Yutree director on plans for the future and the power of independent brokers

"I do feel like we’re a dying breed," she says

Yutree director on plans for the future and the power of independent brokers

Insurance News

By Mia Wallace

A tenth anniversary represents a significant milestone for any person or business – and for the team at Yutree Insurance, it also presents an opportunity to step back and reflect on the successes, challenges and opportunities that have marked the firm’s first decade in operation.

Looking back to where it all began, Yutree director Laura Hancock (pictured), shared how the independent Chartered brokerage came to be. It was after she joined The Davis Group in 2004 that she first met Kevin Hancock and Leigh Smart, she said, and when Bluefin bought out the group, she became director of distribution for Bluefin.

When returning to work after maternity leave in 2010, she – alongside Hancock and Smart – came to the understanding that though they’d enjoyed great times in the corporate world, they were ready to move on and start again.

“So, Kevin, Leigh, myself and Simon Miller came together as the founding directors and shareholders and directors of Yutree,” she said. “We launched it with a blank sheet of paper in 2012. I predominantly worked on the underwriting side, selling to brokers, because that’s what I knew best. Kevin and Simon built up the retail direct clients on their side and that’s loosely where we all sit today though we’ve got different board responsibilities as well.”

Starting from square one was critical to the ethos underpinning Yutree, as the founding team was determined not to trample on any of the restricted covenants held over from their respective former roles. They didn’t go looking to get their old clients back, she said, but rather went out to the market seeking new relationships. It made for a hard slog in those crucial first few years but the decision has since been a source of comfort and achievement, knowing they built the business the right way.

“Building a business is not plain sailing,” she said. “And it might sound a bit trite, but if it was everyone would do it. Some of our biggest challenges in those early days were around convincing insurers, big client prospects and people we wanted to work for us that we were a long-term viable prospect. So, we almost had to get people to take a punt on us.

“We had one Lloyd’s market who gave us a binder on day one – we had no business, but we got a binder so we could go and sell to some brokers and start trading and establish ourselves as an underwriting business. Then we won a few big clients but there were other big clients we knew we could look after but who wouldn’t come across because we were just a startup, which was hard.”

The people who joined Yutree at the beginning of its journey took a huge risk, Hancock said, and they did so because they believed in what the business was looking to build. At the time, the economy was in quite a shaky position – albeit for different reasons than it is today – and people were understandably nervous about the viability of such a new business, particularly in insurance where clients place such a premium on established names and reputations. 

Integral to the name that Yutree has built itself across the sector is the team’s emphasis on professionalism, with senior leaders across the business closely involved with BIBA, the Society of Insurance Broking (SIB) and the wider CII through its Chartered status. This is something the team works hard at, she said, but they also really enjoy it as well – and she’s looking forward to continuing this work in 2023.

“There’s been loads of milestones for Yutree in the last 10 years,” Hancock noted. “And when I sit here now and look at the fact that we employ 24 people, we control £11.5 million of premium, we’ve got schemes, we’ve got 300 brokers who buy from us on our underwriting business – I just marvel every single day at how on earth we’ve done it but I’m also very grateful for it. This is my nature, but I always feel like it could all be taken away tomorrow, a view that I think makes you very grateful for what you have.”

Identifying some of the firm’s standout moments to date, she highlighted how Yutree achieved its coverholder at Lloyd’s status while it was a very young business. Becoming the deputy chair of the main BIBA board while Kevin Hancock was chairing SIB for the CII was another standout, she said, and really cemented the place of Yutree in the insurance profession. In addition, having BIBA accredited schemes and attaining Chartered broker status have been high points for the team.

Reinforcing these successes is that Yutree has managed to maintain its independence amid surging market consolidation. Being a successful and truly independent business invites offers for consolidation, she said, but the benefits of being independent still stand out for the team today. But Hancock noted that when the firm was first launched, the team didn’t have the same level of faith in themselves that they do today and joined with a network.

“I think it was within less than a year that we realised we didn’t need to,” she said. “We thought we would need help getting agencies and we’d need to be able to talk about ourselves with a bigger company behind us. But we didn’t. And the benefits to us of being independent have just been so great - the ability to be nimble, to run the business with our own character, to do what we want to around wellbeing and charity, and to deal with whatever insurers we want to.

“It’s been so beneficial to us. We can turn around and capitalise on the opportunity within 24 hours if we need to because we’re independent. So, it’s great but I do feel like we’re a dying breed.”

As to what’s next for Yutree, Hancock emphasised how the strapline that decorated the firm’s branding when it first began still holds true today – “refreshingly traditional”. That ethos of having a fun, new brand that’s looking to be innovative in terms of technology while being traditional in its service proposition still goes to the heart of what Yutree is looking to achieve.

“Across both our underwriting and our direct business, we win business because we’re trying to give a brilliant, top-class service at every turn,” she said. “It’s really simple but for our brokers, for example, we respond to broker inquiries within 24 hours and we try and pick up the phone within three rings. And we call our clients a lot and we get out to see them. We genuinely win business because of our reputation and service… and I do think our success is down to us consistently putting the customer and broker at the centre of everything we do.”

Looking to the future, Hancock noted that the firm’s strategic plan is reviewed every year in order to keep capitalising on the momentum it’s seeing across all business areas. The firm is growing and building on the foundations that it laid a decade ago, she said, and it’s now feeling the effects of all the networking the team has done and the client loyalty they have generated.

“We’ve just sent out loads of ‘thank yous’ to clients who’ve been with us for those 10 years,” she said. “And we don’t have a grand plan in terms of how we’re going to take over the world this year but we are going to just keep supporting that momentum. We’ve got a few irons in the fire of exciting things we might be doing over the next couple of years but we’re not aggressively on the acquisition trail or anything like that.

“Something would have to be a really good fit and land in our laps for it to change the course of what we’re doing. We just want to keep being involved and keep being at the forefront of the industry in terms of working with BIBA and the CII. So, it’s really more of the same things that have worked so well for us already.”

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