Bob Pybus talks to Chris Wheal
Bob Pybus runs The NPA Insurance Group – or Nott Pybus & Associates, the general insurance broker with offices in Hitchin, St Albans and Uxbridge. It has two acquisitions in the pipeline and employs about 45 staff, although it reckons there will be nearer 60 by December. Its premium income stands at more than £20m, which it expects to reach £25m by the end of the year.
How did you make it to where you are today?
Cliff Nott and I formed Nott Pybus & Associates in September 1990 when we were both 27. We started in an office of 220sq ft with a £10,000 overdraft from Lloyds Bank. In 1999 we bought a small broker in St Albans. We have since acquired three more and moved four times. It has taken a lot of hard work, ambition and luck. Relationship management is our key skill and, coupled with the passion and drive to ensure that the client gets what he needs in his insurance portfolio, means that renewal retention is exceptional.
What are the key challenges ahead?
Continued growth through acquisition and organic means. Managing that growth to ensure that we continue to provide an excellent service, retain clients and attract more of them is the difficult bit. Finding and training the right staff, to match personalities and to compete in an aggressive market are always challenges. As are meeting suppliers’ expectations and demands, being direct when deal making and ensuring we manage and achieve the goals we set.
What has changed the most since you started?
The market has changed dramatically. We could open an agency with a promise to Norwich Union, Commercial Union, GRE, Royal, General Accident, Provincial and so on of £10,000 GWP and get some good service from those markets. Deals were a lot easier and the market didn’t seem as cut-throat as it is today. Underwriters had more power, documents were nearly always right and we didn’t have to spend endless time on corrections or send a ream of paper to the client for each policy sold. The FSA didn’t exist, and a handshake, a phone call and even just a discussion were enough to seal the deal.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out?
I’m not sure you can start out any more. The focus seems to be on big is best and unless you join a network, which will take some of your hard-earned cash, there’s not the same opportunity that we had. I guess the only other way is to leave one of the bigger consolidators with a nice book of business, but that in itself can cause some issues.
Make sure you look at all the small print in any deal you do with a network, that you can drive the relationship with underwriters and that your cash flow works. Cash is king in any business – insurance broking is no exception.
What is the biggest mistake you ever made?
I can’t think of one to be honest. I’m sure I’ve made plenty and regretted them the next day.
What was your biggest success?
Starting the business was probably the best thing we did, but my biggest success was an acquisition we made last year where we secured a serious amount of funding at a very competitive price.
Talk about your contemporaries and friends
I’ve grown up with the likes of Paul Anscombe of James Hallam, Lawrence Tamplin of Noyce Livett, Pete Checketts and Andrew Sykes of RHG, and Chris Luker of Luker Rowe – all of whom I see and speak to about the market and what’s going on.
I’ve also made some great mates in the insurer market – Mark Fisher of AIG, Andy Clements of Travelers, Debbie Morrell of NU, Richard Bigden, ex-RSA who now works for me, Paul Hiscoe of NMU, Jason Howes of Allianz, and Malcolm Rutter of Ace. New friends are always coming on to the scene too and I guess that revolves around making a deal and developing relationships. We have an excellent trading relationship with Chris Greaves and his team at AXA and Ray Cox and his team at Brit.
What is your unique selling point?
Relationship management is key to success; that’s why the market continues to be dominated by like-minded brokers. My own success seems to be the ability to negotiate and secure a good deal.
When you are not working what do you do to relax?
I have a fairly large family; my partner and I have four lovely daughters between us, aged 21, 19, 17 and 12, so that keeps me fairly busy. Otherwise, I play a bit of golf and enjoy a pint at my local and weekends away in boutique hotels. My favourite place for holidays is Juan les Pins and I hope to have a place there at some point.
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
Book: I enjoyed all the Dan Brown books, haven’t really got a favourite. Film: Saving Private Ryan. Music: jazz/swing – Robbie Williams/Michael Bublé. Football: Arsenal. Rugby: Saracens. IT
Day in the life
7:00am A typical Monday is dominated by meetings, so after my shower I have a cup of tea, glass of orange juice and some cereal and toast before leaving for the Hitchin office. I may have to do a school drop on the way. It is usually an hours drive, so I make a couple of calls en route. This week I was trying to make an appointment with the chief executive of a construction company who has bought two more businesses â€“ and I would like to insure them.
9:00am I catch up on emails and respond to those that need most attention. There are not usually too many as I look at them over the weekend.
9:30am There is a meeting with account managers and account executives to go through what is going on, both for renewals and new business, and discuss any problems, issues or ideas about markets.
10:30am I catch up with co-directors. We have two acquisitions on the go and a Hitchin office move in September/October.
12:30pm Back to the desk to deal with more incoming emails and messages.
1:30pm I have a sandwich at my desk, or I may get the chance to pop out for a bite.
2:30pm There are more meetings to look at accounts, budget forecasts, cash flow and the year-end just completed, plus budgets for this year to be approved.
3:30pm I return calls to clients who have been trying to get hold of me, then delegate whatever work that has been generated to the account management team or organise meetings, usually at clients offices. I manage to speak to a construction client who asks me to organise some transit cover for a shipment coming from France.
I usually book meetings a couple of weeks in advance and spend about half the week out, maybe a little more, getting renewals agreed, winning more business or agreeing deals with insurers. Appointments are generally in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and London where the majority of our business is generated.
4:30pm I look at plans for new office â€“ IT and telecoms fit, furniture fit â€“ and discuss costs for marketing, brand change and PR.
5:30pm A chance to catch up with Cliff, co-shareholder, to ensure we are both up to speed on all issues.
6:30pm Homeward bound.
7:30pm Home for a well-deserved glass of wine, or a Diet Coke if I feel that a break from alcohol is a good idea.