This morning Coversure Insurance Services Group (CISG) CEO, Bob Darling, announced that the Group had been purchased in a management buyout. To get some more details on this exciting development, we spoke to Bob and asked him about the buyout, the company’s new investors, Livingbridge, and his plans for the business.
Why did you decide to pursue a management buyout?
The management team wanted to take the business to the next level. Over the last 30-odd years CISG has grown to become a trusted insurance distribution service for both brokers and retail customers and we wanted to build on that success and scale new heights. The buyout, and the financial backing of Livingbridge, will allow us to achieve this. The deal is set to complete later this year, subject to regulatory approval.
Livingbridge are a well-known private equity firm; why did you choose them?
They were genuinely excited about the business. They loved the fact that we have a franchise operation, that between Coversure, City Underwriters and Policyfast we have several distribution channels, and that we had our own system and software house in Datamatters was a definite plus. On a human level we got on well from the off and they made it very clear that they were not just there to hand over the cash, they wanted to invest time and money into the business and help us realise its amazing potential. It was this combination of factors that made them the natural choice for us and we can’t wait to start working together.
So, who are Livingbridge?
Livingbridge are a highly respected private equity firm with a fantastic track record of growing the companies they invest in and a deep knowledge of insurance and financial services. Over the past 20 years they’ve helped more than 100 businesses, turning many into household names, including brands such as Crew Clothing Company, On the Beach and Fat Face.
What changes will the Group see?
Externally you won’t see any significant changes. The existing management team will remain in control of the business. The board will be joined by Xavier Woodward from Livingbridge and we have appointed Tim Wright, who was previously Head of Corporate Risk and Broking at Willis Towers Watson, as our new Chairman. The initial focus will be on investing in our IT systems, our people and our franchise infrastructure so that we can realise our ambitious plans for growth and development.
So, there won’t be any changes in the business model, you’ll remain on the high street for example?
This buyout is all about real acceleration in investment. Investment in IT, investing in the creation of ever better products and in expanding our operations across the Group so we can provide our customers – both retail and wholesale – with even higher standards of service. Our franchise network remains at the heart of the Coversure offering and our franchisees remain committed to providing an accessible retail presence alongside our fast-evolving online offering.
And what about company culture, will that change given you have new investors?
Definitely not. One of things that Livingbridge really liked about the business was our culture and our commitment to positive outcomes for all. I think that one of the things that struck them was that our values – collaborative, innovative, professional, integrity and WOW – aren’t platitudes, or something that was cooked up in the marketing department but are a reflection of what we do day-in-day-out. The whole point of the buyout is that the existing management team can run the business as we want to run it and our values and the culture they create are at the centre of that.
As a Group, CISG has bucked the trend in terms of organic growth. Why is that do you think?
The Group has bucked the market trend in terms of organic growth and what’s even more impressive, I think, is that while many brokers have retreated from the high street we’ve continued to create new, successful retail businesses. I believe one of the keys to this – and this is even more relevant now the management have bought the business – is that it’s owner-managed. To a business owner 1% or 2% growth simply isn’t enough, and across Coversure, with its franchisees, Policyfast and CUL you have business owners who are constantly pushing for growth by continually looking to develop their service and give their customers more.
So, you’d expect growth to accelerate now?
Absolutely, we’re now in a position where we can put our foot on the accelerator and really push for growth. We’ve big plans for Coversure and our franchise network, for Policyfast our online wholesale business and for City Underwriters Limited (CUL) our specialist underwriters. There are some fantastic opportunities in the market, ones we’re now in a position to fully exploit.
What’s your vision for the Group?
My vision remains the same as it has been over the past few years. The buyout is about giving the management team the investment capacity to do more rather than to instigate some radical departure from what we have always done. My vision is to put in place an infrastructure through which our various channels can distribute insurance and allow the business to become a major player in the industry. Put simply: we’re going to build an awesome team and an awesome business.
Thank you, Bob, and good luck for the future.