Cox chief ousted after insurer scraps takeover deal

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The Independent Online

The Board of Cox Insurance, the UK's largest motorcycle insurer, abruptly ousted its chief executive of five years, Neil Utley, saying that it was time to bring fresh blood into the business.

The Board of Cox Insurance, the UK's largest motorcycle insurer, abruptly ousted its chief executive of five years, Neil Utley, saying that it was time to bring fresh blood into the business.

Mr Utley's departure from the company yesterday was immediate, with his replacement, Andrew Fisher, due to take up his position on 7 July. Peter Owen, the company's executive chairman, said that in addition to the new appointment, he would be shifting his chairmanship back to non-executive status once the new chief executive was established.

Mr Owen said the management shake-up was not an indication of problems within the group, insisting that Mr Fisher had been brought in because he had the right "skill set" to take the company forward.

Mr Fisher was most recently the chief executive of CPP Group, a privately owned financial services company, best known for its credit card protection schemes. Previously, he was the head of Coutts Group, the Queen's bank. He is also a non-executive director of Benfield, the reinsurance intermediary group. Mr Owen said: "Having laid firm foundations upon which to develop our business, we are now ready to exploit the significant opportunities for growth and consolidation that exist in both the underwriting and insurance broking sectors.

"The whole of the Cox Board, including the two principal shareholders represented on it, are enthusiastically supportive of our growth strategy. Andrew Fisher is the right person to spearhead this next phase of the company's development. His operational experience and strategic understanding of the changing financial services market make him exceptionally well positioned to lead us in accelerating the pace of growth across the Group." Mr Owen added that Mr Utley had made a very valuable contribution to the business, and left the company in "excellent shape".

Cox recently ended talks in relation to a possible merger with Highway Insurance, a smaller motor insurer, which like Cox, is based in Brentwood in Essex. The bid failed after the companies decided it would not be both asset and earning accretive. It cost Cox £2m. Mr Owen insisted Mr Utley's departure had nothing to do with the failed merger, adding that the group would continue to look for suitable acquisitions.

Cox's shares fell 0.5p to an 18-month low of 64p on yesterday's news, giving the company a market cap of £201m. Since talks were broken off with Highway last month, the shares are down more than 20 per cent.

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