From the mess of Commercial Accident, a strong Aviva finally emerges
ON February 25 1998 a corporate calamity was born.
Commercial Union merged with General Accident – two companies who were supposed to measure risk but plainly could not – in a deal that quickly became known as Commercial Accident.
In search of yet more excitement, they added on the newly stock market listed Norwich Union to form Commercial GNU.
This was an oddly shaped animal to say the least.
Image consultants were called in and decided to rebrand the whole shambles as Aviva. A name that worked equally well in all time zones since it meant nothing to anyone.
Some of us confused it with the bus company Arriva, which was unfair since it turned up on schedule at least some of the time.
In 2009 chief executive Andrew Moss admitted to an affair with a colleague’s wife, also his HR director, which should have been no-one’s business until chairman Lord Sharman went public and insisted Moss had his full confidence and had broken no rules.
(She hadn’t either, but guess which one of them had to resign.)
This issue may not have mattered to shareholders of itself, but seemed symbolic.
Lately there is a danger that Aviva is becoming tediously functional. That from the mess of several accidents commercial and otherwise it is now doing what it is supposed to do.
(Let’s be fair and say that Moss and others may have been helpful along the way, stumbles allowing.)
Newish chief Amanda Blanc has sold eight businesses for £8 billion and returned most of it to shareholders, who have stopped assuming that a letter of apology was also in the post.
In a tough period for insurers, especially those with just a UK focus, Aviva looks like top dog (sorry Churchill).
If this runs to past form, Blanc suddenly turns acquisition crazy-go-nuts, gets a new boyfriend and diversifies into amusement arcades because he’s really into 10-pin bowling.
This doesn’t seem likely. Shareholders, customers and employees should all be thankful for that.