Stuart Alexander has kicked off its acquisition drive with the purchase of two niche brokers, Helm Group UK and JTC.

It marks the beginning of a series of acquisitions which the broker is looking to complete this year under AXA's ownership.

Middlesex-based Helm Group controls premiums in excess of £10m. It will continue to operate under its own brand until Stuart Alexander and Layton Blackham are merged into a single entity.

"Eventually all the acquisitions will come under the Venture Preference Ltd brand," Stuart Reid, chief executive of Stuart Alexander told Insurance Times.

Portsmouth based, JTC, which controls premiums of around £2.5m, will transfer to Stuart Alexander's Southampton office.

Reid said the short-term strategy was to target acquisitions "which fit the Stuart Alexander/ Layton Blacham mould". Initially this would mean smaller acquisitions.

He added: "Acquisitions of all types will be considered, but a good business case will be needed to fit with the strategy."

Reid said the next 12 to 18 months, while the market remained soft, would provide the best opportunity for acquisitions.

He said: "There is no open cheque book. As all will be considered, it is obvious that larger brokers will come into view but it is not a top priority to buy a large one with a household name. If the business case works it works for small, medium or large."