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QBE transformation ‘almost complete’

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QBE has done most of the “heavy lifting” to fix its business and strengthen reserves, according to Chairman Marty Becker.

“We believe we can now focus our attention more firmly on achieving profitable growth,” he says in the annual report released last week.

This year QBE will launch initiatives to enhance its underwriting and service proposition to multinational clients, and expand in bancassurance.

The emerging markets leadership team is looking to expand in the Asia-Pacific region.

CEO John Neal says significant progress was made last year and the business is in better shape to thrive in increasingly competitive conditions.

“While there are remediation activities still under way, our transformation is largely complete and we are well placed to deliver further improvement in performance and efficiency and meet our published targets [this year],” he says.

Global pricing will remain broadly flat, so QBE will focus on maintaining underwriting discipline, exercising strict control on cost management and leveraging greater value from its investment portfolio.

CFO Pat Regan says the only capital matter outstanding is the sale of a minority stake in the Australian lenders’ mortgage insurance business, and this is not critical given the group’s “significantly strengthened balance sheet”.

QBE has restructured its reinsurance program, which will reduce earnings volatility.

Australia and New Zealand Operations CEO Colin Fagen says a competitive market will restrict growth opportunities this year and put pressure on margins, but QBE’s work on operating efficiencies will give significant cost benefits and scalability.

At December 31 QBE listed $US1.1 billion ($1.44 billion) of assets held for sale. It has since sold its Australian underwriting agencies for $290 million and North American agencies for $US217 million ($285.21 million), and may earn a further $US83 million ($109.09 million) under deferred conditions.

It reduced goodwill carried on its balance sheet by 13% to $US3.41 billion ($4.48 billion).