The Quest Partnership is a liability adjuster which, in its tenth anniversary year has grown into a significant market player with a turnover of more than £1m and a staff of 25 people based in Maidstone, Kent.
The firm, which has seen its fee income grow in each of those ten years, is managed by a husband and wife team – Peter and Carol Mann.
Quest grew from an idea Peter had while working for insurer Lombard Continental in 1989, which was to fill a gap in the market for a dedicated and effective liability adjusting service. Peter was running Lombard's claims, corporate planning and London Market operations. Carol, who has a sales and marketing background, had her own career in property management.
Another Lombard colleague at the time was former Independent Insurance chief executive Michael Bright, who was Peter's immediate boss. Peter says: “Michael Bright was a tough personality who created a significant motivational force at Lombard back in the 1980s.
“It is somewhat ironic, in the light of recent events, that he was one of the few chief executives I have met who understood the importance of claims services. In those days, quite often claims departments were viewed not as a key part of the insurance service but as a necessary evil.”
Part of Bright's drive was directed at forging closer links between Lombard's claims department and broker, Peter explains.
“When I was at Lombard, we made a point of marketing our claims service and I made personal visits to brokers across the UK to keep them fully informed of a range of claims issues. The claims department was the company's shop window and we were proud of it.”
However, in spite of the company's get-up-and-go culture, Peter felt his job satisfaction was declining and he had growing ambitions to set up his own business.
Peter resigned from Lombard in 1989 in an amicable parting of the ways in order to pursue his idea of creating a first-class liability adjusting service.
Peter says: “It was not an easy decision to take. I was giving up a well paid job and we were taking a considerable risk, but I was confident that there was a market for what I had to offer.”
Carol adds: “We started small and converted a room at our home into a office. We still keep a picture of the house hanging in reception at our current offices as a momento of how the business started.
“It also acts as a reminder of the importance of keeping overheads down so that the business can provide a quality service at highly competitive fee levels.”
The couple raised £10,000 capital by pooling their savings and, in September 1991, The Quest Partnership was launched.
Peter says: “I can recall sitting down with a blank sheet of paper and drawing up a list of contacts I had made in the insurance industry.
“The country was in the grip of a recession and I had to demonstrate to people that we were providing a radically different service.
“We made some impressive account gains by demonstrating that we could deliver a professional, reliable and effective service at a competitive level of fees and the business took off.
“It wasn't long before we were in the position of acquiring offices and taking on staff.”
Peter says he saw the opportunity in the market for a dedicated liability investigation and adjusting service while in charge of claims at Lombard.
“I didn't think there were any firms that were doing an excellent job at liability adjusting. There was a gap in the market and I was confident I could fill it.”
Initially, Peter established two operations – Quest Claims Services and Quest Management. Quest Management offered technical and auditing expertise in analysing and evaluating claims, skills Peter felt the industry was lacking at the time. Quest Claims Services was set up to handle personal injury work involving professional indemnity and all liability claims.
Peter says the work of liability adjusters had been affected significantly by the Woolf civil justice reforms and the increase in employers' liability claims.
Quest was in good shape to handle these increases, thanks to the formation of The Quest Gates Partnership in 1995 to handle claims in the Midlands and the North of England.
The Quest Gates Partnership was created as a joint venture with another adjusting firm, The Gates Adjusting Partnership of Oxted.
The joint venture has been an outstanding success with offices being established in Harrogate, Birmingham, Glasgow and Nottingham. Combined, staff numbers have grown from two in 1995 to 40 and turnover is in excess of £1m.
“The Quest Gates Partnership has provided a genuine nationwide service for liability claims and for personal lines claims and it is continuing to expand,” says Peter.
In their day-to-day work, Carol and Peter share responsibility for Quest's management.
Peter is a fee earner who focuses on sales and finance and provides technical advice to the firm. Carol takes care of human resources and office management. She says: “Right from the start, we have run a tight ship and that practice continues. There are two rules we have followed in business: always monitor cash flow because if you don't watch it, you can quickly get into trouble. We have tried not to deplete our reserves, so that we can weather the storm should there be an economic downturn.”
The firm is set to embark on its latest three-year plan this month, which will see The Quest
Partnership continue to grow organically, although the prospects of future acquisitions is not ruled out.
Peter says: “We have a track record of steady and sustained expansion and I am confident that will continue. However, there is always the possibility of talking to smaller companies that would benefit from our well established business systems and resources.”
Carol added: “We set out to create a quality product at a competitive price for a niche market and we have been successful, but you cannot rest on your laurels in this business. We must always be looking to improve and to ensure our services blend in with the needs of our clients.”