The news that More Than owner Royal & SunAlliance (RSA) is hunting a number of high-profile marketers to lead its customer insight team has led to industry speculations that the once ubiquitous brand will again raise its profile (MW last week).
The RSA brand was once one of the biggest advertisers in the UK. But it has ploughed an increasing share of its marketing budget into the More Than brand, which it launched in 2001. Observers are wondering whether it is time to give the RSA brand a boost.
RSA is a general insurance company, formed from the merger of SunAlliance and Royal in 1996 and the acquisition of AMEV in 1997. SunAlliance was itself a product of the merger of several insurance companies. It is the oldest general insurer still operating under part of its original name at the time of its foundation; The Sun opened for business in 1710.
RSA provides insurance products and services in 130 countries, operates in 27 countries and has more than 20 million policy holders. It is the second-largest general insurer in the UK and was the first foreign insurance company allowed to conduct business in China in the 1990s.
Yet there is more to RSA than More Than, particularly overseas, says one branding expert, and the insurer must do more to maintain its corporate identity. While others, such as Prudential and Norwich Union owner Aviva have strong corporate brands with some consumer salience, he believes RSA has let its focus slip.
"You do need a strong brand above, even if you have as strong a brand as More Than. Increasingly, although people like the ‘quirkiness’ of a More Than or an Egg or First Direct brand, they appreciate the solidity and ‘safeness’ that a corporate owner brings."
Not so, says a group company spokesman. The RSA brand has high resonance with brokers and intermediaries while the consumer shift to More Than was deliberate, he argues. It also operates most of its Scandinavian business under the brands Codan and Trygg Hansa, although in Ireland all business is conducted under the RSA moniker.
As one agency planning director says: "The brand has been clever in launching More Than as a younger consumer-facing brand, which allows it to do what it couldn’t under the RSA umbrella.
"It has established itself in the market as a younger, fresher and less stuffy RSA. However, RSA continues to be a strong brand in the business-to-business and commercial sectors."
It has emerged that RSA planned to appoint an ad agency to raise its profile 18 months ago, but the project was shelved. This was a missed opportunity, according to one agency executive approached to pitch for the business. He says he was impressed by just how "big" RSA actually was, compared to its profile. "Although it is a UK giant in terms of its size – and although it has a considerable overseas presence – it has less brand power than some of its smaller rivals," he adds.
Yet the spokesman says that over the past two years the group has undergone significant restructuring and is now a focused general insurance business, which rivals such as Aviva and the Prudential are not. He says the company is now run with a real "passion" and "energy". Indeed, analysts have been impressed by the turnaround executed by group chief executive Andy Haste since he was appointed in April 2003.
Earlier this month Haste, the former UK chief executive of French insurer Axa, said he had completed the shake-up of the business that he pledged when he took the role four years ago. That – and finally exiting the US – has led the group to be named as a takeover target for rivals. Axa, AIG and Generali have all been named as potential buyers.
Haste expects international operations to be the major driver of the business, particularly in Scandinavia, in the coming year while emerging markets such as the Baltic states and Latin America are his "five-to-ten-year play".
Meanwhile, UK chief executive Brigitte McIntyre, who was behind the "Quote me happy" strategy while at rival Norwich Union, is advocating a customer-led rather than product-led approach, which is being rolled out across the group. The group believes this focus on customers makes it different from its rivals. It will be sharpened with the appointment of a customer insight director and an accompanying team.
"Insurers have traditionally been product-focused," says the spokesman. "Marketing budgets are and will continue to be worked out by each region. They are closest to the customer and bringing a much stronger customer focus is a big part of what we are doing."
While the insurer insists that it is more than happy with the way its brands perform globally there are still questions about the strength of the RSA holding group brand. Ridding itself of US operations should help, while the brand’s long history should bring traditional values and trust to emerging markets. So too should the renewed focus on insight; an admission perhaps, that it must do more for its customers.
Facts and figures
- Royal & SunAlliance has more than 20 million customers worldwide
- The group manages £14bn of investments and has shareholders’ funds of £2.7bn
- It is the UK’s second-largest commercial lines insurer and the third-biggest provider of property and motor insurance
- The insurer’s marine section insures all bananas transported to the UK
- The Sun was established in 1710. It is the oldest insurance company still trading under its original name. The Alliance was founded in 1824 and The Royal in 1845
- More Than, the brand’s direct arm, launched in 2001. Much of the group’s £20m above the line ad budget is spent on the brand.