Clive Nathan speaks to Insurance Post Magazine

Insurance Post has featured Chief Executive of GRP Underwriting Clive Nathan in an interview, exploring his views on acquisitions, data and technology, and how to run an MGA.

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A summary of the interview is below:

“What we have that is probably different to other Groups is a portfolio of brands, which we intend to keep and take further”. “We’ve got no desire to create one GRP brand. Camberford has been going for over 60 years. Plum’s for 17 years. They’re really established in their markets. We bring an oversight and support from GRP centre behind the scenes, but they’re the stars of the show.

We talk in terms of ‘powered by GRP’: we’re the intel inside, but they’re the Mac or the laptop that does the work.”

Acquisitions

“We’re very acquisitive and we’re very ambitious to grow the underwriting side of the business,” said Nathan. “We have a very healthy pipeline. and finding quality MGAs is one of my objectives, and one of the objectives for the managing directors [of the current MGAs] as well.

“We’re looking for businesses that are either complementary or additive to what we do. We always look where the best place is for a new acquisition to go. I wouldn’t want to bring businesses together just because it made it neater for me or gave me less direct reports. I would only want to do it because there was a strategic rationale. As things stand at the moment, the businesses we’ve bought have really strong individual MDs who like running their own businesses, so the hub and spoke model of integrating businesses is less relevant in the MGA space.”

Data and technology

Aside from acquisitions, a large part of GRP’s attention is focused on investing in enhancing its technological capabilities. Nathan explained how the group had recently set up a ‘data warehouse’ to assist its MGA businesses in conducting multivariate data analysis, which is to say analysis of data sets with multiple variables.

“We’re investing a lot in the data warehouse, it’s probably the main thing that as an executive team that we’re focusing on: how we can give more to our insurer partners, make the customer journey better and differentiate ourselves as a business. “It gives us the ability, pretty much at the press of a button, to see where the biggest opportunities lie, where we’re underrepresented and which areas are going to be most attractive in the future.

In a similar field is a project Nathan billed as machine learning for bordereau processing automating this process and massively reducing administration”

Alongside its data analysis efforts, GRP is also working on data enrichment, partnering with a firm to gain access to things like flood-mapping or socio-economic factors about particular postcodes or areas. “All of that data is now available online and the key is to be able integrate it into your pricing without it obstructing the customer journey."

Another project, which Plum is investing in, is insurer-hosted pricing, which Nathan said will enable real-time changes to its pricing. “It’s quite a big investment and that’s where the GRP influence has come in. It probably wouldn’t have been possible a standalone business, but because there’s the firepower and the backing of GRP, [Plum] have been able to do it as part of the group.

There’s also investment in technology at the claims end of things: GRP has partnered with a company providing claims technology using artificial intelligence, which it hopes to launch in May. “You would, as a customer of Plum for example, be able to manage your claim through your smartphone. You’d be able to notify and take photographs of the damage, and all of that’s uploaded and dealt with through AI.”

How to run an MGA

Looking across the wider MGA landscape, Nathan said he had noticed a recent development of “getting on the MGA bandwagon”. “It’s quite easy to set up an MGA, but it’s a lot harder to grow and establish and maintain the confidence of your insurers and differentiate yourself to brokers,” he said.

Sector expertise is key for Nathan.He names Camberford’s Simon Carter, Plum’s David Whittaker, Usure’s Ben Coleman and EPUL’s Andrew Whittaker and Ian Dopson, stressing the importance of the specialism each has in their respective fields. “To give an example, take Camberford and tree surgeons: it knows the difference between a good tree surgeon and a poor tree surgeon. “It knows which chainsaws are the most likely to cause terrible injuries, so when it looks at a risk, it looks at whether they use cheap imported chainsaws or the Wolf or the Stihl chainsaws, which have great cut-off mechanisms.”

Chainsaws aside, the bottom line for Nathan is in shrewd underwriting practice: “That you’re operating on the behalf of the insurance company and being a virtual insurer is always front of mind for me. “I have to make an underwriting profit. I have to be a quality underwriting business that makes money for my capacity provider. Without that, I haven’t got a business.”