Challenges facing Aviva's new chief exec

Challenges facing Aviva's new chief exec

Aviva's chief executive Mark Wilson stepping down from his role today (9 October) may have come as a shock to many, but came as no surprise to analysts.

Known as a turnaround specialist, Mr Wilson joined Aviva as chief executive in January 2013 with the job of improving the company's financial performance and strengthening its balance sheet.

During his tenure, he was responsible for transforming Aviva by simplifying the company's business model, reducing its market footprint from 28 markets to 14, and improving its balance sheet.

He also oversaw one of the biggest insurance takeovers when Aviva acquired Friends Life in a £5bn deal.

However, Aviva's share price has underperformed its peers, rising 25 per cent during Mr Wilson's tenure against 61 per cent for the insurance sector of the FTSE 100, while it has fallen around 18 per cent since its peak prior to the Friends Life deal.

Speaking to FTAdviser, Colm Kelly, co-head of European insurance research at UBS, said while Mr Wilson was successful in reshaping Aviva, the board of directors now wants to deliver on growth.

Mr Kelly said: "He has definitely led the turnaround of the business versus the past, and he took bold decisions to acquire Friends Life.

"It turned out to be a good business decision; it improved the balance sheet and cash flow.

"However, investors remain concerned about the execution of strategy. A lot of that was on the back of the Friends Life acquisition where communication was not always great.

"While delivery and execution of the turnaround has been positive, there is still work to do. One thing management needs to do is amplify the company's growth prospects."

Mr Kelly said a UBS survey found the second biggest concern among investors is management execution and this has resulted in mixed sentiment for the share price.

Meanwhile, in a research note Citibank analysts said: "The share price (of Aviva) has been frustrating of late and has largely unrewarded this turnaround.

"The story going forward is about addressing scepticism on earnings delivery and franchise quality and a new chief executive may be better positioned for this.

"In our view the rationale and timing make sense. Mark has completed a turnaround of the balance sheet and geographic footprint of the business. The share price has been frustrating of late and has largely unrewarded this turnaround."

Mr Kelly added while Mr Wilson was instrumental in transforming Aviva into what it is today, questions remain over the company's long-term earnings potential and this will be the main task of the incoming chief executive.

"The target here is to improve the growth profile of the company," Mr Kelly said.

"That will be key for the new management team – to ensure the business can generate sustainable book value growth over time."