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AbbeyAutoline: expanding experience and expertise

AbbeyAutoline saw the coming together of two Northern Ireland insurance leaders into a growing and expanding player in the market here – and it did so during a global pandemic. Julie Gibbons looks at what advantages and expertise AbbeyAutoline can bring to the market here, and why it’s a team effort every step of the way


Julie Gibbons

Julie Gibbons

Julie Gibbons

Even the wider turbulence and upheaval of a global pandemic couldn’t put the brakes on the merger of two of our leading insurance groups – creating a new local market leader in Northern Ireland.

The new AbbeyAutoline business – bringing Abbey Insurance and Autoline together – now boasts a team of 450 experienced staff, covering a wide swathe of insurance needs, from car and home, to commercial products for firms of all shapes and sizes.

“For everyone, the successful merger of the businesses into the new company has been a real boost and lift for all of our staff, and it’s been really well received by the market,” managing director, Julie Gibbons, says.

Now Northern Ireland’s largest broker, AbbeyAutoline became merged in September, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But business has continued to be strong amid the wider economic challenges facing us here, and across the globe.

AbbeyAutoline’s business extends right across the UK and Ireland as part of the Prestige Insurance Holdings Group which deals with premiums worth around £190m. For Julie and the team, the ambition is to crack that £200m mark in the coming months, as the Group continues to grow its reach.

“We want to push through that £200m mark, despite the challenging circumstances,” Julie says. “That’s across the market here in Northern Ireland, across Great Britain and the Republic.”

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The bringing together of two leading insurance firms means increasing the range of products and skills available to its customers.

“Both companies were very well known for their successful personal product lines,” Julie says.

“That includes the wide range of personal insurances, such as car, home, taxi and vans, and our ChilliDrive motoring insurance for younger drivers.”

The merger has meant expanding Autoline’s already established business and corporate insurance offering, including teams focused on the SME market across the UK and Ireland.

“That is one of the areas which we are looking towards for growth,” Julie says. “There is huge opportunity for growth within the commercial space. As AbbeyAutoline we have a wide book of personal clients, many of whom have businesses. So they can use us as a one-stop-shop across a wide range of products.

“We work with all sorts of businesses, and have a dedicated SME team to deal with smaller risks at a higher volume.”

The company also has a dedicated agri team, offering products and services such as farm insurance and agricultural vehicle insurance.

“Around nine in 10 customers stay with us, year-on-year,” Julie says. “That’s across personal and corporate insurances. Customers have a very strong relationship with their advisers and that’s been a key element of the business over the years.”

And as AbbeyAutoline, Julie says the company offers its customers wider expertise, a greater number of customer advisers, products and economies of scale.

“We have more advisers and we are able to be more efficient,” she says. “We have the technology and we have the combined buying power, making us able to offer our customers better deals with our insurance partners.

“We have such a wide breadth of offering – from the personal lines, to car policies, right through to high-end corporate risk.”

AbbeyAutoline has undergone its transformation amid the challenges of an often ‘locked down’ economy and remote-working. But it’s done so remarkably well – availing of technological solutions and strong team work.

“Coronavirus has definitely helped the management team bond throughout the crisis,” Julie says. “The relationships which we have, along with the technology, has made the integration a smooth transition.

“Our retention rate has been strong throughout Covid-19. In times of uncertainty, people are inclined to stick to what they know. But there is also some new business with people shopping around.

“Our commercial account executives are still writing new business. On that side, where people are tightening belts, many are looking around and seeing what savings they can make.

“With us, we are back to business as usual. It was challenging integrating IT and processes, with the pandemic on top of all that, but we are delighted how we are all performing across the business.”

And at the core of AbbeyAutoline’s success is the team. “People buy from people,” Julie says. “People are our greatest assets, with their knowledge and experience.”

Some of the company’s long-serving staff were recently awarded by AbbeyAutoline for their years of service – many of whom have been with the company for more than two decades.

“Our staff go way above and beyond their role as an insurance adviser,” Julie says.

“We had one case in which one of our advisers was concerned that an elderly customer didn’t have a fire alarm, so she arranged to have one fitted.”

And looking ahead, Julie says the last few months have accelerated trends which the company has already been working towards. “My vision was to modernise the company. That’s not just in terms of technology, but also with working practices – a work/life balance is also very important to us.

“We have an acquisitive eye. We are looking at businesses in all markets and extending our range into the Republic. We are also looking at the growth of our commercial team and will be undertaking a high-profile recruitment campaign to grow that part of the business.”