CEO of Aston Lark, Peter Blanc is a man on a mission. Having worked in the insurance industry for 30 years, Blanc’s career has run the gamut from motor underwriting to his leading the merger between Aston Scott and Lark Group in 2017. As group CEO, he now oversees a business with over 750 staff throughout the UK and Ireland, and has implemented a successful development strategy for Aston Lark by expertly balancing organic growth with new acquisitions.
While the recent addition of financial services broker Protean Risk to Aston Lark’s expanding portfolio has piqued public interest in the latter of these strategies, Blanc is clear that the success of Aston Lark lies within its ability to blend these growth areas.
Read more: Aston Lark reveals Protean Risk acquitision
“Buying businesses is a great way of adding specialism to the group but really, in our heart, we want to be a fast-growing, organically-growing broker; winning more clients than we lose,” he said.
Blanc explained that, though an acquisition should benefit everyone involved, broker consideration is a key factor when a deal is first discussed. “People say it’s a bit of a cliché, but broking is absolutely a people business,” he said, “and frankly if you don’t make the company better for your people by doing acquisitions, then you probably shouldn’t be doing them.”
The key value for brokers offered by the recent acquisition of Protean Risk is the credibility this highly specialised addition lends Aston Lark’s financial institutions sector. Specialism is the key driver behind the growth strategy of Aston Lark and the defining factor behind its recent acquisition of Protean Risk.
Blanc said: “I have always believed that the best brokers are the ones who genuinely specialise in something…[Aston Lark] set up that business in 2008 purely to be the best at financial institutions and that’s what they’ve done, and it’s proved to be really successful.”
“We are pretty agnostic about what the brokers specialise in,” Blanc said. “If it’s a specialism that we don’t currently have in the group then that’s great because it gives us a new product or service that we don’t have. And if it’s one that we do have in the group, we’ll look to see whether it can strengthen what we’ve already got.”
According to Blanc, acquisitions are primarily a matter of instinct. “Normally you know very quickly,” he said. “You have one meeting and you get a good or a bad feeling.”
With Protean Risk, the feeling was mutually positive from the offset and Lark states that, from the very first meeting, it was clear that Protean shared Aston Lark’s passion for excellent customer service, and for offering high-potential staff ample opportunities for career progression.
“This is very much in keeping with Aston Lark’s philosophy,” he said.
Blanc is very aware that the entire acquisition process is a two-way street which, when effectively instigated, offers vast opportunities for all parties involved. Among the key benefits offered by Aston Lark through an acquisition, the primary factor is the sheer scale it can provide.
“[Acquisitioned companies] are obviously looking to grow and forge new relationships with new underwriters. The fact that we are part of a group that places £400 million premium into the market is very helpful,” Blanc said.
In the case of Protean Risk, however, the key value proposition of Aston Lark lay with the opportunitiy for the introduction of private client offerings to its customers due to Protean’s lack of a private client division.
Blanc is clear on the mutually beneficial nature of every acquisition carried out by the firm and outlined how when Aston Lark buys a business it seeks to learn from the company and aims to replicate that throughout the rest of the group.
“Every time we acquire a company, it’s a chance for us to learn from them, and for them to learn from us,” he said. “We don’t go into a business thinking that we know best or that we’ve somehow got all the answers. We go into an acquisition thinking ‘I wonder what we can learn from this firm?’”
With Protean Risk, Blanc details how the directors of the company knew that Aston Lark was in the market for specialised brokers and contacted them directly. According to Blanc, this direct contact helps to quickly establish whether there is a cultural fit.
The process of finding suitable companies is divided evenly between Aston Lark being contacted to discuss such an opportunity and Aston Lark reaching out to find brokers.
“It’s six of one and half a dozen of the other,” Blanc said. “It’s all about staff. We talk to our staff regularly about keeping their eyes and ears open, if they hear of a broker who might be interesting.”
Alternatively, when Aston Lark loses business to another broker who has done a particularly good job, the group might reach out to the broker in question to show its admiration and offer the broker the opportunity to share its expertise through an acquisition.
If the mission of Peter Blanc is to develop the expertise of Aston Lark, the two greatest weapons in his arsenal are evidently his passion for specialised acquisitions and his understanding of the role of people when it comes to any strategic development.
“Continually focusing on how we can make ourselves a better broker is the name of the game,” he said.