US giant Liberty Mutual Insurance Group snaps up Hughes Insurance
It will be business as usual for customers and staff at Hughes Insurance after one of the largest insurance firms in the world bought the Northern Ireland broker.
Hughes Insurance, which was the province's largest independent insurance broker, said it believed its acquisition by US-headquartered Liberty Mutual Insurance Group would mean even more competitive deals for its customers.
The deal for the home-grown business is thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds.
Hughes will continue to be led by chief executive Gareth Brady and his current management team after Liberty Mutual becomes its leading underwriter for new policies after July 1.
Hughes distributes one in five motor insurance policies sold in Northern Ireland and employs more than 300 people at its headquarters in Newtownards, Co Down, and at 11 other branches here.
This is not Liberty's first foray into the province – the company first invested here in 1997 with the establishment of Liberty Information Technology, which now employs 400-plus workers.
And in the Republic Liberty Mutual formally took control of Quinn Insurance Limited in 2011 after Fermanagh tycoon Sean Quinn's business empire collapsed.
Mr Brady said that the acquisition was "great news" and assured customers that there would be no immediate change to their policies.
"While we already offer some of the most competitive quotes on the market in Northern Ireland, we hope we can now be even more competitive thanks to the worldwide reach and expertise of Liberty," he said.
"Customers will not see huge changes and there will be no rebrand. The name and the brand is very important; our customers and staff have been hugely loyal over the years so we don't want to change that.
"We hope that with Liberty's input as a one of the world's biggest insurers we can grow our business further, expand in terms of facilities and staff, and we hope our existing staff can also benefit from the opportunities that Liberty can provide as a global company. Our plan is to continue with our successful business model and keep planning ahead for the future."
Leslie Hughes, founder and chairman of Hughes, added: "This is the first UK insurance broker that Liberty has bought over – and we think that says a lot.
"Obviously, when we told the staff of the news, the first question they asked was: 'Is my job safe?'
"We were pleased to tell them that their jobs certainly are safe.
"Some of our staff have been with us for many decades and it is their hard work that has made the company what it is today."
Liberty Insurance chief executive Patrick O'Brien said that the acquisition would enable Liberty to build a leading presence in the Northern Ireland market through Hughes' established network in the province.
"Hughes Insurance is a brand which characterises Northern Ireland and we don't want to do anything to change that," Mr O'Brien said.
Ranked 76th on the Fortune 100 list of largest corporations in the US based on 2013 revenue, Liberty is the third largest property insurer in America, as well as one of the biggest vehicle insurers.
Based in Boston, it operates in 30 countries spread across Europe, Asia and Latin America, has 900 offices globally, employs more than 50,000 people, and in 2012 had $36.9 billion revenue.
Private passenger motor insurance is the single largest line of business for Liberty Mutual's International strategic business unit, which insures more than 6.3m vehicles worldwide.
So, what do changes mean for local customers?
Q. Who are Hughes Insurance?
A. Hughes Insurance was established in 1977 by Leslie Hughes and operates exclusively in Northern Ireland, selling motor, van, home, business and travel insurance.
It has a customer service centre and branch in Newtownards and 11 other branches in Ballymena, Ballynahinch, Belfast, Coleraine, Londonderry, Glengormley, Lisburn, Magherafelt, Newry, Omagh and Portadown.
Hughes distributes one in five motor insurance policies sold here and has a rapidly growing household and small business commercial insurance book.
Q. Who are Liberty Insurance?
A. Liberty Insurance provides car and home insurance to the Irish and UK consumer market along with commercial insurance to the business sector in Ireland.
In 2001 the company bought the Quinn Direct insurance business after the financial ruin of Fermanagh billionaire Sean Quinn. The company operates from offices in Cavan, Dublin and Enniskillen and employs over 1,000. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance group, which employs more than 50,000 people in approximately 900 offices throughout the world.
Private passenger motor insurance is the single largest line of business for Liberty Mutual's International strategic business unit, which insures more than 6.3 million vehicles worldwide.
Q. What do I need to do if I am a Hughes Insurance customer?
A. Hughes Insurance has appointed Liberty Insurance Limited, a fully owned subsidiary of Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, as its leading underwriter for new policies issued with effect from July 1, 2014.
All contact details will remain the same for Hughes Insurance customers, and they do not need to take any action as a result of this planned change of ownership. All remaining polices remain valid and at renewal, existing customers will be offered competitive terms for cover underwritten by Liberty Insurance.
Q. Will there be any job losses as a result of the takeover?
A. Hughes Insurance will operate as a standalone independent business and employment levels at its customer care centre in Newtownards and at its 11 other branches around Northern Ireland are unaffected by the announcement.
The company says that business will continue to trade as Hughes Insurance as the brand has high levels of awareness and loyalty in Northern Ireland
Q. When will the changes take place?
A. The timing for completion of the transaction by July 1, 2015 is required to allow policies underwritten by insurers other than Liberty Mutual Insurance Group to mature and to transition to Liberty Insurance.