Acrisure’s Sutton: “Success breeds success” amid focus on organic growth
Acrisure London Wholesale’s CEO John Sutton is maintaining an organic growth strategy as the business continues to expand following a “better than planned” first five years.
In a joint interview with senior vice-president Jonathan Tritton on The Insurer TV’s Close Quarter programme, Sutton, who joined in 2018 with a mission to launch the wholesale business from scratch, said he has been very pleased with the way things have gone, despite having to navigate a few hurdles along the way.
“It has gone to plan and maybe a bit better than we had hoped,” he said. “We've attracted some really good people who've managed to bring business with them and produce new business for us.”
He continued by saying: “We've been lucky to have younger people join the team as well which gives us a nice mix and a great culture. So, clients have been incredibly supportive, the market has seemed to have welcomed us in, and I would say we're pleased with where it is looking forward,” said Sutton.
However, issues such as brand recognition in the early days - from Beach & Associates to Acrisure in 2020 - and Covid-19 were challenges Sutton and Tritton had to overcome.
“Firstly, Beach was a niche reinsurance broker. It wasn't in the wholesale space, so talking to markets and talking to prospective clients, and then trying to bring on new employees was a difficult sell at the beginning because no one had heard of us. Then put Acrisure in the mix, another company that no one had heard of at all back then [in the London market] was a major challenge,” admitted Sutton.
“But that’s certainly not the case now,” he added.
Covid-19 also meant the new business wasn’t able to win new business as easily or in a manner it had been traditionally won, by travelling to and getting to know clients - “all the things we'd normally do in a startup to try and win business, we weren't able to do”.
“So, credit to the team and to clients and markets during that time,” said Sutton.
But coming out the other side, it made the culture of the firm stronger, according to Sutton.
“People got to know each other in a different way over Teams calls, as the world did. You get to see inside peoples' homes, as no one would normally do, and their pets, and their children, and all those other things. So, I think that was a really positive thing for us and it built a nice platform from which we've grown from.”
Global insurance brokerage and dominant player in the US retail space, Acrisure, acquired (re)insurance broker Beach & Associates from Jeff Greenberg’s private equity house Aquiline in January 2018.
As a major acquirer at group level, having completed ~120 reported acquisitions alone in 2022, it begs the question as to whether the London Wholesale business would follow suit in its growth plans.
“I think if the right opportunity to acquire came up - so maybe a small niche broker - it’s something we’d consider,” said Sutton. “But I don't see it in the short-term.
“I think the size and scale of most independent wholesalers in London are probably not where we want to be, in terms of the perceived value or what we'd have to spend to get them in.
“I think preferably organic growth is the way we want to grow moving forward, because you can shape the culture and bring in people that you feel will fit, as well as bringing the business,” Sutton said,
Burgeoning retail and wholesale network
Turning to Acrisure Wholesale's business, which is a combination third-party business from retail brokers and in-house wholesale, senior vice president Tritton says the business is in “a lovely position”.
“We've got lots of business coming in from Acrisure entities and lots of business coming from third-party and, at the moment, roughly 65 percent or so is non-Acrisure business, which I think a lot of people don't necessarily realise,” said Tritton.
“But I’m pleased to say we're growing on both sides,” he said. “We're probably a little bit more on the Acrisure side, but certainly still growing with the third-party side. I think we're in quite a unique position, when you look at some of the third-party business that we are getting from some of the large wholesalers in the US.
“We're in quite a unique situation in London that we're putting, as a group, a huge amount of retail business into those wholesalers. So, we’re creating real partnerships there, along the value chain,” Tritton explained.
Sutton added: “Those clients, particularly in the US, that supported us and still support us now, they're growing their own businesses, so we're growing with them - success breeds success.
“So, we'll never forget those third-party producers, be they wholesalers, MGAs, retailers, or other. But the Acrisure business was the reason we were tempted to join Beach as it became Acrisure. In terms of long-term growth, I think over the next 5-10 years, we hope that business will rise enormously. But we'd also like to think we'll still attract third-party business, because of the quality of the brokers we have,” he said.
Watch The Insurer TV’s interview with Acrisure London Wholesale’s John Sutton and Jonathan Tritton to hear more about the business’ more immediate growth plans and where they see the business in five years’ time.