Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Hughes Insurance sale: No surgery needed to keep this strong brand going

Announcing Liberty Mutual Insurance Group's acquisition of Hughes Insurance are (from left) Gareth Brady, chief executive, Hughes Insurance; Joe Hamilton, chief strategy and business development officer, Liberty Mutual Insurance; Leslie Hughes, chairman, Hughes Insurance; Pat O'Brien, chief executive officer, Liberty Insurance and Gerry Shearer, personal lines director, Hughes Insurance

Speculation began to swirl around a few days ago that Hughes Insurance was soon to be bought over by Liberty Insurance.

Liberty has had a foothold in the Northern Ireland market since 2011, when it joined then Anglo Irish Bank in the acquisition of Quinn Insurance.

Quinn Insurance at the time was a deeply wounded institution, a sharp contrasts with its years as a jewel in the crown of Sean Quinn's empire which had rewritten the rule book for insurance companies.

Their new way of doing things was most marked in its use of self-employed agents, who would negotiate directly with injured parties in a road collision claim.

That business model helped Quinn to a position of feared upstart and the newcomer which many felt they had to imitate. And are now glad they didn't.

In a move which was but the start of Sean Quinn's nightmare, the Republic's Financial Regulator put Quinn Insurance into administration in 2010, and it was taken over by Liberty in 2011.

It had earlier acquired troubled insurance businesses in other parts of the globe, such as Venezuela and California.

Now it has swooped in for Hughes Insurance, a brand that's as Northern Irish as Ormo batch bread or Julian Simmons.

It's a canny move not to rebrand its newest asset, and one which reflects the power of the Hughes name in Northern Ireland – note how Liberty wasn't long jettisoning the damaged Quinn name.

Now, whether they'll keep Grimes and McKee is another matter entirely...

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