Open and direct way to insure the best service
Times are tough, but Open + Direct’s Colin McEvoy says this means insurance is now a necessity, not a luxury . . . and that consumers have never been so spoilt for choice
The local touch is what makes the difference, says Colin McEvoy, a director with Open + Direct Insurance, as he reflects on the pleasures and problems of of running an insurance brokerage in a very competitive marketplace.
What has been the highlight for your company to date?
There are lots to choose from for Open + Direct, but the one that is likely to make the biggest difference going forward is the acquisition of the business earlier this year by Swinton Insurance Group, the largest high street broker in the UK.
What are the long-term hopes for the company — do you foresee further expansion?
Open + Direct is already expanding. We are Northern Ireland’s largest personal lines broker and current plans are aimed at building further on this very strong base. The business has already commenced on the implementation of the initial phase of a £1m plus expansion plan. The plan gives improved facilities throughout the branch network as well as creating over 25 new positions in Coleraine. All of the plans are aimed at giving our customers an even better service such as the extension of our opening hours.
Why has Open + Direct expanded its branch network in Northern Ireland — don’t most people arrange their insurance online or over the phone these days?
Given the number of TV advertisements by online comparison sites it would be easy to believe that no one goes into a high street broker’s branch anymore, but we find that this just isn’t the case.
Open + Direct has continued to grow year on year with all of this business coming from a mixture of customers phoning and also calling into branches.
Plans are in place to allow for customers to purchase insurance on our website and this will follow the lead set by Swinton of having the best of ‘clicks and bricks’ business taken out via the internet, which is professionally serviced by the customer’s local branch.
The advantages to customers of having a local branch right on your doorstep shouldn’t be underestimated — for a lot of customers it is nice to be able to go to a branch and be served by the same person year in year out, some of our staff have been with the business for more than 30 years.
What makes Open + Direct different to the many other brokers in the local insurance sector — ie being part of a larger UK group?
First off, I always feel that the main difference that Open + Direct has is the people that work for the business. They are passionate about what they do. In addition, all of the staff go through a significant amount of training to ensure that they offer customers the best service and products available at a competitive price.
The business has also gained a lot of experience from both acquiring other brokers and being acquired. We have been able to copy the best trading practices of the firms acquired by us and piggyback on the best systems available when we have been acquired. Few of the other local brokers have benefited from such a change process. Our current position of having a local management and staff fully backed by the largest national high street broker is a particularly strong one.
Is the insurance market in Northern Ireland competitive — are there still a lot of products not available here?
The Northern Ireland insurance market is competitive and is very much following trends set in the wider UK and Irish markets where products other than the basic insurance policy are sold. Examples of other products available include legal cover and breakdown cover to name but two, and these tend to be offered at a much lower price than would be obtained in these other markets. Most products are available here but we are always looking to introduce new products that will benefit our |customers.
Why does motor insurance generally cost more in Northern Ireland than other parts of the UK?
In the past, I accept that insurance costs were higher due to the level of claims experienced by insurers. Over the past number of years however, claims costs have reduced and this, together with insurers looking for additional market share has led to a resulting reduction in the price that the customer ultimately pays.
There are a number of things that customers can do for themselves to reduce insurance costs and this is something that our branch advisors can help customers with in a matter of minutes, either face-to-face or over the phone.
For example by ensuring cars are garaged at night, increasing the excess that they are willing to pay in the event of an accident and fitting security devices.
Additional discounts are often available when a customer has more than one policy with the same brokerage.
Recession is a challenge for businesses but it can also help companies focus on their strengths. What positives have you identified?
Yes, I agree that these are challenging times but businesses such as ours, with a strong base and loyal customers, are still managing to grow and create significant additional employment. Our main strengths remain our people, our products and our brand. All of these continue to be at the forefront of our future plans.
Recession has caused people to cut back on household spending. Are more people viewing insurance as a luxury rather than a necessity and what are the risks of this?
Insurance is still something that I believe most people consider a necessity as opposed to a luxury.
In relation to car insurance all insurers now have to provide details of their motor insurance policy to the Motor Insurance Database (MID). Data from the MID is then used by police to help combat uninsured driving.
If your details haven’t been entered on the MID you may be stopped by the police with a risk that your vehicle could be seized if the correct details haven’t been registered.
In addition, getting caught driving without insurance will lead to a fine as well as making it more difficult to get insurance in the |future. It is definitely worth shopping around, there are so many deals on the market place that the consumer has never been in a better position.
How would you like to see the NI Executive help boost companies in the financial services sector?
A similar system to that available in the Isle of Man for financial services would be great but I can’t see that happening until the Executive has complete control over the tax regime here, not something that is going to happen soon.
What technology are you harnessing to improve business?
We have just finished putting in a new state-of-the-art telephony system which will enable us to improve our customer service further. We have also significantly improved the broking system that we use to quote prices with the aim of making the sales and renewal process easier for customers to understand.
What is the best bit of advice you have ever been given?
“Hurry up and marry that girl before someone else does.” I did!