Concerned about a lack of Oxygen

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Emmanuel KenningIf as a broker you weren't worried at the start of this week, fair play to you. But you should at least have been concerned on Monday when Oxygen Holdings put all its assets up for sale.

What it screams to me is the word pressure. And, sadly, I will be amazed if others do not also go pop after this, perhaps the highest profile demise yet, in the ongoing soft commercial market.

The news about Oxygen Holdings was a surprise rather than a shock as the broker had clearly struggled to turn a profit since inception. A quick glance at its figures shows pre-tax losses of £1.33m in 2010 and £1.89m in 2009 on ordinary activities.

I interviewed chief executive Nigel Barton a year ago when the company was focusing on corporate and entertainment business along with a wholesale offering and a private clients service.

What concerns me here, and I believe should be causing more ripples among brokers, is that take any given piece of the four pronged strategy and it made good sense.

To look at just two: Robertson Taylor, niche and arguably market leading in the entertainment sector. It has long been a refrain that specialised skills are where a broker can add their own value and build a career.

Private clients? I'm yet to meet a broker who isn't at least thinking of cross selling to the percentage of the population that appears to have weathered the financial storm somewhat better than others.

Insurers have seen improved combined operating ratios over the past few quarters. But dig deeply and you'll find it has mainly been driven by motor market hardening.

Brokers not in that space are feeling the squeeze like never before and no-one is predicting any commercial rate hardening in 2012.

At Oxygen Holdings the conclusion was reached that the parts were worth more than the whole, hence the sell off.

Now, a mix of niches may well be a bespoke problem which answers its own question as to why the company failed. And others may raise the valid topics of debt and delivery and so forth.

But for now let's start with one simple and immediate conclusion on its demise:

Having a good strategy is not enough, it has to be great. Is yours?

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