Posted on Wednesday 15 October 2014 by Ulster Business
Pat O’Brien, chief executive of Liberty Insurance for the island of Ireland
Ambitions to break into a new geographical market leave a company with two options.
Either you can grow your market share organically by building up your own customer base or you can take over one of the incumbent players in the market.
Liberty – that’s the US insurance-to-IT giant, not the London department store nor the human rights organisation – chose to do the latter when it decided to take on the Northern Ireland insurance market.
Having already established the Liberty name in Northern Ireland through its IT arm when it set up stall here in 1997, the company already had a feel for the region.
It wasn’t until 2011 that the insurance business appeared here after scooping up an arm of the troubled Quinn group.
That made it a big player in the insurance market in the Republic and gave it a foothold in the market in Northern Ireland but Liberty’s ambitions here were set higher.
“Liberty has been investing in Northern Ireland for a period of time and want to be a major player in the insurance market across the island Ireland so acquisition was part of that strategy,” Pat O’Brien, chief executive of Liberty Insurance said.
Earlier this year it announced the acquisition of Newtownards-based Hughes Insurance, a family-owned business which had grown its market share considerably over the last few years and one which can help propel the US company’s ambitions.
“Our strategic intent is to be a top three player in the market,” Mr O’Brien said in an interview with Ulster Business. “We’re close to that in the Republic but were a long way off in Northern Ireland.
“But, with the acquisition of Hughes, we’d expect to be top three in Northern Ireland within 12 months.”
Owing to the complicated nature of such takeovers, the deal is still in the process of being completed but in the meantime it’s business as usual for the Hughes Insurance business, according to Mr O’Brien.
“When the deal closes liberty will become more actively involved and we’ll expect to see the growth continued.”
A name change may not be on the cards.
“We’re intent on maintaining the Hughes brand,” he said. “It’s the best know insurance name in the market place and has a local characteristic.”
“There’s no shortage of competition so where we can differentiate ourselves is in trying to take the local approach.”
Mr O’Brien was coy on how much Liberty had paid for the Hughes business.
“That’s commercially sensitive but what I can say is that the Hughes business is significant, with £160m in revenue, 160,000 policy holders and 20% share of the Northern Ireland motor insurance business. The business has a lot of value.”