Amwins’ Sloop: Focus on providing widest product range amid retail-wholesale shift

Amwins COO Ben Sloop has acknowledged retailers’ desire to keep as much business as possible in-house, describing the retail-owned and independent wholesaler models as both “very valid” as he also reiterated his firm’s interest in remaining private.

Speaking with The Insurer TV shortly after he delivered a keynote address at last month’s E&S Insurer Conference, Sloop touched on Amwins’ M&A outlook, its private ownership structure, strategy, the potential of AI and the group’s interest in insurtech.

Sloop said both the retail-owned wholesaler model and the independent wholesaler model are “very valid and have a lot of runway”.

“I think there's a landscape in which large retailers want to have in-house options, but then they’ll use us, or our independent wholesale brethren, for things where we can simply provide different products or a better outcome,” he argued.

Marsh has made a move to keep more business in-house with the launch of internal wholesaler Victor Access, and on the potential for major retailers to relaunch wholesale operations, Sloop said the phenomenon was “nothing new”.

“There have always been retail-owned and retail-affiliated wholesale platforms. That was most of the industry, 25 years ago, and pre-Spitzer, the landscape was really dominated by wholesalers that were familiar with retail,” he explained.

Sloop added that at the time the big retailers spun off their wholesale operations, there were real questions about whether the concept of an independent wholesaler was even a viable model.

“And that was something we had to address in the early days, especially with investors, as they tried to understand our business model,” he noted.

“I totally understand that retail clients – especially our more scaled and more sophisticated retail clients – want to keep as much of their placement in-house as they can,” Sloop said.

“I think that's something that comes and goes in cycles, but is, generally speaking, a core part of many of their business strategies,” he continued.

The Amwins COO said his firm’s goal is to “be the most competitive [and] provide the widest range of product” to get the best outcome for retailers and their clients.

He also said he wasn’t surprised by retailers’ interest in wholesale, given the incredible growth of the segment.

“Our view is we will be supportive of them and will continue to trade well with them, where they want to use us,” he explained.

Ryan Specialty, CRC ownership models equally viable

Amwins has prided itself on its private ownership structure, and Sloop was asked whether Ryan Specialty’s move to go public and the impending spin-off of CRC by Truist to Stone Point created any opportunities for his company.

“Look, I think going public was absolutely the right choice, it seems, for Ryan Specialty,” he said.

“They've been, obviously, a successful public company and have had a good run. And I think that's a totally valid way to organise a company,” Sloop continued, as he especially credited the leadership of Pat Ryan in running that firm.

Sloop also said that the deal between Truist and Stone Point has the potential to be “a very good thing” for the employees at McGriff and CRC.

“Being able to have equity ownership and upside in the value you're building, we're huge believers in that. So, I think the industry, what's fun about it is it's always changing. And I think both of them have got good ownership structures at what they're trying to do,” he explained.

For Amwins, he said, the company is “playing our own golf course” as Sloop emphasised that his firm’s moves around its equity structure have been about “creating resilience and scalability”.

Private equity markets, he said, have now evolved, where in the past it may have been difficult to attract institutional capital at the scale that would be needed to stay private, it is now possible to land sufficient backing to do recap deals that can give employees needed liquidity.

“What's really encouraging is that landscape has changed a ton. Pension funds, endowments, other global investors, and increasingly scaled long-term-hold private equity firms that have got an appetite for businesses like ours,” he noted.

Sloop said it’s now possible to have a small number of investors who are positioned to invest more in the company as needed, with those deals largely centred around cashing out employees, often in cases where they’re ready to retire.

“And so we're excited. We announced another transaction last fall. We think that just continues to create more runway,” he said, while calling Hub’s recap deal last year a “very encouraging” sign for firms like his that want to remain private.

Watch the full interview with Amwins COO Ben Sloop to hear more on:

  • Why retailer-owned wholesalers are nothing new and the evolution of the independent wholesaler
  • How Amwins is approaching M&A with MGA consolidation still in its early stages as competition for assets has heated up, and how higher interest rates are injecting more rationality into the market
  • How Amwins is focused on “blocking and tackling, and executing” on strategic priorities
  • Amwins’ interest in potentially making bids for insurtechs amid a stressed funding environment
  • The impact that AI will potentially have on the industry