DUAL to acquire major US program manager Align

“The business will be one of the largest general agencies […] globally.”

DUAL to acquire major US program manager Align

Mergers & Acquisitions

By Bethan Moorcraft

International managing general underwriter DUAL, the specialist underwriting arm of Howden Group Holdings, has announced it will acquire Align Financial Holdings – a United States-based insurance holding company that owns and invests in best-in-class specialist general agencies and underwriting management businesses.

Founded by Kieran Sweeney in 2003 and based in San Diego, California, Align is one of the largest independent general agency platforms in the US, writing in excess of $630 million of annualized gross written premium through its commercial casualty, commercial property catastrophe, personal property, and surety businesses. It writes business on behalf of 18 carrier partners and Lloyd’s of London in 10 specialty product verticals.

Following the deal, Sweeney will lead the combined US businesses, supported by Jim O’Connor, CEO of DUAL North America, and John Johnson, president of Align. He will also become executive chairman of DUAL Group globally and a member of the Howden Group executive committee. Meanwhile, DUAL Group non-executive chairman, David Ibeson will become a non-executive director.

David Howden, founder and CEO of Howden Group, commented: “Since we founded DUAL in 1998, it 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.
“Kieran shares a strategic vision with us to create an international MGA of real scale, using data and advanced technologies to redefine the underwriting business of the future. Both our businesses have been built with entrepreneurial talent and strong capacity relationships, and now the scale of the combined businesses will open more doors to attracting new talent, new capacity, and enhancing data and analytical capabilities, as we pursue our ambition to become the next-generation underwriting business that breaks the mould.”

Sweeney described the deal as “a momentous next step for Align” and one that he is “delighted” to take alongside DUAL and Howden.

“What stood out to me from the start of our conversations with David, Richard and the senior team was that the platform we will become a part of is entirely designed to be one in which great people thrive,” he said. “The opportunity to grow a next-generation underwriting management business that charts new territories for ourselves and our partners is very real and compelling. It was immediately clear to our board and Align’s major investor, Bregal Sagemount, that DUAL Group has an exciting future, and that the talented team that has joined us at Align over the past 18 years will be presented with incredible opportunities in the newly combined business.”

Richard Clapham, CEO of DUAL Group, commented: “Kieran and his team have built one of the standout specialist program managers in the US market, and this deal represents the unison of two highly complementary businesses which are keenly focused on delivering underwriting excellence as their primary directive.  
“The complementary product and program mix, the broadened distribution, cross-sell opportunities, deepened pool of capacity providers, and expanded broker partnerships, present a very special opportunity not only in the US, where the business will be one of the largest general agencies in the biggest marketplace in the world, but globally.”

The transaction remains subject to completion and regulatory approval. Align was advised by Evercore Group LLC and Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar P.C., while Howden Group was supported by Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, Locke Lord LLP, and EY.

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