Davies and GAB Robins – a tale of two loss adjusters: The Claims Club monthly missive

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It was somewhat inevitable that two claims firms inextricably linked by the tittle-tattle in the loss adjusting village should make important announcements that will shape their futures.

Within hours of Davies ending their drawn out hunt for a new chief executive - a search that saw head hunters exhaust all loss adjusting options before settling on Towergate's M&A director Dan Saulter - GAB announced it had come to an agreement to rid itself of its pension liabilities.

With one fell swoop things seems rosier for both firms. Optimism supported by the language of their respective bosses with GAB CEO Kieran Rigby stressing the pension deal would free it up to pursue "opportunities" that would not otherwise of been available to it; while Saulter was enthusiastic about growing his new business and realising its potential.

As to what these "opportunities" are for Rigby and his troops, time will tell given that GAB has done a sound job of growing the business after its MBO from parent Brera Capital in 2008; with a number of contract extensions including Axa and Ageas indicating that the pension liabilities where not as much of a hindrance as first feared.

In November 2012, GAB Robins reported that its pre-tax profit increased to £2.14m for the full year 2011, from £1.56m in 2010 with turnover up to £73.75m (2010: £52.24m).

In contrast, Davies had ridden the early euphoria of major wins with Zurich and Ecclesiastical in November 2007 and September 2009 - that bookended its LDC-backed £29m MBO in February 2008 - to hit a bit of tricky patch in the last 12 months.

In September 2011, Davies reported that an increase in profit to £6.13m (2010: £4.97m) for the 12 months to 31 March on turnover of £36.9m (2010: £29.6m); and having been linked with everyone from Morgan Stanley to Canadian loss adjusting group SCM, it struck a deal with Electra Partners worth £60m to refinance the company in October 2011.

If this had been positioned as the opportunity to take the business to the next level, then the early signs were not good as it lost major contracts both old (NFU Mutual) and new (Zurich) in September 2012, which led Electra to write down its investment in the firm by £11m in the first 12 months.

There was some good news - with an extension to its LV contract and its first acquisition in the post MBO era of Ufton Associates - but when its CEO of more than three years Charles Crawford left the business suddenly in November 2012 it was not the greatest of surprises.

So with GAB now getting the pension monkey of its back; and Davies' recruiting an M&A director from a firm built on an appetite for acquisitions, rumours of a merger between both parties is unlikely to go away, despite firm denials from both firms.

The big question I have - and I would be interested to hear what the Claims Club members think - is whether such a merger would actually be of benefit to the insurance and claims management sector?

In his first interview after taking over as Davies CEO, Crawford told Post: "You can't avoid it that there are two organisations in size terms [Cunningham and Crawford] that dominate the market, then there is a group of other firms like ourselves, Merlin, GAB Robins, Garwyn and others that fill the space below." He then added his objective was for Davies seen as the "clear and credible" alternative to the big two.

Obviously Merlin has now gone to the loss adjusting graveyard, meaning one credible alternative has gone. As such would it not be better for Davies and GAB to both grow independently of each other so that there are two "clear and credible" alternatives to the big two?

Or is there simply not enough work to go around in an age where insourcing - the subject to an interesting article in Post this week- is very much seen as a trend by some?

Speaking of interesting discussion points, the next Claims Club meeting is shaping up to be an interesting forum for debate with eight speakers already confirmed from Aon, Consumer Intelligence, Flaxman Partners, Gracechurch, Reevo, Towergate, Vodaphone, Willis.

If you want full details of the sessions of handling claims in a social media-enhanced world and the role of brokers in the claims process click here. I look forward to seeing you on the 18th April.

And without much futher ado I will demand no more of your time other than to give my usual cultural tip of the month. And that is three months into 2013 here are my current early runners and riders for the album of the year. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts; Steve Mason - Monkey Minds in the Devil Time; Mazes - Ores and Minerals; Foals - Holy Fire and Matthew E White - Big Inner.

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