It has been a busy 12 months for Axa UK’s head of legal affairs Edward Davis and his team, with mergers, acquisitions and the establishment of the insurance and healthcare group’s first global legal panel taking up the majority of their time.
The surge in activity is due to the insurance group’s ’Ambition 2012’ strategy coming into its own after it was launched in 2004.
The plan has the strategic objective of entering 2012 having doubled its revenue and tripled earnings as a worldwide group on the 2004 benchmark.
Axa’s new tactics have, as a result, kept Axa UK’s in-house counsel extremely busy.
The company’s latest acquisition of financial protection company Winterthur has been its biggest yet, completing just before Christmas. The addition of the Swiss company has also led to the Axa legal team increasing in size by half-a-dozen lawyers.
Davis explains that, while Axa continues to look at M&A work, a focus is being given to increasing its distribution arrangements with external parties.
“The latest one was with Tesco, which sells our healthcare products at the checkout, which was a great get. Also we’ve arranged the distribution of stand-alone creditor insurance with the Post Office,” explains Davis.
Another major change for the insurance group was the introduction of a 14-firm global panel last October. Axa’s regional subsidiaries have always had their own local panels, but with the business expanding and becoming a much bigger international player, the company felt the time was right to reflect this with an overriding panel.
“The global panel was put together to deal with the international aspects of Axa, such as cross-border issues,” says Davis. “Our Paris base led the beauty parade, with input from the UK and other Axa subsidiaries, with the bulk of the firms on the panel coming from the UK.”
The UK-based firms that managed to land a spot on the roster were a mix of City firms and sector specialists. Clifford Chance, Clyde & Co, Eversheds, Holman Fenwick & Willan, Kendall Freeman, Linklaters, Lovells, Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw, Norton Rose and Simmons & Simmons all secured places.
US firms Debevoise & Plimpton, LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae, Sullivan & Cromwell and French firm Gide Loyrette Nouel were also picked.
From Axa’s UK panel both Pinsent Masons and Bird & Bird missed out on global roster spots, but this was due to the firms having more national focuses, explains Davis.
He adds: “The global panel hasn’t tried to cover all the local needs of every territory we operate in. These are all firms we’ve had a relationship with to date and have worked with on corporate matters or complex claims, and they’re all firms that can work on a multijurisdictional basis for us.”
The decision to make up the panel of firms that already had relationships with Axa simply came down to the fact that the company knows that these relationships work well.
“The main thing is that you can have a very open relationship, where we share a similar philosophy, and so can work with a shared collaborative approach,” says Davis.
Axa ensures its strong relationships with the panel firms through the acceptance of seconded lawyers on a regular basis. The secondees will spend on average six months with the in-house legal team to see how it works and the approach it takes.
Davis says: “Through this process we get to establish strong links with that firm and vice-versa, so much so that we’re able to sing from the same hymn sheet.”
With continuing expansion there are many challenges ahead. Davis says he sees this coming mainly from the requirements imposed on commercial businesses by the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
“There are a lot of black-letter regulations set up by the FSA to which regulated firms must adhere. Some, maybe all, however, are quite broad principles, which does create a challenge of how to complete all the requirements the FSA have. So we have to spend a lot of time considering the principles based on the regulations,” Davis says.
Davis feels that the FSA could assist companies with their legal obligations by introducing guidelines.
“But in the meantime we’ve set up our own legal framework to tackle the nuances in the FSA requirements as to the issues of engagement with businesses, which we review every year,” he says.
In terms of his own feelings about in-house counsel, Davis explains that he feels having legal professionals within an enterprise gives a company “added value”.
He adds: “Working within a business means that you have to take on its commercial approach to the legal issues you face and so you can provide the right solution the first time around.”
Organisation: Axa UK
Legal capability: 27
UK group general counsel: Edward Davis
Reporting to: Group business risk director, Ian Richardson
Main law firms: Eversheds, Linklaters, Pinsent Masons, Norton Rose
Edward Davis’s CV
Education: 1984 – University of Nottingham (LLB hons)
Work history: 1988 – qualified as a solicitor, Denton Hall; 1994 – in-house, PPP Healthcare; 2000 – in-house, Axa UK; 2001 – appointed general counsel, Non-Life Axa UK; 2004 – appointed head of legal and general counsel, Axa UK
UK head of legal affairs
|UK head of legal affairs:||Edward Davis|
|Reporting to:||Group business risk director, Ian Richardson|
|Main law firms:||Eversheds, Linklaters, Pinsent Masons, Norton Rose|
|Edward Davis’s CV||
1984 – University of Nottingham (LLB hons)
1988 – qualified as a solicitor, Denton Hall;
1994 – in-house, PPP Healthcare; 2000 – in-house, Axa UK;
2001 – appointed general counsel, Non-Life Axa UK;
2004 – appointed head of legal and general counsel, Axa UK