UK and Ireland chief executive believes ‘there is still a huge demand for advice’ from insurance ‘clients of all shapes and sizes’

Broking organisation Howden achieved a strong position in Insurance Times’ Top 50 Brokers 2023 report, published in November last year.

The business ranked in second spot, following Marsh, with a reported brokerage of £1.56bn, according to data supplied by financial services consultancy Imas.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Carl Shuker – chief executive of Howden UK&I – says that the company is very positive about the year ahead and is keen to continue its growth trajectory after bringing together 76 of its global operations under a single Howden brand in October 2023.

This amalgamation better demonstrates Howden’s collective power and client expertise, Shuker explains, as well as enables the broker’s various parts to benefit from a combined marketing spend.

He continues: “In terms of what the market can expect in the next 12 months, it will be much more of the same.

“Howden UK&I is the coming together of five very strong businesses and their brands, with the entire business now operating under a single Howden brand. We are looking to deliver on the strengths of the single brand and the considerable talent that we have across the company.

“Both in [the broader] group and [the] UK&I [business], we have delivered double digit organic growth over the past four to five years. We expect that growth to continue in the coming year.”

For 2023, for example, Howden recorded organic growth of 13%, as reported in its full-year financial results published in February 2024. This compares to organic growth of 19% for 2022 and 2021.

Shuker adds: “We have the capability to serve clients of all shapes and sizes – from the personal motor customer and the SME, to the FTSE 250 company and everything in between.

“We have 220 sites across the UK and Ireland, so we are at the heart of the communities we serve. We believe that is a real benefit to the business and our clients.”

Acquisition potential

In terms of M&A, Howden has already added to its stable in 2024.

For example, the broker acquired Scottish broker Laurie Ross in January 2024, followed by the purchase of Croydon-based specialist broker Hencilla Canworth in March 2024.

Shuker notes that Howden is keen to add to its capabilities if suitable opportunities arise and businesses are the right cultural fit.

“We have the financial strength of Howden Group behind us, so our ability to make acquisitions is significant,” Shuker explains.

“Local brokers [that] are looking to retire or exit the market would find a good home with us [thanks to] our ability to continue to support their clients locally.

“We have recently made a number of acquisitions of strong, well regarded brokers and books of business from commercial lines brokers [that] no longer see personal lines as part of their future plans.”

‘Huge demand for advice’

Internally, Shuker says Howden UK&I will continue to invest in its data and digital capabilities.

“We are very well connected digitally across all our operations and sites and we have been looking at how we can use artificial intelligence to improve how we interact with our clients,” he explains.

“For instance, we now have a system which analyses and understands how and when our clients want to be contacted.”

Despite the drive for digital functionality, Shuker observes that there is still a real demand for human interaction with brokers.

“The view that every client wants to take out their insurance online is a myth,” Shuker says.

“There are a large number of personal, commercial lines and health clients who want human interaction when it comes to their insurance. There is still a huge demand for advice.

“There are a lot of people who value that advice. It pays for us to be in our communities to offer not only advice, but also to support our clients in the event of claims.

“[Clients] want to be able to reach you at that time of need, which may be around a claim or if they have questions [that] require answering.

“We have clients who value that interaction, but will want their documentation delivered digitally.”

Standing out from the crowd

A further reason why Howden placed second in the Top 50 Brokers 2023 report is because it has “an advantage over some of our peers”, Shuker notes.

He explains: “The fact we are in 220 centres in the UK and Ireland and are planning to open more in the coming months provides us with an advantage over some of our peers – we can do things that they cannot.

“Some years ago, I was told [that] a broker had [implemented] a minimum premium limit in terms of the level that was required for the client to have a face-to-face relationship.

“We have no minimums. The fact we are so close to so many communities means we can deliver [a] value added service more effectively.”

Shuker says that Howden UK&I views the current UKGI market as one of great opportunity.

“We are a client centric business,” he adds. “If you can establish loyalty, clients will value you and will not leave you at renewal.

“They are also more likely to recommend you to others for the services you provide and the products you can deliver, not just simply on price.”