We can get Britain Back to Business


It’s hard to believe that it is just one year ago this month when the first case of Covid-19 was reported to the World Health Organisation. Looking back to December 2019, the dominating headline at the time – and also risk for British businesses going into 2020 – was Brexit.

Looking at the intervening twelve months, it is hard to fathom just how quickly Covid-19 jumped from being a regional health issue in China to a global pandemic that has infected 70 million people and killed 1.6 million, and at one point saw most of the global economy shut down.

There is no way that one year ago I could ever have foreseen that I would write that last sentence. Looking back on 2020, the message that is clear to me is the importance of hoping for the best – while preparing for the worst.  This is particularly true when looking at three of the dominating issues for our industry in 2020: flooding, Covid-19 and Brexit.


The UK suffered its wettest February on record with storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge battering many parts of the country, bringing strong winds and heavy rains, with widespread flooding to many areas. I’m proud of how insurers responded quickly to help our customers when they needed us most – this is a great example of the role of insurance as a force for social good.

But flooding was not, sadly, limited to February. Extreme weather is no longer confined to autumn and winter months; in the summer, many areas were hit by gale force winds and rainfall from Storms Ellen and Francis, bringing flash flooding with them. These events are a stark reminder that storms and floods are becoming ever more commonplace in the UK, and changes to our climate are set to continue.

And so, it was good to see the Government’s Spending Review last month outlining investment in flood and coastal defences – we need this to protect our communities in the future. We also believe that in addition to funding, a priority should be placed on ensuring robust planning regulations are developed for any new properties built in flood prone areas. Too many new homes are still being built in high-risk areas, putting more people and properties at risk without adequate protection.

Our newly-launched Flood Report: Adapting to the Rising Tide found that people are confused about flood risk with worrying levels of awareness even from those living in high-risk areas. Despite one in seven UK homes being at risk from flooding, over two-thirds (67%) of people in flood zones say their property faces no risk. More homes and lives have become blighted by the risk from flooding and we need to be better prepared for the future. By taking collective action and raising awareness, we can help to lessen the damage that floods cause.


I’m rarely at a loss for words, but the scale of the Covid-19 tragedy is staggering. The human cost of Covid-19 is tragic and incalculable.

On top of that, we must now face the daunting climb out of the economic hole that Covid-19 has ripped through the global economy.

As insurers and brokers, we are uniquely placed to help our business customers face these challenges, drawing on our collective wealth of risk management capability and expertise. I know that by working together we can help our customers take the necessary steps to protect themselves, their employees and their customers so that they can continue to trade with confidence.

Our business customers have been amazingly resilient through this period.  Recent research by Aviva shows that two-thirds of SMEs diversified their businesses in response to the Covid-19 restrictions, with many turning to online trading, new products, or services in a bid to stay afloat. 

However, as businesses diversify in the face of uncertainty, they must be aware of the new risks involved and whether their insurance cover needs to change so they can continue to operate with confidence. Brokers can help their clients through the uncertainties that lie ahead; their insight and experience will be vital for successful trading. Having a deep understanding of their client’s business and concerns will be key when working with insurers to review options around cost, cover and levels of retained risk.


As we near the year’s end, there is still a high level of uncertainty regarding our future relationship with the European Union.

Our industry, like many, is likely to face regulatory change over the next five to ten years as the UK asserts its independence from the EU. This is an opportunity to tailor rules that are better attuned to the UK’s needs, but the uncertainty that this period of change brings is understandable.

What this will mean for insurance has yet to be determined and even after December 31st there will still be much for insurers to focus on to ensure the needs of their customers in this new world are met. In the meantime, we will continue to monitor Brexit developments as we near the end of the transition period.

Looking ahead

Although this has been an exceptionally difficult year, it was great to see the industry unite in support of its customers. At Aviva, our efforts included extending motor cover for NHS workers so they can travel to and from work safely and taking a flexible approach to those facing financial difficulties. We also donated more than £33m to make sure the most vulnerable get the right support through this crisis.

As 2020 draws to a close, news of a vaccine has given us all a sense of hope for a brighter future.  And though we still face significant uncertainty and risk, I’ve never been more convinced of the purpose and social good that is at the heart of the insurance industry. I’m proud of how we have worked to help our customers through this challenging time, and I know that in 2021 we can work together to help the UK get back to business.


Colm Holmes's picture

Colm is Chief Executive Officer of General Insurance, with responsibility for Aviva’s general insurance businesses across the group, including the UK. He also leads our Global Corporate and Specialty business. 

Colm joined the Group Executive Committee in April 2019. 

He was previously the President and CEO of Aviva Canada and prior to that, Colm was the CEO of Aviva UK General Insurance, where he delivered growth and innovation across all target markets and product lines, as well as achieving high customer and broker satisfaction.

Before joining Aviva, Colm spent 13 years with Zurich in the UK, New York and Switzerland. He held several roles, including CEO of their centrally‐managed business division and Group Treasurer and Head of Capital Management. His responsibilities included management of Zurich’s economic capital models, capital markets, and liquidity and regulatory capital management.

Before Zurich, Colm spent nine years with J.P. Morgan where he was Head of Structured Finance Services for Europe.

Colm is a member of the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) Board.

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