For some brokers getting into the Insurance Times top 50 list is a target and achievement in itself, but for Paul Cosh, managing director of Highway Retail, it is just the beginning. Andrew Holt reports.

Paul Cosh, managing director of Highway Retail, has set the modest task of being in the top five within five years. "We want to be top five in everything," says an enthusiastic Cosh. From the current position of 46 in the Top 50 that means a jump of 41places. But Highway Retail has already grown substantially, with a 21 place rise this year alone.

Since its launch in June 2004, growth has been at 35% per year, with a rapid increase of policies handled from 8,000 to over the current 190,000.

Cosh's ambition for Highway Retail is to get up to 250,000 policies by the end of this year, a figure well within reach. "We should do it with ease," says Cosh. "We want to be up there with Kwik-Fit and Budget," he says. And as a former Budget and BDML director, Cosh should know who are the movers.

Cosh identified from day one a number of possible acquisitions. At the time of launch Highway's existing retail operation, specialist motorcycle broker Elite, became part of Highway Retail.

Personal lines specialist A Quote was the first broker to be acquired by Highway Retail. Based in Andover and Basingstoke, A Quote was purchased for £4.6m, consisting of £4.18m in cash and the balance in Highway shares and unsecured loan notes.

This was followed by the acquisition of personal lines book of business from broker LRG Insurance Services in June last year. LRG's policies were transferred to Highway Retail's call centre in Aylesbury which houses a team of 30 personal lines technicians team as well as motorcycle specialist Elite

Then in October last year, Highway Retail acquired MRB Insurance Brokers, which trades as 1st Quote, propelling it into the UK top 12 general insurance intermediaries. The acquisition, which cost Highway £6.6m plus performance-related payments, brought 60,000 policies to Highway Retail alone.

MRB's business operated a call centre near Highway's HQ in Brentwood and generates personal lines business from both on-page advertising and the internet. The development of its own systems and websites has also enabled the broker to produce white-label solutions for trading partners.

Cosh is full of surprises and reveals a novel approach to how Highway Retails sees itself as a business and how the drive towards growth is maintained.

"The thing is we don't think we are that good," says Cosh. "We don't rest on our laurels by getting caught up thinking we are the best. We are a long way from being the best. "

But it isn't all about just buying up available brokers. "We are working hard on developing integrated product offerings and continuing to expand our client base organically," says Cosh.

Highway intends to expand the support offered to brokers by sharing the knowledge learned from running its own retail operations in order to help them develop their businesses.

Highway Retail therefore now has three main subsidiaries: A Quote, telebroker Direct Motorline and 1st Quote.

Highway Retail was launched on 1 June 2004 in order to acquire a number of UK brokers, improve its earning stream and smooth the impact of the underwriting cycle. Highway also intends to expand the support offered to brokers by sharing the knowledge learned from running its own retail operations in order to help them develop their businesses.

While Highway Retail is a relatively new name in the market it will soon change its name. "We are looking at rebranding completely to take us forward," says Cosh.

And this is a regular theme. Most companies are keen to tell you how good they are at everything with just a soupcon of humility to make it sound like they are not completely smug. Not Cosh.

"We did a customer retention survey and it showed that the customer proposition is not as good as it should be," he says with commendable honestly.

Cosh adds: "We have a lot more growth planned for the future."

He will have to if he is to get close to his ambition.

Acquisition timeline

2004: Highway retail launched

Motorcycle broker Elite becomes part of Highway Retail

Direct Motorline acquired

2005: Personal lines specialist A Quote purchased

LRG's personal lines book purchased

MRB Insurance Brokers acquired