AA plc (LON:AA.), today published a trading update for the six-month period ended 31 July 2018. Despite the extreme weather conditions we remain on-track to deliver our previously announced guidance of Trading EBITDA of between £335m to £345m for FY19.
As announced with our strategy update in February 2018, in order to return our Roadside business to growth, we are undertaking a phased programme of investment over the next three years that will deliver a differentiated member and product proposition to drive new membership growth and retention levels higher.
In line with our expectations, the paid membership base declined by 1% in the six-month period to 3.25m impacted by a decrease in the retention rate to 81%. The retention rate over the last 12 months has been impacted by regulatory pressures (including renewal price transparency) and increased competitor activity. New business remains robust, with sales broadly flat year on year. Looking ahead, the completion of the new membership IT system (CATHIE) and ongoing improvements to the ‘Stay AA’ customer retention proposition are expected to lead to improved retention rates and a growing paid membership base over the medium term.
Total breakdowns during the period were 1.91m, an increase of 8% compared to the same period last year. This was significantly higher than both our expectations and the average over the last 10 years due to the extreme weather conditions. This resulted in increased costs of third-party garaging to supplement our own patrol availability which was partially offset by the additional revenue generated from our pay-for-use B2B contracts.
We continue to make good progress with the recruitment of new roadside patrols who will be allocated to high service areas. In addition, we are also developing strategies to enable us to monetise more referrals to third party garages and better manage our workload through the AA breakdown app. In the longer term, increased utilisation of the breakdown service drives brand awareness and retention.
The AA continues to build on its leadership position in digital mobile platforms, including the AA breakdown app. More than 1 million members are now registered for the app and it continues to be used in about one-third of breakdowns that we service for our members. We are also making good progress with the development of our connected car strategy. During the second half of this year, we will add new functionality including integrating elements of our Car Genie app into the AA breakdown app thereby allowing our members to benefit fully from an integrated journey from the point of breakdown that we believe will drive higher levels of member engagement.
Our Insurance business, comprising the broker, in-house underwriter and our financial services business, continues to perform well.
Since 31 July 2017, we have achieved 7% growth in motor policies to c659,000, in line with our expectations. In addition, we are pleased to report that we are making good progress with stabilising the decline in the home policy book. Since the year end the home policy book has been broadly flat, well ahead of our expectations. Supported by our in-house underwriter and our investment in systems including Insurer Hosted Pricing, we expect further growth in our motor policy book and to return the home policy book to growth in FY20.
Our in-house underwriter continues to grow rapidly and now has c463,000 policies, approximately half of which are motor policies. As announced with the strategy update, we commenced underwriting a new motor insurance scheme in the period with Munich Re to specifically target non-members. Alongside increased penetration within the existing membership base we remain on-track to deliver strong growth for both the underwriter and broker.
Our business continues to experience strong and predictable levels of cash conversion. As a result of the recent refinancing, we have successfully managed to extend our effective near term maturities until January 2022. The average maturity of our debt is now just below five years and gives us the runway to execute our plans and deliver growth in our Roadside and Insurance businesses.
We expect total capex spend for FY19 to be £105m (excluding capex accruals), in line with our guidance.
Our interim results for the six months ended 31 July 2018 will be published on 26 September 2018.