Looking back over his career within insurance, the CEO of AFL Insurance Brokers, Jonathan Bines (pictured), said that, while some days it feels like he joined the industry yesterday, there are other times that it feels he has been involved a lot longer than the 22 years he has spent within the sector. Having joined the insurance industry through the Marsh Graduate Scheme, straight out of university, Bines has worked in an array of companies and roles which, he said, has helped feed his longstanding hunger for learning and understanding.
From positions within global brokerages to those at start-ups, Bines said he has appreciated all the opportunities his career has afforded him to develop his knowledge. It was always his aim, he said, to see the sector from multiple angles and to tread new paths with all the new experiences that come with that.
Throughout his involvement with the industry, what remains the standout benefit to working within the broking sector for Bines is the ability to build genuine relationships and to see the team around him also develop these relationships.
“It’s a well-worn phrase,” he said, “but, fundamentally, this is a relationship business and there’s an awful lot of enjoyment in getting that bit right. And, for me personally, there is still a lot of satisfaction in doing deals and solving problems, which is what we are here for.”
For AFL, as an independent boutique, the only limitations in terms of growth opportunities are those self-imposed in the interests of maintaining the quality proposition of the company, Bines said, which, he believes, is always part of the challenge represented by strategic development. The central value represented by independent brokers is encapsulated by the personal relationships they develop with clients and producers, he said, and all strategic growth must keep this value in mind.
Looking at the significant growth of AFL throughout 2019, Bines outlined the company’s continued emphasis on organic growth throughout the coming year and said this will be maintained by any appropriate opportunities to add to the team. Driving the business forward is the key aim, he said, whether or not this involves acquisition opportunities.
According to Bines, who believes that a central challenge within the broking sector is making sure that the brand and the business are delivering something of substance, which is genuinely required, an emphasis on quality remains as essential as ever.
“We need to always be adding something to the equation otherwise what are people paying for and what’s our role?” he asked. “I don’t think we should ever be in the chain for the sake of being in the chain.”
Being a boutique-style broker, Bines said, ensures that the business is heavily weighted towards substance, quality and experience. The fact that the market is in a more challenging place than it has been for a while highlights the value of building a great team more than ever, he said. The aim for AFL, Bines outlined, has been to bring together a unique blend of youth, enthusiasm and energy and to combine this with the degree of experience expected and required by the market.
“Our focus and our success come from the transactions we make being part of the deep and long-standing relationships we have formed,” he said, “and we think that allows us to deliver the best value. The better we know our client… the more we can build that trust and the better the job we can do.”
The feedback received from clients and partners, Bines said, is what enabled him to realise how much the broker’s independent status is valued. This feedback, he said, clearly outlined how important it is to clients that the company is unencumbered and has no restrictions in terms of where it places business.
“People are telling us that there’s great value in us being able to make our own independent choices for our clients,” he said. “And I think that seems to be increasing the more we see consolidation across the industry.”
This emphasis on independence does not mean it is not essential to build reciprocal relationships throughout the world, however, and Bines highlighted AFL’s membership of the Worldwide Broker Network as providing opportunities to build those global links. Having access to the 100+ partners of the network across the world has enabled AFL to both give and receive expertise on a global level, he said, and has worked extremely well for the business.
This connection ensures that AFL has the best of both worlds, Bines said. The opportunity to access global territories and support while still maintaining the independence of which it is fiercely proud, represents such a vital part of its identity.