’Covid gave MGAs an opportunity to showcase themselves,’ says founder and managing director

In December 1999, Duncan Pritchard founded Commercial Express, an independently owned managing general agent (MGA), with a mission centred on supporting brokers’ businesses and visions.

Pritchard’s interest in the MGA sector was sparked during his time as an underwriter at Eagle Star, now Zurich, in 1998.

He later joined MGA Key Choice in the same year, but found the experience frustrating, which ultimately motivated him to found Commercial Express.

Reflecting on the initial challenges, Pritchard notes: “There was always a stigma attached to MGAs – for example, one insurer asked, ‘What is the point of an MGA?’

“I responded, ‘If you keep doing a poor job, then it’s good for us.’”

Pritchard says that his attraction to the MGA model was only increased by big insurers attitude to brokers at the time, as they tried to drive brokers below certain thresholds into call centre environments.

”It was about GWP, not the quality of business,” he adds.

This approach also left brokers “frustrated” and without the service they needed so, sensing an opportunity, Pritchard set out to create an MGA focused on service standards and responsiveness.

“I could see that somebody could come along and, as long as they had the ability to control their own service standards, then they would be okay,” he says.

To test this idea, Pritchard sent out a purchase quote and waited. The results were clear.

“Seven of them never came back. One came in at £750 and another at £150,” he explains.

“At the time, the average premium for such a small risk was about £250.”

In his eyes, this disparity showed the need for an MGA that could offer reliable service – and Commercial Express was born.

As managing director, Pritchard deliberately created a firm where he could manage rates and aim to provide quick, dependable service to brokers.

“I found that I could turn things around quickly and very promptly to a number of brokers. [Therefore], overnight we became a success,” he says.

He explains: “What we deliver is great service and underwriting knowledge. It’s a package – we understand and listen to our brokers so that we continuously make improvements and enhance our offerings and we deliver what we say we will deliver.”

Covid impacts 

Fast forward to 2024 and Pritchard says Commercial Express is still exploring how to differentiate itself from competitors.

After posing this question to himself, Pritchard also asked brokers the same.

He says that they highlighted Commercial Express “does what it says on the tin,” providing good service and products that adapt well to industry changes, especially since Covid.

After the disruption of the Covid pandemic, Pritchard now believes that there is a unique opportunity for MGAs to “showcase their value”.

He explains: “Covid gave MGAs an opportunity to showcase themselves. We were nimble and insurers were too big to react quickly. There are stories about insurers not being able to man the phones.

“We, as an MGA, were very nimble and reacted straight away, we didn’t lose any business days and were able to serve those brokers who couldn’t trade with the insurers that had not been able to react quickly enough to lockdown.

“We wanted to make sure that, after this, brokers didn’t go back to the insurers, they stayed with us.”

However, Pritchard notes that the battle was not to be won for MGAs during Covid, but in how they continued to work with brokers as the country crawled out of the pandemic years. 

He says: ”It is how you maintain momentum and make sure brokers do not revert to type again. For example, in our catering section, we give free cancellation cover and we are the only ones that do that.

“The whole process is listening to your broker and understanding what they need and want.” 

GWP milestone

Financially speaking and as a result of its success with brokers, Pritchard says that Commercial Express is on track to achieve its “soft target” of reaching £50m in gross written premium (GWP) by 2025 – a leap from its 2023 figure of £30m GWP.

“We are not looking for new brokers,” Pritchard states.

“We deal with 650 brokers and 80% of those are managed by a dedicated team member. We understand that the other 20% either do not want a relationship or don’t feel that there is a benefit.”

Discussing the company’s offerings, Pritchard says: “In terms of where we are going, you will not find our products anywhere else when it comes to Commercial Express.

”They are exclusive. We are going to be stepping out of our comfort zone. We are going to appear on some aggregator sites, which is another call for our brokers because of rekeying.”