Plans for new trading platform to roll out to Countrywide brokers.

Six months after Towergate's takeover of Open International, former chief executive Phillip Bell has defended the sale of the company and said that no members had left the network.

In an exclusive interview with Insurance Times, Bell, who recently stepped aside as chief executive of Open International following the £276m acquisition, said the takeover had given insurers greater confidence in the business, particularly its new electronic trading platform PowerPlace.

Bell, who will remain as a consultant with Open International, said: “We’ve always had a limited relationship with insurers and through Towergate we can enhance that. It carries so much more power than we did as a single entity.”

In the same interview, new managing director Chris Guillaume set out the firm’s plans for PowerPlace, which is currently in a pilot phase with 40 Countrywide brokers. He said Open International wanted to make sure there were no glitches with the technology before building up expectations.

He said: “We have the best relationship with Countrywide brokers and really want to see what happens there before we decide to open it up to other brokers.”

Guillaume said it was not known if the trading would ever be made available to non-Countrywide brokers, as originally planned. With £2.5bn GWP in commercial products, Guillaume insisted the Countrywide brokers represented a large slice of the market.

His approach seems to have scaled back Bell’s original ambitions. At the time of the deal, Bell said it would revolutionise the electronic trading of commercial lines business.

Bell denies the more cautious approach is the result of recent bad publicity some of Open’s competitors have suffered with failed or troubled commercial trading platforms and said this was the way the company had always done business in the past.

He said: ”There’s a vast market to be electronically traded and that’s why Towergate bought Open GI, because of that opportunity.”

Open International also plans to strictly control the insurance products traded through its platform.