Mike Bruce, chief executive at GRP, tells Insurance Times about his plans for 2021 following three acquisitions in the first quarter of the year

With three acquisitions under its belt already in 2021, GRP is well on its way to replicating the 18 acquisitions it made last year.

The broker kicked the year off by buying commercial lines broker Newstead in January. It then inked a deal to buy Marsh’s UK Networks business in February, closely followed by its acquisition of Five Insurance Brokers later that month.

Now GRP’s group chief executive Mike Bruce hopes to focus on supercharging the growth of Marsh UK Networks.

He tells Insurance Times: “We have made a fast start in the first quarter of this year and following the acquisition of Five Insurance Brokers, we expect to announce further deals shortly.

“GRP’s acquisition model continues to be highly appealing and we remain keen to speak to businesses with ambitious management teams who are keen to grow and seize the opportunities presented by being part of a larger group, especially as the wider economy prepares to power up again later this year.”

Consolidated proposition

Speaking about the acquisition of Marsh UK Networks, Bruce says the plan was always to create a consolidated proposition with GRP’s existing networks portfolio.

“It is a question of getting out there, attracting more members, broadening the offering to member brokers and their customers, both from a product and service perspective. We would like to drive more through the wholesale,” he continues.

Although he believes the fundamental offering will stay the same, GRP hopes to broaden the products and services using thr group’s existing relationships and facilities.

When asked about how the deal with Marsh UK Networks came about, Bruce says he happened to “be in the right place at the right time”.

Following the completion of this deal, GRP plans to create a single brand proposition for its networks division, called Hedron. Bruce says this name represents a “multifaceted” offering with “lots of different services for the greater good”.

The initial launch of Hedron will be later in March.

Pick and choose

Looking forward, Bruce adds: “In a hard market, post-Covid trading environment, being part of a bigger business helps people.

”With the network, we would be providing compliance which ranges from light touch advice all the way through to handling client money on behalf of some of the members, which again means less regulatory capital needs to be held within the business and the client money responsibility rests with us as the Network.

The most challenging thing brokers might face in a post-Covid hard market, he says, is insurers being more selective.

He adds: “Insurers in a hard market are far more selective about the risks they write, which means you do need a broad supporting panel of insurers to help place the entire portfolio of business.”

This means that some business may be hard to place and customers’ needs may not be met.

GRP already has six insurers keen to join its network’s panel, however. “With our broader market access, we can hopefully make sure our members have full insurer touchpoints to place all their customers’ business,” he says.

GRP has invested heavily in its data and analytics capability too.

Bruce says that having this helps identify specific areas of business that insurers want to write “so it’s of benefit to the insurer, partner and network member”.

Removing some ‘grit’

When asked how GRP’s offering stands out from the crowd, Bruce says it comes down to choice.

“We are focusing on digitalising [customer] interaction as opposed to replacing it. We are in the middle of rolling out portals, documentation and doing a lot more around digital marketing. [We are] making the renewal process lower touch, not replacing the customer interaction but just removing some grit from the process with technology.”

He says as a regional SME broker, “you can’t ignore digital, but equally you cannot ignore the fact that customers want to talk to people who understand their business and can actually offer advice”.

So, for Bruce, it’s all about blending digital interactions with customers and choosing the appropriate time to do so.

“We are trying to automate simple processes, but what comes through loud and clear from our customers is that they like to have a personal contact,” he says.

This allows staff to focus on value-added and more complex tasks.

Bruce says that GRP is very much focused on UK regional broking; it is a thread that runs through the entire business and partnering with Marsh UK Networks has allowed the broker to fill out its distribution platform.

However, the biggest challenge for SMEs is yet to come following the FCA test case appeal, Bruce adds. He believes there will be a residual impact on the economy as a result.