Newbie news: Clarke Williams

Henry Clarke and Scott Williams
Directors and co-founders of Tonbridge-based Clarke Williams: Henry Clarke (left) and Scott Williams

Gap in the market: Clarke Williams co-founder Henry Clarke reveals how he navigated the authorisation process and why independents are resurgent

Newbie News

Insurance Age tackles the challenges of creating a new business by interviewing brokers running firms that have started trading in the past 12 months after receiving FCA authorisation

▶ You officially launched in May this year – why did you start up on your own?

Scott [Williams, director and co-founder] and I have both worked in the industry for the last 10 years. We saw that clients were lacking the level of service that we thought they warranted and that the personal touch has gone from the insurance market. We saw a gap for our local area.

Where have you worked before?

We met at Belmont International and worked there together for four years. Then I went and worked in the City for iPrism Underwriting for six years as a development manager. Scott was working for a local broker in the meantime.

How hard was it to get up and running?

We bought another broker to kick-start the process and we initially believed we could complete a change of control form with the FCA. But because we were changing the location, the name, the staff and everything else about the business they said we needed to go through an application process and we’re a brand new broker. We started in March last year and got our authorisation in December. We employed the services of UKGI who assisted us through the application process. 

How big is the team?

We’ve just hired our first employee who joins us on 24 July. They’ll be coming in as an account manager. This will allow Scott and I to be out of the office getting in new business. We’re looking to set up an apprenticeship scheme as well. We’ve also got three other directors, who previously ran Belmont International: Barrie Etchells, who was MD; Alison Etchells, who was compliance director; and Mark Gamble, who was finance director. They’ve come on board to help us run the business and to grow and develop what we’ve done. Scott and I haven’t run a business before. 

What are your targets for the first 12 months? 

We set ourselves a £1m gross written premium target and the book we bought makes up about £350,000 of that.

Did anyone help you with funding?

It was partially funded by the other three directors, who provided the initial funding to purchase the book of business that we took over. The commission from that really pays the majority of the bills, which means we can be a little bit more selective with what comes through the door.

What lines of business are you seeking?

I specialise in property and high-value home and motor, which around our area is abundant. Scott specialises in professional indemnity for surveyors, recruitment, architects, and we both dabble on the construction side as well. The main thing we’re not trying to go after is standard motor. 

What’s the local competition like?

There used to be quite a few insurance brokers in the high street here who have slowly disappeared over the last 10 years. There are only two of us left in town now. We’re hoping to come to a gentleman’s agreement with them that if they have a client that comes to us we’ll walk away and vice versa. There’s more than enough local business to go around. 

How do you plan to market yourself?

We’ve done quite a lot on social media so far. We didn’t expect to get enquiries there, we thought it would just be a nice way of doing more brand awareness, but we’ve had 10-15 clients come through on the back of Twitter. We’re on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram as well. We’re also working quite closely with a few local charities.

What has insurer support been like?

Because of our backgrounds we’ve been dealing with some of these insurers for a number of years. They’ve been fantastic in providing support and helping us with the process of getting the agencies agreed. 

What was the most difficult obstacle to overcome and how did you do it? 

The hardest part was getting all of the information together in the right order for the FCA. Running through the business plans and realising how much information they actually needed, doing a profit and loss form, which is something we hadn’t done before. We had to lean on the other three directors quite heavily, as well as on UKGI to help us get through that. 

Would you advise other people to go out on their own?

Definitely. There are not enough new start-up brokers appearing. Over the last 15 years the independent broker has been slowly eroded away. Now is the time and place for the independent broker to come back and make a resurgence. Clients want someone they can trust and rely on to handle their insurance.

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