The Top 50 Brokers should beware: according to IMAS data, there are a number of smaller outfits seeing rapid growth, and snapping at their heels. Mark Skinsley spoke to two firms tipped for the top.


What’s the secret to a successful business? Investing in your staff. That’s the view of Academy Insurance Brokers chairman Dave Bard, who passionately endorses employee reward as key to staff retention and business development. “Our staff retention is consistently high,” he says. “I believe this is because we have a strong ‘best friend approach’ culture which we apply throughout the company whether client, supplier or colleague.”

Academy employees even receive a birthday card and a present as a token of goodwill.

“They [our employees] are our most important asset and we enjoy spoiling them,” he says.

Bard has witnessed a successful year at the company which now has a presence spanning 13 offices in the South East and South West, with a total of 115 staff. Academy was established in 1995, but some of the team have worked together for a number of years before that.

Managing director Kevin Munn met Bard 23 years ago and has had a close working relationship since. The senior management team is made of five members, with general manager, Doug Walker, heading up the group. They each have at least 10 years’ experience at the company.

Academy’s story is one of steady growth with three acquisitions in the last year and a capacity to make further acquisitions in the next 12 months. Although the acquisition market has cooled somewhat in the past six months, Academy has not been unduly affected by the credit crunch.

There have been no attempts to seek outside funding and Bard is reluctant to change the structure of the business. “Someone once said to me to never get in a position where someone can take your business away from you,” he says. “We have no plans to look for outside funding in the future.”

Academy has also experienced strong growth in recent years.

&#8220While the credit crunch continues and the global economy has
its problems, we’ll sit out for a bit.

Steve Burrows, Cobra

“In the past three years we have grown our income by over 50% and are forecasting 15% organic growth for the next 12 months giving us a brokerage income of £10m. In addition we are on the lookout for suitable acquisitions,” he says.


Formed in January 2006, Cobra had a strategy to acquire about eight companies per year with a minimum GWP growth of 25%, says Steve Burrows, chief executive of the Cobra Group. But the onset of the credit crunch has led to a scaling back of these plans. Recent acquisition talks fell through. It understood that while there are a number of possible buyers for the business, no formal bid has yet been tabled.

“It’s more difficult to raise funding at the moment,” he says. “We have two acquisitions to complete in about two months time. Once they’re completed we’re going to consolidate for a while. While the credit crunch continues and the global economy has its problems, we’ll sit out for a bit. That’s fair to say of most consolidators.”

The two acquisitions will be a financial services company and a commercial broker, he reveals.

“They’re not going to be particularly large companies. The one on the general side will have a GWP of £3-4m and the financial services company would be about £500,000 commission.”

Cobra currently has 200 employees but there are no plans to expand on that headcount significantly in the next year. Looking forward, Burrows envisages steady growth but not perhaps to the levels that some have become accustomed to in recent times.

“Our turnover will increase by more than 12% across the group without acquisitions,” he says. “The two acquisitions will probably add another million pounds of turnover in addition to that.”

Burrows highlights the continued strength of Cobra’s network, the launch of its new underwriting agency and its successful model for integration. IT