The high street broker’s chief executive says the ongoing expansion of its commercial lines footprint will ‘fuel a lot of growth’ for the firm

The circumstances of Kelly Ogley’s entry into the insurance industry will be familiar to many readers – like the vast majority of those plying their trade in insurance, she fell into the sector with “no intention of working in insurance”.

But over three decades on from her first summer job, she was promoted to chief executive of high street broker A-Plan in October 2021.

With her two year anniversary in position coming up, she speaks to Insurance Times about taking the reins, keeping the business on a growth trajectory and how the firm’s acquisition and integration into Howden provides “unique advantages”.

Ogley was not in the dark about her promotion before it was announced, which provided a sense of calm during the transition.

Speaking about stepping up to be chief executive, she says: “I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s something we knew was going to happen so it wasn’t a shock and was actually a really natural progression.”

That she looks back on her nearly two years in post as smooth is perhaps surprising, considering the sheer number of global events that have rocked the world and the UK’s economy during her tenure.

This isn’t to say that these challenges have not been addressed, however, with Ogley placing her faith firmly in A-Plan’s community-focused and embedded business model.

“I’ve been in the industry for 37 years now and it’s been the most unpredictable and volatile I’ve ever known [in the last two years],” she says.

“The good thing from an A-Plan perspective is that we’re different to a lot of the market – we’re local on the high street, we give professional advice and a majority of our business comes from our existing clients and recommendations.”

So, how did A-Plan respond to these challenges? Ogley explains: “We just doubled down on what we do best, which is delighting clients and really working with them to look at their insurance needs.”

Branching out

A-Plan has a well-earned reputation in the broker market as a personal lines specialist with wide-spread reach that is embedded within local communities.

The broker boasted 110 branches in the UK at the start of this financial year and is continuing to open more, with branches in Canterbury, York, Kendal and a large site in Tooting – among others – all slated for grand openings this year.

However, growth at the firm is not simply about expanding the breadth of its services across the country – the broker best known for its personal lines expertise is also pursuing a significant expansion of its commercial lines footprint under Ogley’s leadership.

Kelly Ogley A-Plan approved

Kelly Ogley

She explains: “We had 26 commercial centres across our branches at the start of the financial year. We’re now at 40 and by the end of next financial year we’ll have commercial centres in every branch.

“We’re probably a lot bigger in commercial lines than lots of people realise – about 18% of our combined GWP comes from commercial lines. So we’re really excited about extending that commercial footprint, which will fuel a lot of growth for us and give our clients that professional advice on their doorstep.”

A-Plan’s commercial centres are an initiative to place commercial expertise and capability into their branches.

Ogley says the angle of attack for the firm’s increased relevance in commercial lines is to leverage its relationships and proximity to other businesses on the high street and in the communities its branches are embedded in to target business owners there.

She explains: “When we look back, we’re incredibly proud of our personal lines heritage, but it’s right to adapt and change – a lot of our personal lines clients need commercial lines insurance too and even if it’s not them, then the communities we’re in need commercial lines insurance too.

“This year we’ll open 10 van centres, focusing on van growth, which will then help ease into our commercial growth – we’re also rolling out things like taxi insurance to a wider geographical footprint, as well as equine [insurance].”

Ogley says that while A-Plan should not be thought of as an SME broker specifically, the “vast majority” of its commercial lines work by volume is with SME businesses, even though around 60% of the firm’s commercial revenue comes from fewer, larger non-SME commercial clients.

High tech high street

The broker firm is also improving its digital and data capabilities under Ogley’s leadership, with its pillars of growth underpinned by what she calls a “world class data lake house”.

These capabilities allow the broker to implement new strategies, such as “behavioural-based process optimisation” that can help to drive best practice, develop new products to address “gaps in the market” and, importantly, “find new price points”.

Ogley explains: “A lot of our work is based on bringing high tech to the high street – I think some people do think we’re old fashioned, but actually some of the stuff we do behind the scenes is fantastically high tech.”

Much of the growth A-Plan has seen in the past few years has been supported by its parent company Howden, which acquired A-Plan in September 2020. In October 2021, Howden also acquired Aston Lark, bringing yet more firepower into the group.

Ogley says that joining the Howden Group “has been superb” and “exactly what we’d hoped it would be”.

“Investing in the high street is something that a lot of people might question, but Howden has absolutely backed us in that,” she adds.

“We’re seeing healthy growth, which means we’re delivering back what we promised, but collectively now – if you look at the Howden Group with A-Plan and Aston Lark in it – we have a really unique distribution channel, great product offerings for our clients and geographical coverage.

“A-Plan has the personal lines expertise and commercial, Aston Lark is more of the mid-market and Howden’s up there with the larger corporate business – it just gives us that end-to-end coverage.”

In October this year, Howden will rebrand A-Plan and Aston Lark under the Howden name as part of a management restructure.

Ogley explains: “We always said that we would take on the Howden name when the time was right – and that time has come. [While] we will be serving clients under the Howden name, we remain true to our roots, caring for our communities with local experts with local knowledge at our core, but now with additional benefits for our clients through the collective power of a global business.” 

Drawing on passions

Outside of her role in ensuring that A-Plan continues to grow strongly, Ogley is particularly passionate about supporting young people to join the insurance sector and promoting diversity and inclusion across the sector.

“Diversity and inclusion is where I draw a lot of my personal passion from,” she says.

“For me, it’s about attracting, retaining and accelerating diverse talent – and by diverse talent I mean anything from social background, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender, that full spectrum.”

Crucially, Ogley believes that her own example of joining the industry at 16 with no A-Levels as a woman from the north of England should lend credence to the idea that “it’s not just about attracting that diverse talent, but saying that everybody can get to whatever level they want, irrespective of background”.

During her time as chief executive, Ogley has made a pledge that “every single branch will make connections or start to make connections with schools, colleges and careers hubs to how sexy our industry is, how amazing it is”.

As a female chief executive herself, Ogley also notes that she often notices “very little female representation” at the higher level forums or events she attends, which she “is passionate about”, as the sector “has absolutely got to change it”.

Ogley says: “Systemically, women underestimate their own ability and lack confidence by comparison – what I want to do is have a programme that doesn’t just identify those women who put their hands up to be a female leader, but goes deeper than that to support the people that don’t put their hands up, but have potential.”

However, while Ogley believes it is essential that firms in the insurance sector and more widely measure their performance in diversity, she “doesn’t believe in quotas”.

As she explains: “I would hate to be in my position and have people wonder whether I was [part of a] quota – I believe in a meritocracy, but I also believe in identifying people that have got the ability to flourish and helping them where they might be suppressing their own ability.”

Thinking back to the start of her own journey, Ogley says “did I think that I would [end up as chief executive at A-Plan]? Absolutely not, but I’ve enjoyed my journey, always been the best me, worked hard and taken every opportunity”.