Posted on Wednesday 26 September 2012 by Ulster Business
With its Head Office located in Belfast, Abbey Bond Lovis has been growing steadily under the radar in recent years and its presence in Northern Ireland is now considerably greater than that of its global rivals, who might be perceived as bigger.
The broker has more than 100 professional staff with expertise across all areas of insurance and Managing Director Maurice Boyd says it is more than a match for those so-called big boys, who he feels rely too much on their global brands to win business.
"We are finding that some of our major competitors are centralising business functions outside of the province and outsourcing what we would consider to be key components of our business," he said.
Ulster Business' interview with the insurance executive takes place in the luxurious surrounds of the Galgorm Resort & Spa, one of Northern Ireland's leading hotel businesses and an Abbey Bond Lovis client.
Boyd says the company's growth focus over the next number of years will primarily be on the corporate sector and letting it know that ABL can handle business of this scale and expects to do so for years to come.
"We are into longevity," he said. We're looking to be long term partners and to continually understand our clients' business and their needs. This in turn enables us to deliver a very high level of service."
ABL describes itself as a "young company made from old stock". Its board and management team is made up of experienced directors who all earned their stripes in national and international companies.
Boyd says the firm's goal is to use that expertise, and the greater resources it has on the ground locally, to provide a better service than its rivals.
"Commercial brokers are operating mainly within the same marketplace, so from a pricing perspective we're not going to be that different. That's why service is so important. On the claims side it is one way we differentiate from some of our competitors. We don't outsource our claims handling and we have our own dedicated team of individuals to guide and help clients when they need it most," he explained.
ABL understands, he adds, that people who run successful businesses don't have time to waste, particularly in the current economic environment. They need people they can trust to give them the right level of risk advice for every area of their company, quickly and efficiently.
"Local people want high levels of local service. Clients want to be able to come and stand in my office if they've got a problem or to have me go out to meet with them if something goes wrong. Face to face service is a key component of our business as this enables us to build relationships with our clients, and gain a better understanding of their businesses," he said.
"We essentially try to become the insurance division of the client, so they see us as part of their business, an extension of their team. In the current climate all businesses have to focus on their operational activities, so we try to take care of that aspect of business for them."
Although insurance might not be top of a company's day-to-day concerns, it comes into sharp focus when something does go wrong.
When the worst happens, clients need to know they have the appropriate cover in place and that they have access to someone with the expertise to provide advice and reassurance.
"While price is important, particularly at this moment in time, the value is really in understanding the client's needs and providing risk advice accordingly. It is the ability and having the resources to go out and gain a thorough knowledge and an understanding of their business," said Maurice. "That allows us to provide the correct insurance programme which is tailored to each client's individual needs. That's the important thing when a claim occurs."
It is well documented that insurance companies are, in this tough market, increasingly taking policy wordings very literally. Decisions on claims are either black or white, so if there is any grey area they will likely fall on the side of not paying out.
"We are constantly advising clients that they need to make sure they fully understand their insurance programme because when it comes to a claim, insurers will not be prepared to show flexibility. Policy warranties and conditions need to be fully adhered to," noted Maurice.
No matter what the size of the operation, everyone faces levels of risk and having all the facts can make a big difference, adds the ABL managing director.
"It is not a case of the bigger the premium spend the higher the risk. Small businesses and corporates face the same risks.
"The last thing we want is a client phoning us following a loss to ask if they are covered and us having to say, no, but you could have been. At the outset we will look to the risks attaching to their businesses and let them know what insurance protection they can purchase and then they make the decision based on a discussion about their exposures."
With a broad based clientele, ABL has chosen not to specialise in one area of commercial insurance, which has stood it in good stead in the current unstable economic climate.
But its board and management team is made up of insurance professionals who've had national experience in and exposure to all the different classes of insurance. That expertise goes across both the public and private sectors and includes some niche areas of interest to Northern Ireland corporates.
Unlike some of its competitors ABL still has a personal lines operations, which means it has the ability to look after senior directors' car and home insurance as well as their business cover.
The broker also maintains partnerships with risk management companies to help clients mitigate the risk of anything going wrong in the first place, and has a loss assessing partnership to assist clients with claims.
In contrast to many other companies in the sector, ABL is also still investing in the training and development of its staff. As well as working towards an Investors in People accreditation it is training staff in specific skills for the future needs of the business.
"We want to give our staff assurance that we are doing well, that we are committed to the future of the organisation and to give them the opportunity to learn and develop. It does send a signal to staff but it also helps to maintain a level of internal quality that enables us to deliver a high service offering to our clients," added Maurice.
"Despite being a highly experienced Management Team it is relatively young, which in turn has given us the ability to put in place not only short term strategic goals but, more importantly, long term plans on the development of the business."