Nick Brett, the new CEO of AXA ART Insurance’s UK operation is going to take the company to new places – both geographically and in terms of its product offering. He told Private Art Investor about his vision.
Taking the helm at AXA ART is a career high for Brett. He has worked for the company for 15 years, starting out as a development underwriter then rising to the position of underwriting director before becoming CEO.
This role is unique within the world of fine art insurance, because AXA ART is the only dedicated fine art insurance company in the world. As such it benefits from being small and focused, but also has the backing of one of the largest financial institutions on the planet.
“We are a highly specialist company operating within a massive financial group, which gives us the best of both worlds,” says Brett. “It’s good having such a responsible parent – and one with very deep pockets.”
After 15 years working for AXA ART, Brett certainly knows his company well. However, this depth of knowledge can also pose a challenge.
“The good side is that I’ve had a lot of experience in the business. However, it’s always helpful to try to distance yourself from time to time and look at things objectively.
“I face the challenge of trying to be objective about something I’m very close to.”
“This means I face the challenge of trying to be objective about something I’m very close to. Another challenge is that it is a mature business – so I have to decide how to develop something that is already very well developed.”
One of Brett’s priorities is to continue to get to know AXA ART’s clients well, gaining a deep understanding of their needs and the world they operate in, so that AXA ART can keep pace with their evolving requirements.
“The interesting thing about our business is that it is so dynamic. Our clients tend to be the kind of people who make the world seem a smaller place. We’re not dealing with people who have a narrow outlook on their possessions and the way they live their lives – we are lucky enough to be exposed to global collectors with a global mind-set.
“Those collectors are often running businesses that are themselves very dynamic, and because we are very curious about our clients it means that we are very much open to new ideas and to the new influences which we see our clients facing.”
AXA ART’s clients run from relatively small collectors, for whom a pre-packaged insurance policy is available, through to the big hitters who need more bespoke solutions. Much of what AXA ART does in its underwriting process is about understanding these clients.
“That works in two ways: we believe if you understand the client you will understand a lot more about the risks they face. Also, on a purely human basis it is fascinating finding out about our clients and what they do, how they have earned their money and grown their businesses. There is a great opportunity for us to learn from our clients.”
Meanwhile, AXA ART is benefiting from excellent communications within the AXA group, which means that clients are often referred to them from other parts of the group.
“There are great opportunities working as part of a large group like AXA and we are lucky to be at a time where there is real interest from the group itself. I think they like having us as part of their team.”
As clients with diverse and often very specific needs are directed to AXA ART, Brett is seeking to broaden its offering in order to fully address these clients’ needs.
“We are by necessity art focused, but we appreciate that our clients also have houses, jewellery, yachts and planes that they need to insure and therefore we are examining to what extent we can help them and to what extent we can package a proposition.
“It would mean that rather than having to place five different policies with five different insurers, it might be possible to place just one policy with us.”
As Brett looks to build AXA ART’s footprint, he is also planning to take the business to other parts of the world.
“AXA Art UK are lucky enough to have been given the Middle East as a territory to examine by our parent and we are very close to becoming operational there: we will be in business with effect from June 1.”
AXA ART is working in the region in conjunction with its partner AXA Gulf. AXA ART’s presence there is a reflection of new patterns in art collecting.
“There’s no question that art does tend to gravitate towards money – so if you look at the globe and work out where the money is, that is often where you’ll find art.”
“There’s no question that art does tend to gravitate towards money – so if you look at the globe and work out where the money is, that is often where you’ll find art.
“There are very visible expressions of that in terms of the huge investment that some Middle Eastern countries are putting into art. There are a lot of museums being built there, and that has generated a lot of interest from private individuals as well.”
AXA ART is responding wholeheartedly to those enquiries by establishing a visible – and hopefully lasting – presence in the Middle East.
“We have decided to have resources on the ground: this is going to help us to deliver a high level of service to our clients. Our aim is not to dabble in a territory and provide a half-hearted service but to provide a full service package and support it to the highest possible standards.”
As AXA ART broadens its scope, Brett is seeing its clients falling into two categories – the traditional, academic collector whose primary driver is not the value of the collection but a fascination with the objects, and the newer breed of financially-motivated collectors who are driven by the bottom line, often viewing their art collections as a hedge against the fluctuations in the equity market. These collectors are especially motivated to buy insurance, seeing it as a way to protect their financial investment.
Brett funds both types of client fascinating, and is keen to learn as much from them as he can.
“I’m very lucky to be doing this job – fine art insurance has got to be one of the most interesting fields of insurance. I enjoy both the subject matter and looking after our clients, who are highly engaging people.”
Read more insights from Nick Brett on Private Art Investor next week.