Belfast Telegraph

Belfast office is 'jewel in crown', says broker chief

By Margaret Canning

The chief executive of a leading commercial insurance broker has said its Belfast office is a "jewel in the crown" of the firm.

Mike Hammond of Lockton International in London was on a visit to the new Belfast office of the company, which lists pharmaceutical firm Almac, Moy Park and haulage firm the Woodside Group among its clients.

The office employs around 60 people and places more than £50m of gross written premium into the Northern Ireland and UK insurance market.

It also has expertise in construction, property, agri-foods, technology, life science, manufacturing and care.

The firm invested £700,000 in the offices on Clarence Street West, off Bedford Street, in a move from Linenhall Street.

Mr Hammond said the firm had grown four-fold in the 10 years since acquiring predecessor Alexander Forbes.

He said the firm owed much of its growth to the contribution of Gary Ennis, managing partner of the Belfast office.

"When Gary Ennis joined us 10 years ago, business had probably gone backwards by about 30%.

"But since then it's grown to become four times the size it was - and that's all been over the course of a financial crisis in the economy."

And he said the pace of growth in Belfast had been much faster than other offices around the UK, making it the "jewel in the crown" of the firm.

The international firm remains in private hands.

"It's based in Kansas City where it was founded 50 years ago, but it's now a $1.3bn family," Mr Hammond said.

"Its founder, Jack Lockton, died of pancreatic cancer. It is now run by his brother, David, and all four of his sons are actively engaged with the business."

And he said the firm was still aiming for more growth, with plans to increase revenue by double digits every year.

A spokeswoman said: "The company prides itself in serving every aspect of the Northern Ireland business community, from global companies to the smallest SME. The results speak for themselves as Lockton Belfast has doubled its workforce over the last 10 years while maintaining client retention at 98%.

Fit-out firm 1080 carried out work on the new premises.

And Gary Ennis said: "We wanted an office space that would reflect our position as Northern Ireland's leading business insurance broker.

"Our founder laid down his philosophies for how the business should be run and this included a statement that our associates are our greatest asset. We wanted to deliver staff facilities that showed as much investment in them as we have in our clients. Now we have state-of-the-art meeting rooms and AV that will enable us to do more for our clients in terms of both seminars and training."

Lockton has signed up to a 10-year lease on its new offices, which the firm said was a signal of its commitment to Belfast. The firm's continued growth comes at a time of consolidation in the Northern Ireland insurance sector.

Abbey Insurance Brokers, which is based in Newtownabbey, has paid a multi-million pound sum for Open + Direct, a firm founded in the province that became part of English firm Swinton Group.

The combined entity will employ 420 people and have 200,000 policyholders on its books. The deal is one of the biggest in the sector in recent years.

And in January, Ryan Direct Group in Chicago bought Midas Underwriting, which is based in Newtownards. Midas remains a specialist brand within the Ryan Direct Group.

Belfast Telegraph