SRG has a pipeline of acquisitions planned for next year on the back of its fresh investment

Specialist Risk Group is poised for a fresh spree of acquisitions after being bought by US private equity form HGGC.

Speaking to Insurance Times, chief executive Warren Downey said the firm has “big ambitions”, with acquisitions planned on the wholesale, retail, and MGA fronts following backing from its new investor.

The former JLT executive said SRG was a big believer in national and international specialisms.

Downey is less concerned about which of the three categories acquisitions fall into, and more interested in whether they’re specialists with a differentiated offering that can be sold through its wholesale broker networks in the UK and Ireland.

”If having the pen is the ultimate demonstration of specialism, then we’re comfortable about it going in that direction as well. But the core theme is specialism and specialty,” Downey said. 

When Downey joined the business in summer 2019, SRG’s predecessor was a disparate collective of businesses owned by private equity firm Pollen Street Capital.

Warren Downey

Warren Downey, SRG chief executive

A year later, and a more integrated firm now exists, with an expanded management team and a clear strategic vision. It has also made three acquisitions, including most recently Insolvency Risk Services which it bought from MS Amlin

As progress was made, Pollen Street decided it was time to cash out of its investment, and the hunt started for a new investor.

Downey met a series of suitors in the summer, but Palo Alto-based HGGC emerged as the best partner for SRG.

”We had a sense that this would be a really great partner for us if they could make it to the finish line,” Downey said.

HGGC shared a common ethos with SRG, Downey said. ”We want to differentiate ourselves as a business that focuses on people and its culture. We’re kindred spirits on that.”

Natural home for specialism

The acquisition of the Amlin business was carried out in the middle of lockdown. ”We felt it was a great opportunity for us if we played it right,” Downey said. 

”The key is that we’re not just making acquisitions of businesses, but also people and teams,” he added. 

SRG is aiming to become the natural home for those specialist teams and companies.

SRG, which placed 31 in the Insurance Times Top 50 Brokers report this year, has “a number of conversations going on” at the moment with acquisition targets.

”HGGC have given us the financial clout to be able to execute anything that we’re considering at the moment. We’re not looking to do anything bigger than ourselves at this point,” Downey said.

The firm has ambitions to grow internationally beyond its core UK and Irish bases, and the chief executive hinted at M&A activity in this direction.

’Difficult done well’

SRG’s motto is ’difficult done well’, and this year has certainly been difficult. But the challenging condition facing many businesses and clients has played to the company’s strength. 

”That’s when people come to us. Things they usually do themselves become difficult, especially in industries or classes of business where there are limited option,” Downey said.

That tends to be where the various parts of SRG play their role in the market: finding solutions and products for difficult to place risks. These could be specialisms found in the London market, but equally could also be further afield, Downey said.

And fortunately for SRG, the company is ’Brexit proof’ with its Ireland operation giving it access to the rest of the EU. “It solves all of our Brexit problems, Downey said.

What does the HGGC takeover mean for clients and staff?

Downey said the SRG team are “excited”. 

”The phrase we use internally is we’re trying to build the kind of business we’d be proud to tell our friends and family about,” he said. 

”We couldn’t think of a better goal than being proud to work in insurance. Are we having fun? Are we professional and appropriate in our dealings? For our people this is the validation,” the chief executive said. 

More than just scaling culture

All 300 employees, including Downey himself, have the same two objectives: hit the numbers and be good colleagues.

From HGGC’s point of the view, the acquisition is not just about scaling the culture, of course.

The plan is to take SRG from a £350m GWP business to a “a large round number”, Downey said.

”We want to be a meaningful partner to those looking for professionalism in broking. For our clients and brokers we trade with, this is the opportunity to broaden our offering, to cover more difficult things, more specialty areas. 

”We are constantly asking our broker partners and clients: what do you need? what do you want? As we announce acquisitions over the next few months, they are responding to a need that has been flagged by our customer base. 

Hard market

SRG is not immune from the impact of the hardening rates. For Downey, the great danger of the hard market is poor client management.

To stave off this threat, SRG has spent time helping clients navigate the changing market. 

”We’ve seen rate coming through in almost every part of our business, but our goal is to minimise shocks, manage people through that transition, and if you think about ‘difficult done well’, the harder market tilts in our favour as there is more we can do, more ways we can offer greater support to our partners.”

SRG has seen an uptick in enquiries during lockdown, and new business interest is at rates comparable with 2019, Downey said.

”The fact we’re able to emerge from 2020 growing is a good indication that this is ‘our time’. We’re set up for difficult, challenging areas when there are limited solutions and people need to get something done.” 


Downey is keen to stress that SRG, with its new private equity backer is not and will not be a ’consolidator’. 

”There are others who consolidate. We are not a consolidator. I think of a consolidator as collecting premium for a [business] model. We are gathering specialists.

SRG has three criteria for any acquisition target. One: is the business deeply specialist? Secondly: is the business growing, and can SRG help it grow more? Thirdly: can it be integrated effectively?

SRG’s wholesale units all operate under a single brand, single systems, and management team. The best way to integrate acquired businesses is through a common platform, Downey said.