Andrew Tjaardstra reports on the Merseyside warranty intermediary that beat the rest of the entrants into submission in the hard-fought battle for Commercial Broker of the Year, proving that offering a superb all-round service is key to differentiating models
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As Birkenhead-based Premier Guarantee likes to remind its customers, the broker is more than 'just a warranty provider' and it is this approach that has helped it win this year's British Insurance Awards, Commercial Lines Brokers of the Year, only a year after its tenth anniversary.
The win follows a finalist slot in 2007 for its MD Insurance Services brand that is the scheme administrator for Premier Guarantee's new home warranties, all of which goes to prove: if at first you don't succeed, try, try and try again.
In addition to selling traditional warranties, the firm has developed building services, advice and support lasting the lifetime of a building; it is also proactive in helping developers understand the latest regulatory changes such as the Code for Sustainable Homes, which measures the sustainability of a new home against categories of sustainable design.
Whether it is warranties for new homes, social housing, commercial, completed housing or self-build projects, Premier Guarantee is on-hand to help customers across the UK. The broker provides Standard Assessment Procedure assessments (the government-approved method of assessing the energy performance of any new property), air pressure and acoustics testing, as well as providing the controversial home information packs.
Over the past 10 years, Premier Guarantee has arranged structural warranties on over £24bn of developments across the UK and Ireland. More than 100,000 homes have been registered with the company, the vast majority of which were being purchased by a mortgage. All of the firm's warranties, which last for ten years typically, are written by Lloyd's Liberty Syndicate 4472.
In order to raise customer service standards, the broker has increased its staff base by over 30% in the last year. The business has a dedicated customer support unit, in addition to underwriting, and sales and marketing teams.
Unlike some brokers, Premier Guarantee has no registration or annual renewal fees; the company believes that it is important to be flexible, underwriting based on individual circumstances rather than taking a one-rate-fits-all approach. The sales process does not end there either: the broker provides a wealth of pre- and post-sale material and advice for its clients and has also made great strides in streamlining its application process.
One client comments: "Premier Guarantee provided us with a service that not only gives us peace of mind that our developments are adequately covered, but also gives us the confidence to sell our properties with the backing of a reputable warranty provider."
The company has also been recognised in the national media, appearing in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For list this year for the second time in two years. The reasons for this include some significant benefits for staff, including an increased holiday quota of 28 days after five years' employment and a healthy pension scheme. Staff contentment appears high at Premier Guarantee, which will please longstanding managing director and chairman Gary Davaney.
Intriguingly, The Sunday Times also reports that the firm is "sponsoring a local rugby team, making charitable donations and recycling office supplies".
In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the broker also achieved the Fast Track 100 status, which tracks the fastest growing sales in Britain's private companies. Sales grew 83% a year from £3.3m in 2003 to £19.9m in 2006.
Growth continued strongly last year as well, with premium income up 20% across all schemes despite challenging market conditions, growth that is expected to continue throughout 2008.
The firm has now embarked on expansion plans outside the UK by setting up an office in Spain and it claims to be the first UK-based warranty provider to operate outside of the UK and Ireland. The move is already paying off, with the top five Spanish developers on its books and over 7000 housing units on cover. With statistics such as these, other European locations could well be on the cards for the team from Merseyside.
Despite the uncertain nature of the construction and housing markets as the credit crunch starts to have an impact on the rest of the economy, the future is looking bright for the firm from the Wirral; it has laid excellent foundations for growth for the next ten years and has commenced expansion in continental Europe. With annual sales of more than £22m and the average age of its staff standing at only 34, the omens look good for Premier Guarantee, offering compelling evidence that niche businesses will continue to thrive in the commercial broker space and the judges felt it was deserving of this prestigious award.
Gary Devaney and Robin Plaster explain their expansion plans won't stop with this award.
Gary Devaney, chairman of Premier Guarantee, and Robin Plaster, its sales and marketing director, were overwhelmed to win the Commercial Broker of the Year award. Speaking after collecting the gong at the Royal Albert Hall, Mr Plaster admitted: "It was a total surprise to win."
Mr Devaney added: "There was an element of shock but this is recognition for everything we have done. This is our third time at the British Insurance Awards, and you don't know when you enter - you hope."
Mr Plaster was keen to emphasise the firm's recent success despite economic turmoil in the housing market: "We have been remarkably successful year-on-year and feel totally confident going forward despite the conditions. We have ambitions to expand across the world - you have to be ambitious." He added that expansion plans would be revealed soon.
There was also high praise for its insurer partner Liberty syndicate 4472, with Mr Devaney commenting: "We are fortunate to have them." The broker shared its success with the peer reviewer of the syndicate Geoffrey Lynch, who commented: "We have thoroughly enjoyed our association with Premier Guarantee. We are huge admirers and take comfort in their business planning."
And celebration plans looked set to continue well into the night Mr Devaney explained: "There are no meetings that can't be rearranged tomorrow morning. The night is still very young, and the wine is flowing." But surely no one would begrudge these brokers a few hours off their hectic schedules after such an achievement.
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