Ian Martin of Martin Insurance Services talks to Chris Wheal about his career

Ian Martin runs Martin Insurance Services in Rochester, Kent. The company has four staff, offering all types of commercial and professional liability business, with clients spread across the country. The bulk of the customers are in the South East.

How did you make it to where you are today?

My father had a broking firm and worked hard building it up for over 30 years. He suffered from cancer for a long period and over that time the business declined. He was also a Lloyd’s Name and, at the time of his death, he owed Lloyd’s a lot of money. The estate had to be sold, but I could not allow all that hard work to go to waste, so my heart’s decision was to take it over. I bought the business back and started to rebuild it in 1996. I was lucky to have a number of old clients who followed me, which gave a good base to re-lay the building blocks.

What are the key challenges ahead?

The market is changing with the birth of larger brokers, direct insurers and networks. The FSA is always going to be a challenge in ensuring that you work within the guidelines and have the time to monitor the procedures. Time is always your enemy, especially in a soft market with larger brokers, direct writers, supermarkets and banks all looking at your slice of the pie. The key changes for us are retention of clients, growth through new business, the market conditions and the FSA – it is an uphill struggle.

What has changed the most since you started in insurance?

Insurance has always been a personal business, but, with internet quoting, some of the bond and trust between brokers and insurers has gone. Regulation has meant that our hands are tied and there is now not so much talking. The small independents that offer a first class professional and personal service are slowly going and the larger brokers and direct writers are taking over. This is bad for clients, as choice is taken away. Clients are now numbers and pigeon-holed. We need to retain our personal involvement and return to the fun side of insurance.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out?

Stay passionate and committed to what you want to achieve. I still think there is a place for new brokers to set up, but it will be hard work if you do not have the right help and attitude. If you do your research, understand the client base that you have and try to keep your overheads to a minimum, you may have a chance. It is a pity that we have stifled our own market.

What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?

My biggest mistake was not growing when I had the opportunity to about five years ago. We were in a very nice position, had a large number of loyal clients and the market was on a high. I took the decision that we would remain our size and provide the higher personal service. In hindsight I should have used that time to reinvest and look at other growth potential. Maybe now I would be in a stronger position.

What was your biggest success?

I know it is a cliché, but making a success of my business and having my wife supporting me as she also works in the business. Plus, I always enjoy taking business off the bigger boys.

Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends

I am lucky to have a number of people in both brokers and insurance companies that I can ring to discuss problems. It can be very lonely in a small firm. Though I may curse some of the bigger boys, I do respect what they have been able to achieve, even if I may not agree with the direction in which they are leading the market.

What is your unique selling point?

Being personal with our clients, providing them with a professional service and understanding their needs – not just their insurance needs, but their trading needs. I encourage our clients to contact us for all types of help – advice on accountants, solicitors, plumbers, builders, anything. I am known for my networking in the local area and my staff always comment on my ‘I am just going out for a coffee’ statement.

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

My sport when I was younger was swimming. I still keep this up with a local club where I swim three times a week. I am passionate about scuba diving and am currently taking my Dive Master course and, therefore, spend most of my weekends eight metres under the water – no phones there.

What is your favourite book/film/football team?

My favourite books are the Wilbur Smith Egyptian novels, which I get totally absorbed in. I also enjoy Andy McNab’s and Chris Ryan’s SAS books for a bit of boy’s own time. I love films. One of the best I have recently seen is The Departed. Give me action, cars, guns and loud bangs and I’m happy. I have been a lifelong Arsenal fan, but I have started to watch more rugby over the years.

Day in the life

4:00am I wake up and go with my
15-year-old daughter for a swim training session at our local swimming club. She trains for 1.5 hours, 5.00 – 6.30, and I train for 1 hour, 5.30 6.30.

7:00am I arrive back home for porridge and a shower.

8:15am I get into the office and check emails received over the weekend.

8:30am There is a staff meeting to keep everyone up to date on what is happening and we run through any queries or issues.

9:00am If there are any problems these are discussed and a plan of action is implemented.

10:00am I run through my work and prepare for the week ahead.

11:00am Normally, I try to have an appointment with a client or, hopefully, a new business client.

1:00pm I am back in the office for lunch at my desk and I check emails.

2:00pm After lunch I prepare any notes from the staff meeting or compile a presentation. I would also look at renewals, chase any terms that may be outstanding and go through my diary for any matters needing attention. I spend time chasing information for clients and insurers.

3:00pm I make a couple of calls from my new business list and arrange appointments for later that week. I deal with correspondence and other office duties if not out on further appointments.

5:00pm It is time to prepare the post, but I will not be going home yet. I normally stay late after the phones have stopped to catch up on paperwork, and do some planning ahead or review clients files.

7.30pm The end of the business day and I am off to the pool for another swim training session.