TL Dallas MD on her route to running a fourth-generation insurance brokerage

Why a family-run business is "a bit like a puppy"

TL Dallas MD on her route to running a fourth-generation insurance brokerage

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

As a fourth-generation family-run business that has been serving its clients since 1919, TL Dallas exemplifies the role insurance brokerages can play in the communities they serve. There are not many independent brokerages left which can trace their roots back so far, noted MD Polly Staveley (pictured), whose great-grandfather started the firm which now supports clients from offices in Bradford, London, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Belfast, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Holmfirth, Shetland and Stockport.

Polly Staveley’s route into insurance

From the outside looking in, Staveley’s insurance career might seem pre-ordained but, in fact, she was actively discouraged from coming straight into the insurance market. Her father felt strongly that she should strike out on her own first and so she did, entering the world of corporate banking. After a few years, she found herself frustrated by the ‘big company’ politics and the impermeable glass ceiling facing women in the banking sector in the late 90s.

“So, I persuaded my father to let me come and work in the family business,” she said. “And quite rightly, he made me start as a junior in our trade credit insurance division. That was in 1999 and I cut my teeth doing trade credit, where, after a year or so, I built myself up a book and then moved into our general commercial insurance team.

“There I started as a handler and worked my way up to become an account executive and then joined the group board, becoming a group director and then later managing director. It was in the space of about five years that I lost both my grandfather and my father, who suddenly and unexpectedly died in 2012, but at one point we had three generations of us in the boardroom, which was always great fun.”

What it means to be a family-run business

As to why she stayed in insurance, Staveley highlighted that a family business, “is a bit like a puppy - it’s not just for Christmas!” Why would you want to extricate yourself from a family business you fought to be a part of, she said, because it brings with it so much pride and so many great connections. For her, the opportunity offered by insurance broking to go out and meet clients and to get to know the ins-and-outs of their businesses and the risks they face is uniquely rewarding.

“We’ve got some clients that have been with us across the four generations of our business,” she said. “That’s an amazing story to have and one you don’t see replicated much in this day and age. Honestly, with a clean slate and no family connections, would I have chosen insurance as a profession? Probably not, I’d probably be a landscape gardener, which is my latest passion.

“But once you get into insurance, and most people I know in insurance say the same thing, you do find your passion for it. There are so many different facets to it and no two days are ever the same. There’s also a great satisfaction in sorting out difficult claims for customers – that’s what keeps it interesting and that’s what I think keeps us all in it.”

What’s next for TL Dallas?

Not content to rest on its laurels, TL Dallas continues to go from strength to strength, she said, bolstering its 165-strong team with key hires and supporting its local communities through a huge range of charitable initiatives via the TL Dallas Charitable Trust, which has donated more than £120,000 to date.

Touching on this growth, Staveley noted that the firm had the time and space to carefully consider its next steps during COVID, which resulted in a complete turnaround of its strategy.  

Pre-COVID, TL Dallas was moving towards centralising its operations, she said, and basing them more centrally around its head office in Bradford, its large office in London and a few offices in Scotland. The thought was to reduce the number of outlying offices and bring the business closer together, but COVID quickly underscored just how much value clients get from being supported by local brokers who know them and their businesses best.

“We recognised that we’re at our best when we’re serving our local communities by being among them, by having great relationships with them and earning their trust,” she said. “So, we went the other way instead. We’ve opened up more regional offices – including in Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Skipton, in North Yorkshire – over the last couple of years. That was our deliberate strategy, to look to where we have great people who wanted to join us but also to stay serving the local communities they know and where they are known.”

Understanding the power of community brokerages

Staveley is in no doubt about the value that’s placed on community brokerages, particularly by the SME market which TL Dallas largely serves. SMEs can be anything from a small plumbing firm to a company dealing with tens of millions in turnover, she said, but when you scratch the surface, what they want from their insurance broker is the same. They want to deal with a business that shares their values, and they want personal service.

“They don’t want to be dealt with in a call centre, whether that’s in the UK or abroad, which is what some of the multinationals do now,” she said. “There’s a real story and a real USP in us being able to say to them, that ‘we have an office near you’. If you have a problem somebody will be there to support you all the way. And if there’s a tricky claim, someone will be coming along with the loss adjuster to help. Those are all the kinds of things you just can’t offer with a call centre or centralised operation.”

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