Janice Deakin, chief executive distribution of The Ardonagh Group, takes stock of 2017 and looks ahead to 2018
As 2017 draws to a rather quick close, I’m looking out at one of the most fascinating markets I’ve seen in a long time. From insurers to brokers and investors to customers, it’s been a non-stop year, and 2018 doesn’t look to be any different.
Distribution is undoubtedly where a lot of the action is. The dawn of the tech companies, the digital distributor and the appetite of investors in that sector has really come to the fore this year, and shows no sign of slowing down with recent deals announced. At the same time, broker consolidation is probably reaching a new peak that seems set to continue strongly into 2018.
The last time we saw this level of broker consolidation, insurers were keenly buying into distribution in the UK broker market. As an insurer at the time I remember the “do we, don’t we” debate all too well, and I still don’t know what the right answer was. Now despite similar consolidation trends things are moving the other way with a number of insurers selling their broking businesses.
From an insurer’s perspective, does that mean the age of owning brokers is gone? And, if so, where are the future big bets for an insurer coming from? It seems to be quite a stable market at the minute and certainly all is quiet in terms of speculation on insurer consolidation. Are insurers betting on their own tech plays and market disruption, or rather deciding brokers are the winner for the customer and that’s the model they should back? The reality is probably a bit of both, and with a few personality changes in the offing for 2018 I’d like to think we’ll see some new strategies and ambitions emerge.
I like to think we’ve brought our own brand of disruption with the emergence of Ardonagh this year. If I’d dreamt of a wish list of people, business and brands I’d like to be working with when we started this venture, I don’t think I could have asked for more. It’s not only about brands with serious reputation and legacy across their respective markets, it’s also about assembling the dream team sheet. What I love about this market is that it’s one of personalities, where the people are almost brands in themselves, and brands not driven by egos but by integrity, delivery and relationships.
The other part of the winning formula is working with investors who get that it’s all about the people too. I’m a relative newcomer to the world of private equity and if I’ve learnt one thing in the last few years, it’s that the money men (and they normally are men) at their hearts (and I think they do have them) are driven by the same ethos as me. Which is that people do business with people. You can have the very best business and brand in the world, but you will always need a leadership team that make things happen, and you need the people with client relationships always making sure customers come and stay. Private money always backs people they think will make them more money, so the more people you have doing that, the more likely they are to invest.
At a meeting last week, I said to someone that a year at Ardonagh isn’t the same as a normal year, which at the time was more of a dawning realisation for me than any attempt to boast. If 2018 is set to be a big year for the industry I can’t even imagine where it will take us at Ardonagh, but I do know we will have a great time working it out.