An Interview with Michael Bender from B&W Brokers
Michael Bender has worked in the insurance broking industry for over 30 years, specialising in the placement of International Binding Authority contracts for Coverholders in Liability and Property classes. As a Managing Director, he is responsible for the day-to-day running of B&W Brokers. Here he speaks to Finance Monthly about the company’s beginnings, his involvement in it, and the advantages and challenges of his role.
You helped set up B&W Brokers in 2015 – what was the process like? What were some of the challenges that you were faced with?
B&W Brokers was set up in 2015 by my business partner Neil Walton. I was sitting at home on gardening leave adhering to my restrictive covenants imposed by my previous employer whilst Neil forged ahead with our plan to set up a Lloyd’s Broker. The toughest part for me personally was that I was unable to meaningfully assist Neil until after 18 months from when I gave my leaving notice in.
The FCA Approval Application process was very time consuming and arduous and the information required was endless, but with the assistance of an outside third party was completed and agreed within 10 months. Once FCA Approval was granted, we sought Lloyd’s of London Broker Status Approval and this was completed and agreed within a further 4 months.
Shortly after B&W’s Lloyd’s Approval was confirmed, I managed to negotiate an agreeable arrangement with my previous employer which enabled me to start working at B&W and also allowed some of the colleagues who had previously worked with me to join us at B&W.
In real terms, in January 2016 B&W was finally up and running and the clients we had been previously dealing with, for the most part, decided to move to us.
What were the company’s priorities towards its clients from the very beginning? Have these changed, 2 years later?
Our priority was to make the change of broker process as easy as possible for those clients that chose to join us and to continue to be a professional, independent, honest and loyal broker to them.
The first priority I believe was achieved and the second part to this day remains the same to our existing clients and to any clients that may join us in the future.
What would you say are the benefits of being a specialist boutique broker?
The benefit of being a boutique broker is that we can provide clients with a personal service. We do not overstretch ourselves by trying to handle business we have no knowledge of. We avoid clashes of interest between our clients and this has resulted in us maintaining loyalty from our clients. Over 50% of our clients have been with us, as individuals, for over 20 years.
As with any new business, cash flow is a major consideration and with the help of Neil Walton’s other company Centor Insurance & Risk Management, which assisted us with some funding, after a relatively short period, we have managed to stand on our own two feet. The fact that the company has no debt and even managed to pay its shareholders a dividend in its first full year, is a testament to how well the business of the company has bedded in.
As a Managing Director, what are the main day-to-day challenges that you face?
The main challenge, apart from compliance, for me is to keep the clients happy. In an ever-changing market, where IT & Data capture is becoming increasingly more important, we need to keep up with our competitors or even move ahead if possible.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
Being able for the most part to be in control of my own destiny for the first time in my career.
Also, it is rewarding to be able to make decisions with my senior colleagues that will determine how B&W Brokers will hopefully grow and evolve.
What is your overall mission for the company? How do you ensure this mission is upheld?
Our mission is to stick by our principles and encourage other like-minded individuals to join us to help grow the company. In a society that has increasing pressure to succeed we do not want to be sitting on our hands, but we do not want to grow by changing our ethos either.
What do you anticipate for the future of B&W Brokers?
I would anticipate that we have steady growth for 2017 in the main current territories that we trade in, namely Canada and Australia and then look to broaden our appetite for business in other classes of business and territories in 2018 onwards.
For our size, we are a profitable company and this will always be a focus of ours no matter what potential growth is achieved.
One of our strengths is that we have a “Hard Core” of Lloyd’s Underwriters who have supported us over the years and have remained with us through thick and thin. We want to continue this approach by achieving the same in other classes of business.
Our aim is always to see Underwriters and our Coverholders make a profit on the business they write. This has not always been easy when contracts become large in volume and underwriting focus is sometimes lost but we endeavour to give a balance of business to our markets so this may be achieved.
“In an industry that provides a product that a client is forced to buy for one reason or another we aim to make the process of buying insurance less painful for our insureds.”