Jelf rebrand an opportunity for regional brokers, say experts

rebranding - paints

Brokers say Marsh's "inevitable" move could lead to staff exits and a shift away from local service as Jelf rebrands to Marsh Commercial.

Brokers have branded Marsh’s decision to rebrand Jelf as an inevitable and unsurprising development.

Broking giant Marsh revealed on 10 September that it was set to retire the Jelf name, rebranding the business as Marsh Commercial.

The move follows the rebranding of Bluefin, which Marsh bought from Axa in late 2016, to Jelf. It also includes Scottish broker Clark Thomson, which Jelf bought for £23.3m in 2018.

Stuart Reid, former Bluefin chief executive officer, did not expect the name change in itself to have a big impact on the market.

“I’ve realised that unless there is a distinct specialism, many of the names in the past that were held so dear, have gone without any customer detriment,” he told Insurance Age.

Culture
However, Reid expressed concern that the business would change as a result, adding: “The issue is when you change the name to Marsh it could mean so much more.

“It’s such a big company with such a particular culture that there is a fear that things might change very radically from what was Bluefin and what was Jelf, two independent and successful companies.”

He warned that Marsh would need to “tread very carefully” when making changes, noting that the local touch is “fundamentally important to a commercial business”.

“On a spreadsheet amalgamating offices and letting some staff go might make sense, but it is a delicate job,” he continued.

But Nick Houghton, managing director of Leeds-headquartered JM Glendinning, disagreed with the point that the rebrand could have an impact on how the business is run.

He argued that while the name embodies an organisation, Jelf employees are already a part of Marsh.

“A feel of an organisation is more about how it’s managed, as opposed to the name above the door,” Houghton noted.

He described the rebranding of Jelf as “logical”, adding that it is easier for an organisation to promote itself as a single brand.

“When you’ve got a brand as powerful as Marsh, why would you not change it?” he asked.

In Houghton’s view, the move to first rebrand Bluefin to Jelf also made sense. He added: “To do halfway houses because it’s right at the time is logical, I can understand why you’d want to do it cautiously and in stages.”

Staff
In its statement earlier this week, Marsh further said it would bring together a number of local offices across the businesses and experts argued that consolidation would always lead to redundancies.

Houghton highlighted that this is an opportunity for regional brokers to attract good quality staff, adding: “People who worked for Bluefin and Jelf end up working for this goliath of an organisation and decide it’s not right for them.”

Meanwhile, Carlo Marelli, deputy CEO of Lorica Insurance Brokers, agreed that the “threat” for Marsh is that former Jelf staff will want to go off and do something else.

“I’m not saying that it will change the broking space in that its revolutionary or anything, I just think people that wanted to remain at Jelf before can vote with their feet and may go off and do something different perhaps,” he outlined.

Local
Marelli further believed that the name change could have an effect on retaining clients.

“Because they’re coming from quite an independent background where the clients are perhaps more used to dealing with a local person and with Marsh corporate it’s all about the brand and not the person, it’s a different culture,” he continued.

Like Reid, he commented that there was a concern that Marsh would run the business as Marsh and “miss what makes Jelf successful”.

By contrast, Hamilton Fraser chief operating officer Graham Coates, was sad to see the Jelf name go.

Family feel
Coates, who previously worked as group MD for Bluefin, continued: “I worked with them for a short while and when I was there, Chris Jelf was the chairman.

“It still had that family feel to it, because the name of the business was still associated with the chairman who was actively involved in the business.

“But obviously it had quite a resonance in the local markets, particularly in the south west.”

Coates believed the rebrand will give regional brokers the opportunity to step up and differentiate themselves as local brokers.

“I don’t think it’s anything new or surprising, but then it’s up to the independent to make the best of it and impress upon their clients the different offering that they have, the local community offering,” he added.

In addition, one broker who declined to be named suggested that the rebrand of Jelf was one of the reasons behind former Jelf CEO Phil Barton’s exit in March this year.

“He was fighting tooth and nail to keep that sort of independent, smaller business feel,” the broker continued.

Insurance Age has tried to contact Phil Barton for a comment.

Personal lines
In January this year, Jelf entered a strategic partnership with personal lines broker A-Plan which saw the majority part of Jelf’s personal lines business move across to A-Plan.

A-Plan CEO Carl Shuker noted that the Jelf rebrand would not have an impact on the arrangement.

“We transferred the policies from Jelf into A-Plan almost a year ago now, and they’re all A-Plan clients now,” he confirmed.

Shuker further agreed with other experts that he did not see the name change having a wider impact on the broking landscape.

“Whilst Jelf is a strong regional brand it makes sense from Marsh’s perspective,” he concluded.

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