The broker is keen to expand by putting talent and ’real honesty’ at the heart of its business 

Glasgow-based broker Kelvin Smith is set to hit a record of £15m in turnover as it approaches its 40th birthday.

The business was founded in November 1982 by financial advisors Gordon Smith and Andy McGlennan as a financial services firm and estate agency, car and home insurance broker.

The broker has maintained one of the highest renewal retention rates of clients of any insurance broker in the UK at 96%, an achievement managing director Stephen Travers attributes to high standards of competitive premiums, first class service and placing clients at the heart of “every business decision”. 

Travers initially joined Kelvin Smith in 1983, but became a partner in 1990 before taking over the business in 1995 aged 32.

Since then, Kelvin Smith has seen its annual income increase 900% from £1.5m to £15m, growing in the last decade by £1m per year.

Looking to the future, Travers identified haulage, construction and hospitality as key areas of growth for the broker.

Key philosophy

Travers began his journey in the insurance industry as a youth opportunities programme trainee on £23.50 a week. 

Speaking about the broker’s founders, he said: “They instilled a real honesty in me from the beginning – they made it absolutely clear the importance of giving clients the right advice and making sure clients trust you.

“Their philosophy is still key to the business – first and foremost your clients need to trust you on advice and on price.

“We’ve grown because our clients trust us and they tell other people about us. That’s why we have continually expanded the business and will continue to do so.”

The broker changed direction when Direct Line shook up the industry in the mid-1980s by introducing a single telephone service, rendering the average high street broker obsolete. It instead switched its focus to commercial insurance targeting hospitality, construction and property.

Travers explained: “Everyone said we were finished when Direct Line, then Churchill, Esure and Admiral changed the home and car insurance market.

“Although we still broker home and car insurance for high-net-worth individuals, we found real success in business insurance, as businesses really see the value in the fact we make sure that nothing is overlooked. People want to deal with people.”

Travers was also Kelvin Smith’s very first employee and he believes the broker’s staying power is down to its strong client relationships and trust. The broker now employs 40 members of staff.

Travers added: “You need talented people, so we’ve always invested in keeping our best talent. When I took over, I quickly started to grow the team. It’s definitely harder to recruit now, so we’ve worked hard to make it the most attractive place to work possible.

“We tried to find people with a great attitude and a great work ethic. We recognised people quickly who are going to be good for us and showed them there was a future progression, opportunities to learn and opportunities to earn a commensurate income based on their values, skills and competencies.”

Total organic growth

Traver continued: “As the business grew, clients kept referring us to other people. So, we’ve enjoyed total organic growth. The industry is so much more competitive than when I got into it. There’s an oversupply of brokers in Glasgow but we’ve survived and prospered because we get the information and advice right.

“Policyholders having the right arrangement and right depth of disclosures in place is vital. We are very diligent to do everything we can to ensure all disclosures are fully factual.

“When it comes to big claims, insurers are forensic – so we need to be forensic from day one to protect our clients from being caught out in the event of a claim.”

Travers is proud to be fighting for hospitality businesses who were almost decimated due to Covid-19. He pointed out that the broker quickly found which policies would indemnify clients for covid and constantly communicated with them. 

“If everyone had been covered, it would have destroyed the industry. A very small percentage were able to claim and that’s because of unintentional wording in a contract. There were a tiny minority of organisations, including Wimbledon Tennis, who had deliberate cover for a pandemic”, he continued. 

“We will exhaust every avenue to meet the challenges ahead and are now looking to acquire smaller brokerages across Scotland, as we expect the market to become increasingly difficult for smaller firms.”