Newbie news: Cheviot Insured's Joel Marks

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Beat the barriers: Joel Marks, director of Newcastle-based Cheviot Insured, on the road to authorisation.

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▶ You started writing business in March 2016 – why did you start up on your own?

I used to work in the City as a fund manager for 20 years and then we moved to the North East for family reasons. Charlie Hoult, one of the dads in my son’s school, owns quite a big property company. We started chatting and Charlie, who is entrepreneurial, was interested in getting into financial services. 

We decided that insurance is a sector we liked very much because it’s advice driven and the barriers to entry are very high with the FCA permissions. Because of Charlie’s property background we already had a reasonable amount of premium to start off with to channel through a new company. It took quite a long time to get to the finish line. 

▶ How hard was it to get up and running?

The first bit to overcome was the FCA. Because I’ve been registered with the FCA, or the FSA before that, during my entire City career, they saw it as a change of permission rather than a completely new authorisation. That bit took a long time and it was a lot of hoops to jump through. I can imagine it being very difficult for a new broker that hasn’t got a track record with them. 

The next bit was getting agencies with the insurers, which was also difficult. What I chose to do was to join the Willis Commercial Network. That was a significant boost to setting up. 

The third part is having enough capital to satisfy the FCA. Charlie and myself put in our own money to start with and we had a couple of local people that we knew who owned property who became shareholders. 

Probably the hardest part of it was to get people in who would be able to do the insurance side of things. That took a lot of wooing and we finally managed to persuade John Baty to join us. 

▶ Was the FCA authorisation process stressful?

It was like the chicken and the egg, because we couldn’t put the captain in place before they had given authorisation and they wouldn’t give authorisation until we had a captain in place. Even though we had the capital it all had to be done on the same day so there was one particular day when we had money transfers coming from all over the place. About five minutes before one deadline they authorised us. It was a very stressful day.

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▶ What are your targets for this first year?

We’d like to break even in the first year, which we’re well on track to do, and generating surplus capital to grow. We want to grow organically not take up debt, which is very important for any potential insurance broker that wants to start up. 

▶ Where do you see yourself and the business in three years’ time?

We’re very ambitious and there are several sectors we would like to focus on. We want to be the go-to place in the owner-managed SME market. 

▶ What’s the local competition like?

There are a couple of local firms that we will be coming up against. You don’t tend to come across the same people all the time, so we’re clearly going to win some and lose some, but overall there’s more than enough work to go around. In the North East people like doing business with local firms. 

▶ How do you plan to market yourselves?

Fortunately Charlie’s background is in advertising and marketing so he’s very good at the public relations side of things. We’ve been organising a number of lunches for local business people. I’m a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum in the North East so word gets around. The more clients you get on board, well clients bring clients and that’s basically what it’s about. 

▶ When you started out did you feel that insurers were supportive of a new broker?

They’re very supportive, yes. We’ve only had favourable responses from them and they seem to want to have another local firm succeeding. 

▶ What advice would you give to anyone else considering starting up their own broker?

Make sure that your business plan absolutely stacks up because the FCA goes through it with a fine toothed comb. If you get rejected then your chance of ever getting approved is going to be virtually zero. 

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