of insurance, and new technology continues to keep the market on its toes, forcing insurers and brokers to adapt in order to keep up.

Bigger picture

None of this has dampened Manser’s confidence.

“Consolidation will always be a feature of the market. It doesn’t concern me per se, it is a natural evolution of the market,” he says.

And as NIG is a UK business with a UK underwriter, it does not have to worry about retaining passporting rights post-Brexit.

His previous job studying the insurance industry from an investor standpoint has helped him appreciate the bigger picture.

“Many UK companies are talking about inflation effects on foreign exchange rates,” he says.

“I wouldn’t want to overplay it, but clearly claims costs are linked to raw materials manufactured in other markets. And investment returns have come under pressure because of the uncertainties in the short term.

“But then, as it is with everything, it produces opportunities as well. So when we see those opportunities we need to grasp them.”

Looking to the future, the ever-optimistic Manser says there will be huge changes expected over the next few years, particularly in the motor market.

“The evolution of driverless cars and automated driving will impact the SME and the fleet market particularly,” he says.

“We should see consequences of that in the fleet market before the personal lines market because the average age of a car in the fleet market is much younger. We will see some of those trends coming through, but there is a debate around how quickly.”

So how does NIG get involved in those debates? “We play a more powerful role in the motor market by being part of the Direct Line Group. Direct Line Group is the number one personal lines motor insurer which increases NIG’s position in those discussions,” says Manser.

“Being a brand of the group, we are at the forefront of a lot of the thinking around that, the discussions around shared mobility and what the future driver looks like.

“It is exciting, it is a big change. And as an industry, we need to be involved in that change.”