License article

Snowball wants no-frills company

IF INVESTORS are a little uncertain about what it is that Suncorp does, chief executive Patrick Snowball is happy to enlighten them.

''What we do is we sell either simple banking products, simple insurance products, simple life insurance products, all the stuff we all need to run our daily lives,'' he said.

These are sold under a ''range of brands to middle Australia and New Zealand''.

''Nothing in our business is very complicated,'' Snowball says.

These comments are still more of a statement of aspiration than where Suncorp is today.

After years of acquisitions, Suncorp still burns significant slabs of shareholder capital through duplication and complexity.


Suncorp is the product of an unwieldy merger of three Queensland financial services businesses during the 1990s. It has since acquired several insurers, including Promina, for which it paid $7.9 billion.

So this is more a story about how successive management teams have failed to properly integrate the business. The company still runs 14 separate insurance licences, each requiring its own regulatory teams and support functions.

There is also a broader motivation for Snowball's efforts to simplify Suncorp. In these risk-averse times, investors are turned off by opaque companies, and their shares generally trade at a discount to their ''pure'' rivals. Snowball needs to prove that having an insurer and bank joined at the hip makes sense by delivering better returns.

In efforts to make Suncorp simple again, though, he is urging shareholders to hold their nerve.

''With just a bit of a break in the weather, you'll really start to see what this business is capable of,'' he says.