Biba: Manchester Lowdown

Manchester lowdown signpost

With 2015’s Biba Conference taking place in Manchester, Post asked industry movers and shakers in the region to give us the lowdown on the city and their thoughts on the industry over the past year

What will the hot topics be at this year’s Biba conference?
Paul Kay, regional manager – Northern region, HSB Engineering: Regulation is always a hot topic and with the introduction of the Insurance Act 2015, this is bound to be an area of discussion. I would also expect changing customer demands and the digital world to be high on people’s agendas again. Things may get a little hot in Jeremy Paxman’s panel debate too.

Chris Paterson, group manging director, Bollington Insurance Brokers: Fall-out of the election, continued regulation and consolidation.

David Newman, chief executive, Carole Nash: The conference comes just a week after the General Election. I guess that’s reflected in the fact that on the first morning both Jeremy Paxman and William Hague are speaking. I expect there to be a political flavour to it, in particular on some of the key industry issues such as
the ongoing cost and level of broker regulation and more generally the economy –
which of course directly impacts on insurance consumers along with everyone else for the next five years.

Lee Mooney, North regions director, RSA: RSA’s fantastic start to 2015 and our
story to date. How we build valued relationships with our brokers. They are the lifeblood of our business. By listening to them we can better understand
and meet the needs of them and their customers.

Maureen Owen, head of North Region, Covéa Insurance: “From a personal perspective, we’re going to be talking about service and our product proposition for brokers. I expect brokers will want to know more about Covéa and Sterling and how we’ll move forward as a stronger, bigger insurer to combine the best of both organisations. The new government will be a hot topic too as the implications of the election result starts
to sink in.

What have been the most significant moments in broking since last year’s Biba conference?
Kay: The insurance industry has had a whirlwind 12 months in many respects, with plenty of cause for optimism. In Manchester, the market continues to strengthen and thrive. The past 12 months have seen the insurance population grow, with Towergate opening its new SME office and Gallagher increasing the number of people in its city centre office [thanks to] its Giles & Oval acquisition. This is great news for the industry and helps raise the profile of the insurance profession
in Manchester.

Paterson: The ongoing Gallagher and Towergate saga.

Newman: The Towergate and Gallagher goings-on are what have grabbed the headlines. The size of the businesses meant the industry was looking at this very closely, with the added drama of a family business versus a highly leveraged business with big industry personalities.

Owen: The movement of and departures of senior broking figures has taken up a lot of press coverage but this won’t impact the majority of broking firms attending Biba. Brokers have had to deal with continued soft market conditions and increased customer expectations when it comes to service, so invariably brokers are having to work harder to stand still. Despite this many are thriving. The fallout from the large broker consolidations can benefit smaller brokers as the upheaval causes clients to seek alternative quotes from local brokers.

What has been your firm’s most significant achievement since May 2014?
Kay: It has been another fantastic year at HSB, with so much going on, if I had to choose just one I would have to say being awarded Construction and Engineering Team of the Year at the Underwriting Service Awards. With three wins in the last four years we are extremely proud, as it reflects the views of
our brokers.

Paterson: Winning Insurance Broker of the Year and Commercial Lines Broker of the Year – SME/Mid-Corporate at the British Insurance Awards.

Newman: Launching Carole Nash Rider Cover as standard on our policies, so our customers can ride their mate’s bikes for free. There’s a truth among all bikers that sometimes you need to use someone else’s motorcycle and we want to be a solution for our customers, not a problem. This has been really well received and I am proud we’ve made this happen.

Owen: We delivered profitable growth on all our major product lines in our latest financial year, which is a significant achievement in these challenging market conditions. The acquisition of Sterling by our parent Covéa was also clearly a major achievement. Sterling has a wonderful reputation with brokers and a product set that complements our own.

Hero/villain of broking?
Kay: In terms of hero of the broking world I would say that in the Manchester market the work Barry Thompson of Thompson Brothers has done for his charity, the Christie – raising around a quarter of a million pounds – has been exceptional. For the villain, there have been high profile and well documented fines for treating customers unfairly. Individual directors being banned for life is a really strong message; where a broker is found to not be acting in the best interest of the customer then they will have to answer for it.

Paterson: My partner Paul Moors, for both.

Newman: I’m aware I’m playing to the gallery a bit here, but I genuinely think Lord David Hunt is doing an important job as the chair of Biba. He is getting the brokers’ voice heard in government and knowing the character he is, this will continue however parliament ends up looking.

Owen: The hero of broking is Biba. It constantly evolves to ensure it supports its members in a challenging financial climate. The villain might be the internet. We know it can help, but it can also mislead clients and sets expectations in their mind – without providing the expertise and advice a broker offers.

Highs and lows of the past 12 months?
Kay: The optimism in the Manchester market is a definite high for me – the insurer/broker relationships here together with the atmosphere is second to none. As for lows, the famous Manchester weather never fails to disappoint.

Paterson: Continued growth, expansion and success are the highs. The lows – not evolving at a pace I would like to.

Newman: The low for me would have to be motorcycle rates, which were literally the lowest they had been for years. Great for customers but more challenging for brokers. The high for me has to be Carole Nash’s record market share in the motorbike market. We currently provide almost a quarter of the insurance policies in the UK and twice as many in Ireland. To have that foothold in such a competitive market is extremely satisfying.

Mooney: From the challenges of 12 months ago it’s been great to deliver our quarter one results to our teams – a fantastic sustainable growth story across our commercial business. [This is further] evidenced by the broker market responding consistently on our service and proposition, net promoter score, a strong rising score across all areas and a real market leading claims score.

Owen: The low will have been the amount of people who will have left the industry following consolidations and insurer efficiency savings. It’s an inevitability of the market but people make this industry great and we want to retain talent. The high could be the Financial Conduct Authority is reinforcing all that’s good in the industry. Our conduct with customers is imperative and unless we get that right we will suffer and our professionalism will be questioned.

The theme of this year’s conference is ‘delivering our promise’. How does that apply to your business?
Kay: While you would expect me to say this, it’s especially true – HSB continues to invest heavily in the business to ensure we deliver excellent customer service – whether [working on] our claims service to the end client or [investing in] customer service to our brokers. Our promise is to continue improving and always strive to deliver technical expertise and service our customers can count on.

Paterson: Fulfilment of promise and service delivery is at the centre of everything we do at Bollington.

Newman: I’m looking forward to it and it’s highly relevant. At Carole Nash, we hold ourselves to account to our customers in a very similar way. Our strapline is ‘The care it deserves’ and our customers rightly expect us to meet this standard every day.

Mooney: It’s at the heart of what we do. Our claims net promoter score is evidence of this. We deliver what we say.

Owen: Our promise is to help brokers compete. One way we do that is by offering genuinely exclusive quotations from regional teams staffed with experienced underwriters. We also deliver on our promise by having developed our claims proposition for brokers, and enhanced our product suite to ensure it meets the needs of our partner brokers.

This year’s speaker panel features a lot of sports personalities. What can brokers and the insurance industry learn from them?
Kay: While not a sports personality, I’m a big fan of Professor Brian Cox – he has a way of enthusiastically explaining complex subjects in a way that makes it easier to understand. I’d say we can learn a lot about communicating with our customers and colleagues in a way that doesn’t over-complicate.

Paterson: A sports personality will have demonstrated strength, set a standard of excellence and an ability to succeed in their chosen field. This, combined with a competitive streak, determination to win and an expert coaching team around them means they have found a winning formula in their career. Brokers and insurers can learn from them by having the same level of focus and implementing winning strategies to be the best in their specialist field.

Newman: As a sports fan, I’m really looking forward to this. I think the two England captains in Andrew Strauss and Kevin Keegan will give some wonderful insights but I’m particularly looking forward to hearing what Baroness Grey-Thompson has to say – last month a team of us from Carole Nash ran in the Manchester marathon and I’m hoping she can give us some tips for next year. The truth is there are no short cuts to peak performance – it requires hard work, dedication, commitment and focus and I’m looking forward to learning from them on these topics.

Mooney: Put simply, the basics matter – improving each area by the smallest of margins can improve our industry significantly for the customers we serve.  

Owen: The biggest similarity is the need for strong leadership and good teamwork. Without leadership an insurer will not be clear on its direction of travel and without teamwork the implementation of that strategy will fall over.

How do you think the coalition government fared in regards to insurance?Kay: One of the impacts we have seen is budget cutting in the public sector, resulting in fewer construction projects. Shelving projects is obviously bad news for local authorities but also for the associated contractors and businesses involved.

Paterson: The coalition has engaged effectively with the regulator and Biba and some good progress has been made.

Newman: In some areas notably: reaching agreement on Flood Re in 2013 was significant and I would also put pension deregulation and management of the economy in this category. Of course, there are other areas in which they could have done more.

Mooney: We needed more certainty, stability and delivery from the government. The key challenge for the new government will be to place these back on the agenda to deliver for businesses and people across the UK.  

Owen: By focusing on a strong economy they’ve provided the stability we need to operate. However, small businesses continue to struggle to attract investment, meaning many fail. As an insurer that is keen to grow in this area we’d like to see [small businesses] receive more support.

Brian Cox, formerly of pop group D:Ream is Biba 2015’s closing speaker. What’s your favourite chart-topping hit of the 1990s?
Kay: Seeing as we are in Manchester again this year it has to be Oasis – Live Forever.

Paterson: This Charming Man by The Smiths.

Newman: Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O Connor.

Owen: Stone Roses – I am the Resurrection.

Towergate and Gallagher has been a big story this year. Who would win in a fight between the two heavyweights?
Kay: Both are very prominent in Manchester and have been in the press constantly. Gallaghers are certainly heavy hitters and I bet [Gallagher’s] Karen Greenhalgh has a fierce right hook.

Paterson: Not particularly interested, I was more focused on Mayweather v Pacquiao.

Newman: Gallagher in the short term, with its financial muscle, but maybe Towergate can through them of balance with the new team.

Owen: Unlike Floyd and Manny I don’t think these two will ever get in the ring together. Why should they? The market is big enough for both of them.

What film characters would Towergate and Gallaghers be?
Kay: Following on from the previous question, I’m now thinking Rocky IV but I’ll let you pick the corners.

Paterson: To ensure I avoid a lawsuit, no comment.

Owen: The film that springs to mind is Transformers, where the characters change to meet the changing situation and fight for their positions.

Best place to eat in Manchester?
Kay: Manchester is full of fantastic places to eat – we really are spoilt for choice. I enjoy Manchester’s Northern Quarter which has some great eating places. Not for the vegetarians but if you need a recovery lunch after a night out over Biba try a burger at Solita. Should keep you going for an hour or two.

Paterson: San Carlo, an Italian restaurant.

Newman: Australasia.

Mooney: Sam’s Chop House – grab a Manchester plate! True Northern comfort food.  

Owen: The Neighbourhood is a great New York-style eaterie.

Best place to drink in Manchester?
Kay: Bar Brass at Hotel Gotham. It does an amazing bourbon based drink called ‘King of King Street’. This is my favourite place for a drink in Manchester right now.

Paterson: Manchester House for cocktails, and Corbieres, for a true Manchester indie experience.

Newman: If it’s sunny, then ironically outside the Rain Bar is great. If it’s wet or dark  –criticism of which we are very sensitive to in these parts – then I’d plump for Australasia.

Owen: The Alchemist – it’s got something special about it.

Best place to shop in Manchester?
Kay: My wife is a big vinyl fan so she would definitely say Manchester’s music shops are the place to be. Not being much of a shopper myself, I’d say Amazon.

Paterson: Harvey Nicks, Kendals or if you like piercings and tattoos, Afflecks Palace.

Newman: Northern Quarter for some indie retro.

Owen: The Avenue near the Covéa Office is a great place to shop.

Best place to see live music in Manchester?
Kay: Live music is never far away in Manchester, for something a little different maybe try Band on the Wall which is a popular not-for-profit venue.

Paterson: Night and Day, Matt and Phreds, The Apollo and The Academy.

Newman: Bridgewater Hall, for those with refined taste.

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