The adage that if something is too good to be true, it probably is neatly summarises the rise and catastrophic fall of Michael Bright and Independent Insurance.
Following the company’s flotation on the stock market in 1993, the colourful and flamboyant Bright became the toast of the City and the UK insurance industry.
He presided over an insurer that swiftly gained a market valuation of £1bn and won a raft of insurance industry awards.
By 2000, Independent had 540,000 personal and commercial customers, including household names, such as Pizza Express, and was reporting record profits of £22m.
Bright was charming, eccentric and controlling in equal measure.
Brokers enjoyed Independent’s lavish corporate hospitality and happily placed millions of pounds of business with the insurer.
Stories of life working for Bright became infamous within the industry.
Obsessively controlling, he installed high-tech monitoring software to keep track of his executives and fitted CCTV cameras in his office.
Meanwhile, tales of Bright receiving briefings from his senior staff at his country house in Smarden, Kent became legendary.
Executives would present to Bright while he was swimming in his pool. Those who didn’t impress quickly felt his displeasure, by being unceremoniously pushed into the water.
An entrepreneurial and free-thinking culture was encouraged, and Independent pioneered practices and products that are now commonplace, such as three-year policies and broker clubs.
Independent recruited innovative, highly skilled people and was lauded for this.
But under the surface there was something rotten.
Bright and fellow directors Philip Condon and Dennis Lomas had lied about the true financial state of the company.
They knew that the value of Independent would plunge if details of its ailing financial health ever leaked out.
The collapse of Independent Insurance was one the UK’s worst commercial disasters.
It left debts of hundreds of millions of pounds and thousands of individuals and some high street companies with no cover.
The Financial Services Compensation Scheme paid out more than £350m in settlement of claims made by customers against Independent’s policies.