Belfast Telegraph

Hughes Insurance shedding 20 jobs and six branches

By Rachel Martin

Hughes Insurance is shutting more than half its branches here with the loss of 20 jobs.

The firm, founded in 1977 by Newtownards man Leslie Hughes, is one of Northern Ireland's longest established insurance brokers and employs 280 staff.

It was taken over by Liberty Mutual Insurance in July. As part of a restructuring, it will close six of its 11 branches in April.

Offices in Ballymena, Ballynahinch, Lisburn, Magherafelt, Newry and Omagh have been earmarked for closure.

A spokesperson for the company, which has its headquarters in Newtownards, said the decision was part of an "operational restructure" to accommodate changes in consumers' buying patterns. They added customers here were increasingly buying their insurance policies online.

Chief executive Brian McDowell backed up the claim, saying that there had been a "steady decline" in branch footfall.

"In a relatively short period of time, consumer behaviour in the local insurance industry has changed considerably," Mr McDowell added.

"Ninety percent of our customers deal with us either online or on the phone, with 50% of all our business originating online."

The remaining branches - Coleraine, Londonderry, Glengormley, Portadown and Belfast - will expand and will maintain a regional presence for the brand.

The spokesperson said most affected staff will be offered the opportunity to relocate to company headquarters or one of the five unaffected branches.

The firm also plans to invest £1m in an e-commerce platform.

But it looks as though the insurer's advertising campaign, featuring comedians Grimes and McKee is over. The pair last featured in Hughes' F.B.I. campaign in October.

Asked if the duo would continue to feature in advertising for Hughes, a spokesperson told this newspaper that a new marketing campaign was on the cards.

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