With ten acquisitions completed this year and counting, Aston Lark boss Peter Blanc tells Insurance Times the motives behind the broker’s spending spree and how he envisions the business developing

So far, 2021 has been fruitful for Aston Lark, with the broker snapping up its tenth acquisition of the year this week by purchasing motor trade specialist DNA Insurance Services.

Peter Blanc, Aston Lark’s group chief executive, told Insurance Times that the overall purpose of these acquisitions is to build Aston Lark into the best broker it can be.

Blanc said: “We are not just accumulating businesses; we are trying to build a really good broker. We have had a really busy first quarter, but a very successful one, and we are delighted with all the deals that we have got and managed to get done. Each time we buy one of these specialisms, we are helping other parts of the group.

“We have also started to look at the international wholesale market. We are already in discussion with a few brokers that might be of interest to us. I would also love to see some of the plans that we have in our customer services team come to life.”

For each acquisition, Aston Lark has a plan for how the business will be integrated – Blanc likened it to ”joining the dots”, adding that the transactions make the broker ”bigger and better”.

The most recent deal, he said, was “a long time coming”. It complements one of the broker’s other businesses, called Road Runner, which specialises in SME motor traders with clean records.

“DNA has been able to place non-standard motor trading – exotic cars, unusual risks, convictions, claims problems. So, by having DNA within the Aston Lark camp, we are now able to maximise our penetration into the whole motor trade arena,” Blanc explained.

DNA Insurance Services is looking to grow in commercial lines too, which Aston Lark intends to support them with.

In terms of his 2021 to-do list, Blanc hopes to complete at least another five or six acquisitions this year, make further inroads with integrating all the acquisitions Aston Lark has bought so far, build a good acquisition pipeline for 2022 and 2023, and explore international expansion following the broker’s purchase of Dublin-based North County Brokers.

Building the best broker

Last year, a rumour that the government might be increasing capital gains tax – a tax on the profit when an asset that has increased in value is sold, made all the deals that Aston Lark had lined up quite pressing.

Blanc said: “All the vendors started to say, ‘we have agreed to do a deal, let’s take any risk of tax out of the equation’.”

Therefore, these deals were set to be pushed forward to the 3 March, the month when the government usually makes these types of announcements.

He continued: “We had a long, hard look at the pipeline. Fortunately, we were very lucky - a few of the vendors took the view that they were not bothered about the tax.”

Pushing some of these deals through by March meant that Blanc had to take on three new members of staff in the broker’s mergers and acquisitions team, plus another three to four employees in the integrations team.

The broker has been working for the last several years on building a pipeline of acquisitions. Following the quick succession of acquisitions so far this year, Blanc said Aston Lark is now back to business as usual in terms of pace.

A normal pace for the group is one acquisition a month - Blanc hopes this will be maintained as the year unfolds.

At the beginning of March, Aston Lark made its second foray into the MGA arena by buying Magenta Insurance.

“Magenta have created all different kinds of binding authorities for non-standard household. For us, it’s a perfect match. It means we can now go forward with confidence to go and find new household [insurance] customers, knowing that if they are in any way non-standard that Magenta can help.”

Blanc added that he wants to explore how Magenta’s Waterlock proposition - a leak detection system - can be rolled out via Aston Lark’s private client customers, as one of the most common claims in this line of business is escape of water.

Last November, Aston Lark bought Guernsey-based MGA Neon Sapphire. At this time, Aston Lark also backed MGA Spring Partners, which was established to invest in and create new MGAs.

More of the same

In March, Aston Lark launched a broker portal for renovation insurance.

This aligns with one of the first companies that the firm bought – First Commercial Insurance Brokers - which also deals with renovation cover.

“A lot of members of the public do not realise that if they carry out renovations on their house and haven’t notified their household insurer, they are in breach of the terms of their house insurance,” he added.

He explained that as renovation insurance is not a major line of business, brokers need efficiency and simplicity when handling it. Aston Lark’s new portal allows brokers to place this cover in 10 to 15 minutes, compared with taking a few hours previously.

Looking ahead, Blanc said that 2021 will see more of the same from Aston Lark - more integration, acquisitions and looking at new ways of serving customers.

He additionally noted that cyber insurance was really taking off following the shift to home working in the UK as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I would love to see a market-wide solution on the business interruption front. It needs to be a quasi-government solution, insurance companies cannot underwrite the entire gross domestic product of the UK,” he said.

But Blanc believes that solving the expectation gap will be the real challenge post-lockdown; this means helping customers to understand the cover that is offered to them and ensuring it aligns with insurers’ perceptions of what the insurance provides. Furthermore, he thinks quality insurance products should replace the current focus on price.

 Aston Lark acquisitions in 2021