Simon English: Aviva's Moss may be out of the woods but now he has to charm the doubters
Friday 09 March 2012
Outlook Yeah, he's safe. For a good while anyway. Disappointing, isn't it?" That's the reaction of a highly experienced City analyst to the latest results from Andrew Moss of giant insurer Aviva. It is a reaction that speaks volumes. Some have been privately calling for his head for so long, they are sad to see that the case is weakening.
Moss, chief executive since 2007, has never really won the Square Mile over. That's partly because his One Aviva, Twice the Value strategy hasn't paid off. Soon after he unveiled it, a financial crisis began and the shares halved.
That was misfortune, but there seem to be other reasons why Moss doesn't get the benefit of any doubt. It's not always clear what they are, but they exist.
The figures he produced yesterday are solid to say the least. Dull, perhaps, but insurers are supposed to be. Reassuringly dull.
Worries about Aviva's capital position have been banished. The balance sheet looks strong. And the company can claim to have had a good credit crunch. When times were at their toughest, it was steadfast, whatever the stock market might have been suggesting.
Moss has never bothered to play the regulatory arbitrage game that sees Prudential vaguely threatening a move overseas (knock it off chaps, you look foolish. Or just go, either is fine) and Aviva can easily claim to be one of those business champions the country desperately needs. It pays tax. It employs thousands. It pays dividends.
There was some slightly lurid stuff about Moss's private life a while ago. A few folk sniggered. It was truly the sort of thing that is none of our business and might not have been hadn't Aviva taken seriously invasive probes disguised as corporate governance issues. The answer to the question "when did the chairman know about this torrid matter?" is this: get stuffed. Aviva answered otherwise.
Anyway, back to Moss's corporate life. John McFarlane arrives at Aviva as chairman next May. There was a fairly widespread feeling that the hard-nosed Scot would assess the situation, thank Moss for his work and move him on.
That's no longer assumed, hence the analyst's comment.
And some of the opaque insurance accounting that all in the sector deal with is now being accepted as truth, or near enough. A moan yesterday from one bank about the Italian numbers was dismissed. A while ago, they might not have been; it was open season on the chief executive and all shots met their target. Instead yesterday, the shares rose. A bit.
No one thinks Moss isn't clever. And maybe he's really getting the hang of this job. What does he need to do to win over those City doubters?
"Not as much as I used to think," says the scribbler. "Invite us all over for a private meeting. Admit he got at least some things wrong. Hope the stock market starts to give his shares a bit more love. Have a stab at humility."
It's not the most sophisticated strategy on earth. Might be worth a crack.
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