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AXIS Capital to return focus inward after recent M&A deals

AXIS Capital Holdings Ltd. has closed two carrier acquisitions to date in 2017, but the Bermuda-based insurer and reinsurer does not plan to make a habit of inorganic growth.

"I think we've done enough M&A for a while," President and CEO Albert Benchimol said during S&P Global Market Intelligence's 8th Annual Insurance M&A Symposium.

Benchimol's comments came two weeks after the company closed the largest acquisition in its history, the purchase of Lloyd's insurer and reinsurer Novae Group Plc. It bought Brussels-based aviation insurer and reinsurer Compagnie Belge d'Assurances Aviation SA (Aviabel) in April.

"The happiest day in the life cycle of the deal is the day you announce the deal," he said, speaking generally about his M&A philosophy. "It gets really hard after that."

Benchimol said he had been talking with Novae CEO Matthew Fosh for more than four years prior to inking the deal.

"This summer," he said, "the conversation was a little bit different." The familiarity AXIS had gained regarding Novae's business helped the process go quickly. He said Novae boasts a "terrific" underwriting staff and a "very powerful organization in the London market."

Benchimol said AXIS will focus in the near term on the integration of the recent acquisitions and driving organic growth with its larger platform. He is hoping that will take place against the backdrop of a firmer market for reinsurance pricing. He did not predict whether he expects that to occur, but to the extent hardening emerges from the recent series of natural catastrophes, he said his company is prepared to increase its share of the reinsurance market.

Multiple lines of reinsurance business need to see firmer pricing, not just the property-catastrophe market, he said, adding that during a firming market would be a "bad time" for a reinsurer "to be distracted with M&A."