Knitting together an insurance group with the range of businesses and reach of the Clear Group under a single, cohesive sales and marketing strategy would register as a mammoth task, to even the most seasoned insurance professional. Luckily for Jodie Horgan (pictured), who took the role of sales and marketing director at Clear just over a year ago, her insurance career to date has provided her with the building blocks of expertise and ambition required to take on and succeed with such an undertaking.
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Horgan entered the insurance profession some 18 years prior, joining Morrison Insurance Solutions in 2005 and staying with the firm through its acquisition by Clear. During her time at Morrison, she said, she was given the opportunities to take on a broad range of tasks and to build up the team around her - experiences that are coming in remarkably handy now.
“At Morrison Insurance, we were very big on structure and strategy, which was a key attraction to Clear when they bought us two years ago,” she said. “We’ve always had four main approaches to growth – that is around clients, staff, systems and financials. We continue to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for each of those four components. That was a big factor in our success because we continuously drove our objectives that way.
“Through that, we had year on year growth of 7.5% to 10% of our income. And that was organic growth because we never acquired while I was at Morrison. When I first joined the business there were 15 staff, which grew to 45 at the time of our acquisition by Clear. We started with a turnover of circa £750,000, whereas we’re now hitting almost £4 million. GWP wise, we were at around the £5 million mark and we’re now at around £18 million GWP. That demonstrates the pace at which we grew organically.”
The deal with Clear was quite a natural progression for Morrison, Horgan noted, which had started as a solely independent firm before becoming a member of Brokerbility, which in turn led neatly to being acquired by the Clear Group. The senior management team at Clear appreciated the organic growth strategy and model of Morrison, she said, and were keen to tap into its success across the wider business.
Clear has a very strong and successful acquisitive strategy, she added, and the number of new deals it has made, particularly over the last two years, has had a significant impact on the business. Moving forward, it is placing increasing emphasis on building its organic growth capability, which led to the appointment of Mike Edgeley as CEO so Howard Lickens, chairman, and Gary O’Donnell, group M&A director, could focus on that acquisition piece instead.
“[Clear’s team] started to speak with me at the beginning of last year before the pandemic put the brakes on that, and then we picked up conversations again,” Horgan said. “Year one has been about building the foundations and a structured focus on our sales and marketing activity.
“We have invested heavily in our sales and marketing central team to help support the business across all its branches, with new business, cross-selling and retention development. So, there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s been a really good opportunity for us, using really great leadership, structure and strategy, to support the teams to achieve our shared goals.”
With those foundations firmly in place, Clear is now seeking to improve collaboration across its specialist teams. Horgan and her team will be focusing on teamwork, on expanding its CRM usage across the group to support its cross-selling capabilities, and on new business goals and targets. To enable this, a group sales manager has recently been assigned to the team.
The group has also appointed a data manager, a natural step as the importance of data and data management and the people at the end of that data, is increasingly recognised by the business. Armed with increased resources and capability, Horgan is keen to develop more niche and targeted marketing campaigns to support sales. In the past, this was not a key element of Clear’s strategy, Horgan noted, just because acquisitions have been such a focus.
“What comes with each acquisition is a lot of different shapes and sizes of best practice and ways of doing things,” she said, “So, we’re doing a lot of knitting so that we can continue to stand out in the crowd… It’s about just signposting [our brand and our offering] more effectively and bringing our branches together so we can deliver the ultimate client experience and service.”
Though to an outsider, the acquisition and organic growth arms of a broking group might look intrinsically separate, Horgan noted that by getting the organic growth piece right, this, in turn, supports not just clients but also prospective vendors keen to find an acquirer with a culture and growth ambitions for their business that matches their own. Having a streamlined approach to its sales and marketing strategy offers Clear an opportunity to showcase its ethos and strategic focus coherently.
Every deal made also means the acquisition of new talent and ideas, she said, and a key part of the strategy of Clear is to empower the people who come into the business through acquisition and to explore best practices in a consultative and collaborative way. After all, she said, staff are Clear’s number one asset at the end of the day.
“When we look after them, they look after the clients which, in turn, looks after the growth of the business, which, in turn then looks after staff again. It’s a full circle,” she said. “So, we’re looking to bring people on the journey with us, which I think is critical to our success. Otherwise, we’d just turn into a consolidator which is not our ethos.
“We’re not looking to just swallow up a business, because that’s not the type of broker we are. Rather we’re looking to make [our business model] smooth and effective for all parties. So, yeah, there’s a bit of knitting going on over here, we like our knitting at the moment.”