Insurance giant created after Abbey buys rival Open + Direct
Northern Ireland's biggest homegrown insurance broker Abbey has snapped up rival Open + Direct in a multi-million pound deal.
The move creates the dominant player in the Northern Ireland market, with a total of 200,000 customers and 420 staff.
It will be bigger than broker Hughes Insurance, which has 150,000 customers.
And it returns Open + Direct to Northern Ireland ownership for the first time in nearly 10 years.
Abbey said buying Open + Direct from its owners, Swinton Group in England, would extend its branch network across the province.
All employees of the acquired firm are transferring over to Abbey.
There are 15 Abbey branches and 13 Open + Direct offices, which will be rebranded as Abbey in coming months.
Most Abbey locations are in the east of the province, while Open + Direct is focused on the west.
A spokeswoman said that in locations where both entities have offices, mergers were likely to take place. There is duplication of offices in a few locations, including Londonderry and Glengormley.
Trevor Shaw, who is the chief executive of Abbey Insurance Brokers, said that the business had needed to acquire another firm to continue its growth.
"We looked carefully at Open + Direct and considered it to be a good fit with Abbey, in terms of its professional local staff, the strength of its operation and its geographical footprint."
Abbey has 220 employees, while Open + Direct has 200.
A spokeswoman said: "The company will continue to provide customers of both companies with a competitive range of home, car, travel and van insurance, combining an increased high-street presence with a strong online offering."
Abbey Insurance Brokers was set up in 1973 in Newtownabbey by George Storey, who is now the group chairman.
Open + Direct has been operating in consumer insurance since 2000 and was bought over by Swinton Insurance Group in 2009.
The deal was financed by Ulster Bank. Kenton Hilman, its head of corporate and property banking, said: "We are delighted to support Abbey Insurance in their plans for sustainable growth.
"This acquisition is an important step in that strategy, and we are happy to be working closely with them to assist a growing local business in further developing its presence."
He said that it was one of the biggest deals in Northern Ireland in recent times and that it was a "welcome sign of renewed appetite".