Howden snaps up Aston Lark in giant transaction

Acquisition creates a broking behemoth managing over £6 billion GWP

Howden snaps up Aston Lark in giant transaction

Mergers & Acquisitions

By Mia Wallace

Last week it was the turn of the MGA market to announce major acquisition news but now the buck has fallen to the broking sector - and Howden and Aston Lark have not disappointed. It has today been revealed that the international insurance broking group Howden has reached an agreement to acquire Aston Lark from Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval.

The union of the firms completes Howden’s UK broking business, with Aston Lark joining A-Plan Group and Howden UK to create a full-service broker offering quality, scale and reach across the UK. The transaction marks Howden’s largest acquisition to date, and creates a UK business managing over £6 billion of gross written premium (GWP) for more than 1.7 million policyholders who are served by over 5,000 employees from 160 locations throughout the UK and Ireland.

As one of the UK’s largest independent insurance brokers specialising in complex commercial and private client insurance and employee benefit advice, Aston Lark places over £1 billion of GWP for 200,000 clients. According to a Press release from Howden, the partnership will enable the group to build on its 27-year history of partnering with independent, high-quality, high-growth businesses with “a large employee shareholder base, a shared entrepreneurial culture and an ambitious but long-term and sustainable approach to growth”.

Upon completion of the deal, the business will be led by a combined management team with Aston Lark chief executive Peter Blanc becoming executive chairman of Howden’s UK retail broking operations while current A-Plan chief executive officer, Carl Shuker will be appointed chief executive officer of the new platform. Meanwhile, Andy Bragoli, chief executive officer of Howden UK, will lead Howden’s International Specialty business. The management team will report to Jose Manuel Gonzalez, chief executive officer, Howden Broking Group.

David Howden, chief executive officer Howden Group, said that the completion of Howden’s UK broking platform is a deal a decade in the making and that he is thrilled that Aston Lark’s highly respected and experienced management team has chosen Howden as its final home.

“In a rapidly consolidating and technology-driven sector our commitment to employee ownership, unique structure, scale, distribution breadth and data-led approach stand out, and today’s announcement further enhances our position as the credible alternative of scale for clients and a magnet for the very best talent in the industry,” he said. “Not only is Aston Lark the missing piece of our UK broking strategy but our new strengthened platform signals a new beginning for the group, accelerating our significant international ambitions by bringing a fresh and energetic dynamic to all our markets and even greater value to our clients.”

Commenting on the deal, Peter Blanc, group CEO of Aston Lark, noted that he has always been determined to ensure that Aston Lark found its “forever home” and he is delighted that it has found this in Howden. He thanked Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital for allowing him and his management team to choose the right home. Together, he said, the combined business will be the major force in the UK broking market and he is very excited about what it can achieve over the coming years. 

“The Aston Lark culture of care for clients, employees and insurers resonates throughout Howden and this could not be a better fit,” he said. “Our leadership team is looking forward to working with everyone at Howden as we become the very best broker in the market. We embarked on an exciting growth journey six years ago and have gone from placing £100 million of premium to £1 billion. We’ll continue to seek high-quality acquisitions and talented individuals to join us as we become part of this amazing story.”

Michele Titi-Cappelli, managing director in the private equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, added: “Leveraging our deep financial services expertise and operational support capabilities, we are proud to have supported Aston Lark’s success under Peter and the broader management team. The new partnership with Howden positions Aston Lark to continue building upon their strategy of becoming a leading client-centric UK insurance broker. We wish Peter, the broader management team and Howden Group Holdings the very best for the continuation of the journey.”

Meanwhile, Julian Masters, managing partner at Bowmark Capital, said it has been a privilege to work with Blanc and the Aston Lark team since Bowmark first invested in the business in 2015, helping to create one of the top five UK independent commercial lines brokers.

“Over the past six years, we have supported a successful buy-and-build strategy, with 50 acquisitions, and employee numbers having grown eight-fold to 1,600 today,” he said. “We are incredibly proud of the business that we have collectively built and see Howden as the natural partner for Aston Lark in the future.”

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