Howden Group boss, David Howden and Aston Lark’s group chief executive, Peter Blanc tell Insurance Times how the combined business aims to become a UK broking powerhouse

Following Howden’s purchase of broker Aston Lark, confirmed today (13 October 2021), Aston Lark’s group chief executive Peter Blanc believes the combined business has earned the label of being the ”best broker” in the market.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times about the deal, Blanc said: “This gives Aston Lark the opportunity to build the best broker in the UK and to also look after everyone from private clients through the A-Plan brand, all the way up to corporates through the Howden Global business.

”We now have the capability to never have to turn down a single potential client ever again – if that’s the definition of ‘best broker in the market’, it’s one I will definitely take.”

Aston Lark has been on an aggressive acquisition trail so far in 2021, growing the business in both the UK and Ireland. It’s these ”fantastic acquisitions” which have partly influenced Blanc’s decision regarding Aston Lark’s ”long-term future”.

He explained: “We have been growing Aston Lark now for a few years and made some fantastic acquisitions, which we have integrated really well.

“We are really proud that we have got to the stage where we have over 320 employee shareholders in the business, so when it [was] time to look for our new home, I really wanted to find somewhere where our employees know they have got a long-term future.

“In Howden, we have found our ‘forever home’.

”We don’t have to worry about the private equity merry-go-round of being sold every few years, so for us it’s a really exciting home and, of course, the journey does not stop here - it carries on because there are lots more acquisitions to be done in the UK and there are lots of brokers [that] we think will find a great home with us going forward.”

With an eye on future purchases following the merger, Blanc said “cultural fit” is of prime importance.

“If the first question they ask is ’what’s the multiple? What’s the price?’, we normally go running in the other direction. [Whereas] if the first question is ‘I am looking for the best home for my clients and staff’, that’s the right question to lead with – that’s exactly what’s happened [with Howden],” he added.

Best and biggest

Although the deal is still subject to regulatory approval, Blanc hinted that there might be a rebranding upon the acquisition’s completion, which will also see Aston Lark’s staff move to work alongside its new Howden colleagues.

“The attraction for me is that we will generally be that broking powerhouse - we will be able to look after everyone. The main way to achieve that is to be branded as one. Ultimately, we will all be Howden and be the best and biggest broker in the UK,” Blanc added.

Blanc told Insurance Times back in April 2021 that he aimed to “build the best broker”.

A British success story

David Howden, chief executive of Howden Group, said his business has had a polar opposite acquisition journey to Aston Lark, with Howden only completing 100 deals over 27 years. He added that the broker is “highly selective”.

However, when looking at broking businesses to add to its portfolio, Howden said that Aston Lark was the only firm in the UK it was interested in.

He explained: “It’s the right home for clients as when you bring Aston Lark, Howden and A-Plan together, you get this amazing business where clients can come for literally every single product - from personal lines right up to the largest corporations - and it creates the absolute best of British.”

He believes the coming together of these three businesses has created a “super powerhouse”, making the firm a ”full spectrum broker” that is ”unique in the market”.

Howden continued: “Aston Lark is absolutely the meat in the sandwich because what Blanc has built is very much focused on anything in between what A-Plan does and what Howden does.

”That’s why the business is so attractive – it’s really the perfect cultural and, critically, strategic fit.”

For Howden, A-Plan brings SME and personal lines expertise, including in high net worth, into the broader group. Meanwhile, he described Howden’s capacity in the London market as “totally unrivalled”.

Howden initially started Howden Group 27 years ago. He built the business from scratch and now sees it as a “British success story”.

Despite this UK focus, Howden has ambitions for the broker to continue growing in Europe, seeing opportunities for independent brokers in the UK to join forces with businesses in Germany and Spain, for example.