Steve MacGill is in charge at JLT. Andy Cook asks him what his plans are and how he feels about Lloyd's, rivals and electronic trading
Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT) is an insurance industry success story. Snapping at the heels of the big three London Market brokers, JLT floated successfully on the stock market, paving the way for Heath Lambert, and was recently rated one of the top ten companies to work for in a Sunday Times survey.
For many years, Ken Carter was the public face of JLT. He started the changes which saw JLT break out from the old school of brokers. The office, which sits across from Heath Lambert, has an airy atrium and a relaxed canteen in the basement. The directors' floor is famously open-plan, reflecting the spaciousness of Minster Court rather than the "warrens" of other brokers.
But now Steve MacGill is taking over as the public face of JLT. How will he take the broker forward? How will he react to the threat of Heath Lambert, which is building a war chest through its flotation? In addition, can he take advantage of, rather than fall victim to, the hard market?
Finding the answers is tough. MacGill is a private man with a poker-faced delivery. Aware of strict stock market rules on disclosure and with a press office minder at his side, MacGill gives little away.
It is only when he talks about Lloyd's that his eyes light up. "Even before the current challenges, it was a very vibrant market. It comes into its own in a hard market. The ability to go and negotiate deals with people who can make a clear-cut decision is a very powerful model," says MacGill.
But MacGill is obviously having some problems with the London Market. He says that the company's Lloyd's business is up 20% this year and that he's doing plenty of deals in Bermuda.
But, he adds: "A lot of decision-making is being done in Munich. There are many operations here where authority levels have been reduced so decisions are going back to headquarters."
MacGill's is not so obsessed with matching Willis, Marsh, and Aon. He is keen on developing niches. JLT, he says, is a top three or four global player in energy, construction, property, casualty, marine, political risk and reinsurance of aviation and marine risks.
"What you're seeing is a flight to quality. We are getting a number of clients who are not getting the right results from their existing service providers and are coming to us," he claims.
MacGill also expects to pick up lots more clients in the run-up to 1 January renewals. "There's going to be a second wave, because what's happening is that some clients are completely shocked by what is happening in the market. They are staying with their existing providers, but they're making phone calls, saying we want to talk to you because we can't be put in this position next year."
Like most in the market, MacGill sees electronic trading taking over from the traditional slips business. "It's clearly more effective than the current way of doing business and quite often people think that it means you lose the personal touch. Well, it's quite the reverse. You have more time to build up those personal relationships."
And like most other international brokers, MacGill publicly backs the London Market Principles. But rather than backing the official Xchanging repository, JLT is developing its own system. "We are developing our own system because we had the dot-risk project, which was the ability to trade electronically. It's very advanced and, for the time being, we're internalising it. But I will keep an open mind.
"If Xchanging or Lloyds.com or any of these providers can actually get some consensus out of the market ..."
Media-shy Mike Alcock has the task of leading Endsleigh forward, after heading a successful MBO. Helene Dancer gets the modest managing director to talk
Media-shy Mike Alcock is a hard man to pin down. And when he's finally in the spotlight, Alcock seems hell-bent on giving as little away as possible.
Questions about the competition are graciously sidestepped and even gentle probing into hobbies and interests is played with a straight bat. So who is Mike Alcock and what are his plans for Endsleigh now that his management buyout (MBO) is complete?
Alcock's main message is that, apart from developing better electronic selling paths, it is business as usual. If he has any daring plans, he's keeping them well hidden.
Alcock has been at the company for nearly 30 years and worked through many guises until he was appointed managing director in 1995.
"My history's not desperately colourful really," he says modestly. "I'm almost a career person with Endsleigh."
Despite his modesty, Alcock was confident enough to lead a successful MBO in April this year from the De Goudse Insurance Company of the Netherlands, which had an 86% share of the company since 1976.
"It was agreed that management could put in a bid that would stand against any other offers that they got in the marketplace," he says. "We wanted to take Endsleigh forward from where we'd got to," he says.
Critics say that Endsleigh was stuck in a rut. Fellow High Street brokers like Hill House Hammond and Swinton have been making acquisitions, dreaming up new products and selling strategies, while specialist brokers like Saxon have attacked Endsleigh's core student market. Alcock is adamant that Endsleigh will stick to what it knows best: personal lines and students. Endsleigh Insurance is part owned by the NUS and it endorses Endsleigh exclusively.
"We are really pitching at career people," says Alcock. "We want to offer students an insurance service for the rest of their lives. We don't see our raison d'etre changing specifically since the management buyout because we still wish to be mainly a personal lines insurer and focus our productivity into that marketplace. We are not suddenly going to become a large commercial insurer."
Alcock has some interesting board meetings ahead. Major backing for the MBO by Zurich means a place on the Endsleigh panel for the Swiss-owned insurer, and members of the National Union of Students sit on its board. Endsleigh has a comprehensive understanding of the student market and Alcock attributes this to building up a history of underwriting, which enables the company to give a good return to its insurers.
"We provide a complete service to the insurers that we deal with, but we also provide a guaranteed service to all our customers," he says. "We guarantee the same standard of service, irrespective of what insurer you're dealing with. That's critical to us."
Despite such student involvement, Alcock reiterates that Endsleigh is not exclusively a student insurer and student business accounts for only 22% of the company's business.
"Student business is almost a means to an end because we want to insure career people on the first step on the career ladder," he says. "We want to insure as many students as we possibly can and this year, we insure more students that we ever have in the past."
Since the management buyout, Alcock says no major changes are expected, other than investing a lot more money into Endsleigh's infrastructure.
"This is to ensure that it's the client who decides how they want to touch the business and not the company that steers the client into a distribution channel," he says. "We try to recognise change in distribution channels evident in the market but make all channels available. The young professional market that we're into is very comfortable with the internet and telephone and the latest ways of doing business and it embraces them easily.
"Therefore we must make sure our client handing systems and our staff are always geared up to ensure we can handle our clients properly." So far Endsleigh has a website but not full cycle electronic trading - that's one for the future.
Alcock says the service extends further. "Endsleigh, almost uniquely in the market, settles all customers claims," he says. "All the insurers that we deal with give Endsleigh autonomy to settle claims on their behalf."