Chris Wheal talks to Alan Hornby about his career

Alan Hornby is group compliance manager/insurance manager for Grimsby broker Sutcliffe Solloway. The firm recently bought Weller, Russell & Laws, with offices in Boston and Peterborough and it’s Alan’s main job to integrate the two firms and ensure all compliance obligations are met.

How did you make it to where you are today?

Instead of being a potential Oxbridge candidate things went slightly wrong at 18 and I didn’t get the grades expected of me.

A careers adviser rang up and asked if I wanted a job at a local broker. So I became an account handler at Reed Stenhouse – now Aon – in Grimsby, dealing with large commercial risks. That was in 1981.

I left after six years because of ill-health and after nine months recuperating I joined a local broker in Immingham called AN Insurance, where I gained a bit of personal lines experience. Within a year I had applied to Sutcliffe Solloway and I was a commercial account handler there for six years. I moved to Sittingbourne in Kent to work for Capital and County as deputy office manager. In the six years I was there I moved up to be insurance manager.

Family commitments brought me back to the Grimsby area and found a job with Insurance Partnership in Hull as a senior account handler until an opportunity to rejoin Sutcliffe Solloway came up as a senior broker.

I’ve since become office manager and insurance manager at the Grimsby office and, with the takeover, I am now responsible for compliance across the group, as well.

What are the key challenges ahead?

Regulation is an on-going challenge. Last year it was treating customers fairly. This year it looks like being conflicts of interest. The biggest challenge is the new distribution channels – price comparison sites, the internet and the likes of Towergate who have underwriting authority. I can get a quote from Towergate, underwritten by Royal & SunAlliance (R&SA) at half the premium R&SA wants to charge if I were to approach them direct.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

Technology – in a good way. It was frightening at first but I couldn’t be without it now. The loss of local service and knowledge too. There were days when you could walk into a local insurance office and discuss a risk with someone who knew the area and possibly even knew the business you were talking about. You cannot substitute that in a broker presentation or by talking it through on the phone. And that is detrimental to our clients.

A few years ago insurers had a lot of losses from composite panels and underwriters started penalising everyone.

We’ve never had a problem in this area which has a very large concentration of cold storage facilities so those rate hikes had a serious effect on many our clients.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

Move to London or the South East. Maybe that’s harsh but there are certainly more opportunities in the major financial centres such as London, Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham. Round here there are very few opportunities so you have to be prepared to either move or travel. Also, take your CII exams. I have just restarted mine and wish I’d never stopped.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

Leaving Reed Stenhouse in the way I did. I could have had so many opportunities if I had stayed. I was young and naïve.

What was your biggest success?

Staying sane after working in insurance for 25 years – and still enjoying it. Marrying my wife, Alanna – it was genuinely love at first sight and we’re still together after 20 years.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends in the insurance market.

We’re such a backwater here that we tend to have little interaction. I am trying to change that and have just joined the regional Biba committee. But I remember Andy Homer as an account exec with Norwich Union in Leeds, so I’ve kept my eye on what he has been doing with interest. And Patsy Sweeney from Willis has given a lot of help and advice on the compliance side.

What is your unique selling point?

Loyalty to my employer and the determination to offer first class customer service all the time. That is something that is drummed into us as provincial brokers.

When you are not working what do you do to relax?

I might share a bottle or two of red wine with friends and stay up talking to the small hours at the weekend.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

I’m not into football. My favourite book is A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkins. My favourite film is Saving Private Ryan just for the way it was filmed. I listen to a lot of music, especially Pink Floyd.