Tony Knight talks to Chris Wheal.
Tony Knight established Knightsure with his wife Linda in 1990, in Locks Heath, near Southampton. He has run it single-handed since Linda retired through ill health in 1996, and in 2004 joined the Broker Network. Knightsure concentrates on commercial businesses with a few specialist areas such as haulage contractors. It has a national client base, although a large number of clients are local. GWP is just short of £1m.
How did you make it to where you are today?
I accidentally went into insurance – mind you, I have yet to find anyone who did so on purpose! I come from the Midlands, left school at 16 and got an office job at the West Midlands Gas Board. On my first day, there were about 15 of us sitting in reception and every now and then a manager would come and pick one of us to go and work in his department. It was like being picked for football. I was chosen by the manager from the insurance department and had to fill in claims forms for gas workmen who had put a spade through underground services. In 1971 I moved to Legal & General in Birmingham, in the famous Rotunda, as a trainee commercial property underwriter. In 1974 my parents moved south and I joined Zurich in Portsmouth where I met my wife. I moved up the ranks from assistant underwriter to fire superintendent, leaving in1984 to join a local broker called Errolgrange. That was a vertical learning curve and in 1990 my wife – who was also a broker – and I set up our own company.
What are the key challenges ahead?
Compliance is always on the radar; you cannot be complacent about it. Technology is another challenge: online versus real broking. You have to ensure that clients understand that you are not just a middleman – to be cut out by the direct writers – but a professional adviser to be valued as highly as their accountant or their solicitor.
What has changed the most since you started?
Technology. We are much less of a people business than we used to be. The skills bank has been robbed. Underwriters use the computer these days. If the computer says yes then it’s yes, but if the computer says no, then it’s no. I used to take paper files to an underwriter and talk it through; you could explain why something that appeared to be a bad risk was actually a good risk and what looked like a good risk was a much better one. There are still a few real underwriters about, but there are a lot more who simply know how to press a button on the keyboard. Many insurers are under-resourced. They might have the bums on seats but are under-resourced in skills.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out?
Be honest. Tell your client if you don’t know the answer to a question – and then go and find it. People identify with such honesty and value it. You will win and keep clients that way. You cannot be expected to know everything, so don’t pretend that you do.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
Not joining Broker Network sooner. I always feared losing my independence so I resisted for a long time.
What was your biggest success?
Joining Broker Network in 2004. It has transformed my business. Small companies have to have support these days. We can’t all afford our own compliance or IT consultant, and we cannot negotiate with the insurers on our own. Broker Network has brought all that.
Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends
I like to think a lot of my clients are friends. Insurance staff seem to turn over so fast these days it is often difficult to call them friends. I chair the south-west region of members of The Broker Network and I meet other brokers at other local events. We are all out to make a living but I think we tend to be happiest to take business off the big boys, rather than local small firms. There are lot of people who have done very well for themselves in the insurance industry, but I’m not sure that means I admire them.
What is your unique selling point?
Personal service. If you have a claim or just need a bit of advice you will deal with me. My strapline has been “Minding other people’s business since 1990” and that is what I do.
When you are not working, what do you do to relax?
My family – my wife and my two grown-up sons – is very important, but I am also researching my family history and have discovered that one of my long-lost relatives married an insurance agent called Jelf. But I haven’t yet worked out if I am due a slice of that fortune! The research means that I spend a lot of time in record offices.
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
My favourite read is anything from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. As to film, it is said that I can’t sit still long enough to watch a whole one. Football team? Birmingham City where I’m a season ticket holder. I am a glutton for punishment.
A day in the life
7:00am I get up at different times. If I have a business networking international breakfast meeting I will be up at 5.30 and at the meeting for 6.15 so I can still get back in the office for 9.
8:00am I might go to the office and get started. I work from home or, as some people might say, I live at my office. I deal with emails and make an agenda for the day, although that could be shot to pieces within five minutes if someone phones in with a claim.
9:00am If I have been to a breakfast meeting I might call in to see another client on the way back. If not, I will make an appointment to see someone. Last week, for example, I had coffee in a hotel with new prospects who were setting up a relocation business. They had had some insurance advice from their bank, but not very good advice, so I did the fact-find and afterwards got the quote, which was accepted.
11:00am I will be in the office for a couple of hours doing whatever needs doing. I think that is what I like about my job, the workload varies from day to day.
1:00pm I rarely sit at my desk for lunch. I will either have a sandwich with my wife or I will be out with a client or networking. Last week I met a new client who was buying a bakery and catering business. The existing insurance turned out to be covering the wrong building in the wrong town. I had to talk through their insurance requirements with them and the importance of health and safety and risk management.
3:30pm Returning to the office for the last hour or so, it could be renewal work, new business, training or compliance, or maybe some back office work. People say it is easy to be compliant when you are a one-man band but sometimes it can be more difficult, particularly in the evidencing.
5:00pm I finish anytime after 5pm. I try to work a normal 9 to 5 day, but it is not always possible. Sometimes I work into the evening but I am always available to take calls If I am open, they can call me; if I am closed, they may call someone else.
6:30pm I have a meal with my wife and then maybe watch TV. But it is more likely that we will be doing something to do with family history. I am the editor of the local family history society quarterly journal. We also deal with emails from people around the world who need our help and do not have access to the records we have.
10:00pm We could go to bed any time after 10, but we can get carried away with the family history work and forget the time. It is also meant that we have developed friendships with people who live as far away as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US.