Norwich Union

Norwich Union
Norwich Union
Industry insurance company
Founded Norwich, England, UK (1797)
Parent Aviva plc

Norwich Union was the name given to insurance company Aviva's British arm before June 2009. It was originally established in 1797. It is the biggest life insurance provider in the United Kingdom, and has a strong position in motor insurance. It was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.

On 29 April 2008, Aviva announced that the Norwich Union brand would be phased out and disappear over a period of two years, on the grounds that a consistent Aviva brand would bring "global impact".[1][2] On 1 June 2009, Norwich Union was rebranded as Aviva.[3]



Norwich Union Offices in Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK.

Norwich Union was founded in 1797 in Norwich, when 36-year-old merchant and banker Thomas Bignold formed the "Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire", a mutual society owned by the policyholders who received a share of the profits.[4] This in turn became known as the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Office.

In 1808 Thomas Bignold established a second mutual, the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society.[4] The Fire Society demutualised in 1821 when it absorbed the Norwich General Assurance Company.[4] In common with many insurance companies against fire loss, they operated their own fire brigades to protect (only) the society's policyholders whose buildings were identified by "Fire insurance marks". It was not until 1929 that the Fire Society gave up its last private brigade, in Worcester, to the municipal authorities.[5]

By the start of the 20th century, Norwich Union societies were operating worldwide, although the last two decades of the century saw a retrenchment and withdrawal from a number of markets seen as unstable, especially in Africa.

In 1997, its bicentenary year, Norwich Union demutualised and floated as a public limited company on the London Stock Exchange.[4] Although it sold general insurance, motoring, healthcare and life policies - its wide range of products leading indirectly to its slogan no-one protects more - it was listed on the markets as a life company, and in recent years has been under some pressure from analysts to shed its general insurance arm.

In 2000, Norwich Union merged with CGU,[4] which itself was formed from the merger of General Accident and Commercial Union in October 1998. The Norwich Union had tried to take over General Accident over 100 years earlier.[4] CGU also offered a broad range of life and general insurance products, with a stronger global presence than the heavily UK-based Norwich Union. Upon merging they formed the group CGNU which went on to become the Aviva group. As of 2005, there are two companies operating in the UK under the Aviva umbrella that use the Norwich Union brand: Norwich Union Insurance (NUGI) and Norwich Union Life (NUL). Outside the UK, the Aviva brand is dominant.

Following an extensive pilot, in October 2006, Norwich Union introduced a novel type of auto insurance called "Pay as You Drive (PAYD)". A GPS receiver and mobile technology are placed in a car and risk factors (time of day, distance, mileage) are monitored. The information is transmitted back to the insurance company. Drivers using their vehicles at low risk times of day or on low risk roads or driving low mileage get a discount on their motor insurance premiums. There are several business method patents covering this invention. The Pay as You Drive service was withdrawn in 2008 due to lower than expected volumes of new business.[6]

Norwich Union has supported a European public service ad campaign against careless driving at too great a speed. The ad campaign is known as "The Faster the Speed, the Bigger the Mess."[7]

Customer Service

In December 2007 Norwich Union was fined £1.26m by the Financial Services Authority (FSA) after customers with life assurance policies were put at a small risk of fraud. The FSA said the company had failed to deal with the issue properly even when it had been alerted to the problem.[8]

After discovering an overcharging error that dated back to 2001, Norwich Union agreed to compensate their clients with a cheque for £300 each, due to charges that exceeded the 1% cap imposed by the government. The final amount of compensation is expected to exceed £11 million.[9]

International operations

In Canada, Norwich Union was well-known as a direct marketer of life insurance products, often promoted through frequently repeated television advertisements. Most famous was a spot beginning with the phrase, "It's Patrick! He took out life insurance."[10] Following the Norwich/CGU merger, this unit was sold to American International Group and renamed AIG Assurance, which decided to drop the "Patrick" ads. The unit was then resold in 2009 to Bank of Montreal, and is now known as BMO Insurance. (Aviva continues to do business in Canada in other insurance categories such as home and auto.)

In Australia the operations of Norwich Union Australia were rebranded as Aviva in October 2003.[11] The company then consisted of three businesses: life insurance, fund manager Portfolio Partners (which reports directly to London) and the master trust/financial planning service Navigator.[12]


  1. ^ "Norwich Union brand to disappear". BBC News Online. 2008-04-29. Retrieved 2008-04-29. 
  2. ^ Aviva
  3. ^ Norwich Union gears up for name change
  4. ^ a b c d e f Aviva: Timeline
  5. ^ Insurance Fire Brigades 1680-1929; The Birth of the Fire Service: The Fire Insurance Brigades 1680-1925 [Illustrated] (Paperback) by Brian Wright (Author) ISBN 978-0752445090
  6. ^ Surveillance fears force Norwich to scrap Pay as you drive
  7. ^ Daily Motion: video extract
  8. ^ "Norwich Union fined on £3m fraud". BBC News. 2007-12-17. Retrieved 2008-01-04. 
  9. ^ Norwich Union pension customers to get £300 refund Daily Telegraph, 10 November 2008
  10. ^ Norwich Union Commercial 1999 posted on YouTube (which "samples" the original early-1990s ad)
  11. ^ "Norwich Union Australia to adopt global Aviva brand". Financial Standard. Thursday, 2 October 2003. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Anthony Hughes (November 4, 2002). "Norwich rides on Navigator". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 

External links

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