From setting up an insurance broker, to playing with a cricketer-turned-Prime Minister – industry veteran Howard Lickens (pictured) has done it. But perhaps among the most noteworthy of his roles is that of an advocate for independent brokers.
Insurance Business caught up with the chief executive of The Clear Group, as he shares why he continues to fight for the independents. Lickens also gives a peek into the future of his 17-year-old intermediary.
What made you co-found Clear in 2001?
I was part of a successful broker but after a while it was clear that “two’s company, three’s a crowd,” so it was time to move on. However, I didn’t much fancy starting up on my own, so I got lucky and found an old friend who also wanted to start afresh.
Following ECI’s investment into the business, what goals or priorities have you set for yourself as chief executive and for the independent insurance broker?
As a broker starting from scratch, Clear has always had to scrabble around for cash. Having a high-quality institutional investor behind us means that we can now look at deals safe in the knowledge that they can be funded. But we’ve made our name by doing a limited number of deals each year and making sure they actually fit into the group, and we won’t be changing that policy anytime soon.
So the plan is to double in size in the next three or four years as long as we can find the sort of quality businesses that fit into our model. If we continue to “Do the Right Thing,” we will create a great business and our new partners should enjoy the ride. But it’s values first, and if you get them right the business will fly.
In your years in broking, what would you say have been the most significant developments?
What worries me most is that an awful lot of broking has changed very little. It’s great that relationships are so fundamental to commercial business but systems hold us back. The biggest change has certainly been the volume of regulation and compliance, and cynics would question whether that’s been a complete success.
On the broking side, we’re still more than 2,000 strong but the concentration of power into the hands of just a few has been breathtaking, hollowing out the middle ground, and the driver for this was not to improve the customer experience. At Clear, and within Brokerbility, we’re still flying the flag for the independent broker; in my opinion it’s the strong independents who can balance the demands of all stakeholders – customers, staff, insurers, and shareholders. Life’s not a zero-sum game.
As for challenges, what have been the biggest for you?
People, money, and time. We’re determined to run a business that’s fun to work in, that allows people some freedom and treats everybody well. We’re really proud of the team we have but it takes time and effort; you can’t cut corners and you must be authentic. For a business built around acquisitions, money has been tight but that’s getting easier. As for time, I’ve never been very good at delegating, so always try to cram far too much in each day. Mind you, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way!
If you were to leave insurance for another industry, which one and why?
I’m guessing the world of international sport has left me by? I really enjoy coaching and teaching and have often fancied myself as an amateur lawyer, but in truth I’ve always been attracted to the world of politics. We probably get the politicians we deserve, especially if we don’t get involved, and to my shame I never have. Maybe something for my fast approaching dotage… Monster Raving Brokers Party anyone?
Name one thing your peers probably don’t know about you.
Oh, I think the secret’s out and my peers know exactly how boring I am! One strange claim to fame I have, though, is that while at University I played cricket and hockey with the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, a certain Imran Khan. I’m very grateful I was on his team, however, as facing him in an era before helmets was terrifying, and I was only fielding! As for his hockey, though, the less said the better.