Driving force behind innovation
Autoline Insurance managing director - and proud Newry man - Michael Blaney on his route into business and the competitive market he works in
How did your career bring you to Autoline Insurance?
I started out in the civil service but quickly realised it wasn't for me. I did a business course which sparked the entrepreneurial spirit in me. I took an interest in the financial services sector and decided to get into the industry. By 1996 I had acquired a business which was started in 1975 and I worked with a small team on developing the Autoline brand. It has developed from then through a combination of acquisition and consistent organic growth to where we are today, with close to 200 employees.
Who are the three people to whom you owe your present success?
I would start with my parents who got me here in the first place and have given me great advice over the years. I would also say my wife Ciara who has been my advisor and confidante throughout the development of the business.
How has the insurance market in Northern Ireland evolved in the last five years? How was Autoline positioned itself to take advantage of those changes?
The major change has been how technology has evolved the industry and we are delighted to say we have played a major role in that with our telematics innovations. If we look at some of the other developments, you could mention the rise of comparison sites which can bring positives and negatives to the market. Online sources can unfortunately provide customers with a lot of misleading information or can result in underinsurance where the customer hasn't bought a policy suited to their specific needs. The market has become more competitive, due in a small part to these online competitors but more to companies like us working hard to ensure we have a range of underwriters available to quote customers and having greater autonomy on pricing in the Northern Ireland market. We have just come through the worst economic downturn of our time so after a number of challenging years we have just had a very strong 12 months on the commercial side of the business.
How do changes in particular companies - such as Quinn Insurance and Hughes, both now part of Liberty Insurance - change the market for brokers like Autoline?
While these decisions are made for valid commercial reasons, the result is a reduction in choice of truly independent brokers who can offer a specialist yet diverse range of insurance and financial products to Northern Ireland consumers and business owners. To be able to source a full portfolio of products from the widest range of insurers is the real strength of the independent broker.
How do you sum up telematics?
Telematics is the process by which driver behaviour can be monitored. For example when you download the Autoline Road Safe app, from the minute you get behind the wheel your journey will be tracked from braking patterns to speed, anticipation of hazards and combined with GPS location technology this gives a picture of the type of driver you are. This can be viewed in your profile online and you are given a score. Your insurer through Autoline then uses that score as part of the costing mechanism for your insurance.
Firms like Norbrook and First Derivatives have put Newry on the map as a centre for innovation. Is there something in the water?
Newry has traditionally always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I and others in Autoline are proud to live and work here. Some of the most successful businesses here are indeed home grown and a lot of that comes down to the people. I believe we, in Autoline have always found good people in Newry as indeed we have in other parts of Northern Ireland, making Northern Ireland as a whole a great place to do business.
Newry or Belfast?
Newry, of course
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Downton Abbey or Formula 1? Formula 1
Friar Tucks or McDonald's? Friar Tucks