You name it and Ashwin Mistry will probably have done it at some point during his long and varied career within the insurance industry. From an initial role at the Guardian Royal Exchange, to becoming a director at Brett & Randall, to a stint as president of the Chartered Insurance Institute, Mistry has always sought to drive himself and the businesses he is involved with forward. Now executive chairman of BHIB Insurance Brokers and executive chairman and co-founder of Brokerbility Ltd, a group of like-minded, high quality independent brokers, he is showing no signs of slowing down.
“If you are given time and [given] the opportunity called life,” he said, “then you’ve got to live it because… everybody has a time limit. And you’ve to do what you can because this is all about memories. I don’t need a script to tell you what I do, because I’ve done it and I can relive everything.”
His career in insurance started by accident, Mistry said, when after his A-levels he applied for 96 jobs and ended up with nine all starting on July 17, 1978. He had accepted all of them, he said, and over the prior weekend had to decide which to show up for. A wrong turn led him into the Guardian Royal Exchange instead of Lloyd’s Bank, he said, and embarrassment prompted him to remain, and thus began his 40-plus year career in insurance.
Circumstances ensured he had to find work after his A-levels, Mistry said, but he has a passion for education which he has fulfilled through his post on the government’s National Skills Task Force, which was set up to look at the issues of skills shortages for UK Plc. In 2000, he was awarded an OBE for his contribution to Careers Education.
“Education is a universal currency,” he said. “You don’t need money to survive, you need education, as this gives you an opportunity to make money and therefore feed your family.”
By 2006, the industry had reached a trigger point, Mistry said, and the consolidation models being created had led to brokers making demands for increased revenue and attention from insurers.
“The side effect of that was that small independent brokers like us in Leicester with a GDP of around £10 million were just being outgunned and out-resourced,” he said. “You could ring in and get a quote but yours would be end of the queue, if you were lucky, but we still had a client base to look after.”
Brokerbility was set up to combat this that year, he said, when three like-minded brokers, including Mistry, decided to create their own version of a private membership club where members had to be invited to join. The initial aim was to try and get to £50 million of premium over two years, he said, but within six months this goal was reached and within two years the group had around £200 million in premium.
He realised that Brokerbility had to be different to the consolidators of the day, Mistry said, and avoid being seen as bullying insurers to pay for landscape distribution. The model of the group meant that they went to the insurers with a ‘share the pain, share the gain’ manifesto which involved Brokerbility being recognised if it delivered results in a given timeframe.
“This basically said, ‘if we win, we win together, if we lose, we all chip in’,” he said. “And insurers had nothing to lose because, at the end of the day, they would only reward us in some way, shape or form if we had created a good combined operating ratio, which worked in their favour.”
Membership rules for Brokerbility are simple, Mistry said. First of all, members must behave in a professional manner and, therefore, must be chartered. Secondly, they must have a succession plan in place. Thirdly, they must never bully an insurer. Fourthly, they must have a tiered management system. And last but not least, they must be good to their customers and apply all the ingredients in the TCF (treating customer fairly) principle and as recommended by the regulator.
“We embrace regulation to its highest level,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to cripple businesses, but we do the right thing to make sure the clients have good choice and good opportunity.”
Today the network is still fully intact with 27 members, and a healthy GWP, and still operates with support from its top 20 markets, he said.
Ultimately, the power of such a group comes back to education, Mistry outlined. Brokerbility stands for independence and for supporting brokers, but the feedback he receives has let him know that the most valuable asset that the group supplies is the ability for brokers to speak to like-minded fellow members throughout the country. The top 10 challenges facing independent brokers today are generally all the same, he said, but what counts as number nine for one broker might be the number one challenge for another.
Sharing how they overcame these challenges is the true value such a group offers each individual member, he said, and sharing best practice is essential between brokers. Having that personal recommendation is of significant benefit, Mistry said, and he highlighted the example of the advantage of a friend recommending a trip or holiday above a review site.
“You trust your friend, you trust their advice or opinion,” he said, “and though you are not guaranteed to have the same experience… at least the adventure you want is more likely be achieved because you have that recommendation and you can do your own research as well to back that up. How powerful and how good is that?”