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Norfolk Business Awards 2019

How Norwich Union grew to be the global Aviva

PUBLISHED: 11:29 06 June 2019 | UPDATED: 12:36 06 June 2019

The stunning Marble Hall in Aviva's Surrey House, created using 15 different types of marble. The 40 columns are made from marble originally destined for Westminster Cathedral. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The stunning Marble Hall in Aviva's Surrey House, created using 15 different types of marble. The 40 columns are made from marble originally destined for Westminster Cathedral. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Insurance giant Aviva is one of the county's biggest employers, with 5,200 staff in Norwich, where its roots date to the 18th century. Caroline Culot traces its evolution into the global brand it is today.

In the nerve centre at the then Norwich Union with a new £360,000 computer in 1965. Pic: Archant library..In the nerve centre at the then Norwich Union with a new £360,000 computer in 1965. Pic: Archant library..

The Norwich General Assurance Company was established by Thomas Bignold in 1792 to insure against loss by fire.

But it was the opening of the Marble Hall in Surrey Street after relocating from Gentleman's Walk and St Giles Street which really created the wow factor.

The firm's roots were inherently in Norwich with the cathedral used as its logo since 1877 and the opening of Marble Hall in Surrey Street in 1905 was a major milestone.

Mechanical accounting machines from the past, a sector of Norwich Union's Home Accounts Department.  Source: Library.Mechanical accounting machines from the past, a sector of Norwich Union's Home Accounts Department. Source: Library.

MORE: Norfolk insurance company Aviva to cut 1800 jobs

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Marble Hall was designed by famous architect George Skipper, bedecked in marble originally intended for Westminster Cathedral. Surrey House remained a working office for the next century and now houses the Aviva group archive and forms an impressive main entrance for visitors.

A Norwich Union brigade from the 1700s. Picture: AvivaA Norwich Union brigade from the 1700s. Picture: Aviva

The business started out as a mutual society, owned by the policyholders, who not only pooled their premiums to pay out in the event of a claim but also received a share of the profits.

In 1997, the year of its bicentenary, Norwich Union demutualised and floated as a public limited company. The move transformed it into a FTSE 100 company quoted on the London Stock Exchange and the £2.4bn raised in the share offer was the largest sum ever raised in a British private sector flotation.

But it was the name change many remember when Aviva PLC was born in 2002.

The rebranding in the UK was a key part of the group's strategy to unite all its businesses behind the fourth most valuable insurance brand in the world, with it trading as Aviva in most of its 28 markets across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific.

It now is the largest UK insurance company with more than 15m customers in the UK and handling more than 10m calls each year. It paid out more than £34bn in claims and benefits in 2017, with £490bn worth of assets for 33m customers worldwide in Europe, Asia and Canada. From car insurance to critical illness cover, pet insurance to pension plans, Aviva has it covered.

In March this year it appointed a new CEO, Maurice Tulloch who at the time said he was "determined to re-energise" the insurance company whose share price had lagged behind rivals for years.

He hinted at what was to come, saying one of his immediate priorities would be to accelerate the pace of change at the company. "We're far too complex, and this is holding us back," he added.

Then Aviva's chief financial officer and director, Tom Stoddard announced he was stepping down with Jason Windsor, taking the position. This announcement was followed swiftly by the news 1,800 jobs would be lost with redundancies not ruled out for those working in Norwich.

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