International managing general agency (MGA) DUAL recently announced a major acquisition in the United States that will expand its global gross written premium (GWP) to over US$2 billion.
DUAL, the specialist underwriting arm of Howden Group Holdings, has reached a deal to acquire Align Financial Holdings – a US-based insurance holding company that owns and invests in best-in-class specialist general agencies and underwriting management businesses. Align is one of the largest independent general agency platforms in the US, writing in excess of US$630 million of annualized GWP through its commercial casualty, commercial property catastrophe, personal property, and surety businesses.
The deal will expand DUAL’s US market share from around US$450 million to over $1 billion, making the US market home to roughly half of DUAL’s aggregate business written internationally.
Richard Clapham (pictured), CEO of DUAL Group, described the acquisition of Align as “classic” in terms of how the Howden Group likes to operate. He said: “It’s all about finding the right partners […] where both parties really want to be together. And I think Kieran Sweeney [CEO of Align] and I are both very happy to see the two organizations come together. That was really driven out of the fact that we have a very strong strategic and cultural fit between DUAL, Howden Group and Align. Another critical piece for us is finding like-minded specialist underwriting-driven businesses, and clearly in DUAL and Align, we have that.”
Since DUAL was founded in 1998, the business has expanded from a small financial lines operation in Spain to having the broadest geographic and specialist product distribution platform of any MGA, with operations across the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific.
“This deal is truly transformational for us because it sets us on the journey of creating a global platform that is unique in the market, and no others have it,” Clapham told Insurance Business. “The US is the largest MGU market in the world, with approximately US$60 billion in GWP, and we felt that DUAL was not the size we would like to be in that market. By combining with Align, we’ve created an MGA that has over $1.1 billion of GWP in the US, which brings us certainty of scale and size.
“Critically, we’ve also brought together two very talented underwriting teams in the US, as well as some very supportive broker partners, and a very strong group of carrier partners. And I think they’re all going to see the real value of the talent and distribution we’ve brought together through this deal because I think they’re going to have even greater opportunities. The product diversification we now have in the US is significant, so I think our offering to our broker partners, together with the technology that both teams have, is really exciting.”
DUAL operates in 16 countries worldwide and works with over 7,000 brokers to distribute its products. With the promise of a much stronger foothold in the US market, the MGA is focused on “optimizing the collective knowledge and talent” of its extensive international network to improve its products and services across the entire business. Clapham commented: “This really takes us to another level and puts us in an unrivalled position in the global MGA market.”
In the past few years, there has been lots of consolidation in the retail and wholesale insurance brokerage market. One of the benefits of building such scale for an operation like DUAL is how it unlocks access to talent. Clapham explained: “I think the scale of an operation is very much key in encouraging stronger and more talent to join the organization. Ultimately, both DUAL and Align are people businesses at their core. At Howden, we talk about people first, and for us, it’s really the talent that drives the business.
“If you look at the flexibility and adaptability that we have across DUAL’s global distribution and global platforms, that enables our underwriters to come to work and do what they really enjoy, which is to get on and underwrite. I think we’re becoming more and more attractive to underwriting talent as we grow in scale in terms of the organization itself, our geographic footprint, and the products we provide. And then we become an even more attractive proposition to carriers, which is obviously key to us as that enables us to [participate in] more areas of business. It’s almost a virtuous circle, which is harnessing our carriers, our talent, our platform, and our distribution.”