Insurer Towergate puts the bad days behind it

John Simpson
John Simpson
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TOWERGATE Insurance has increased its staff numbers in Yorkshire by around 60 people over the last year, as its turnaround continues under new owners.

The business has been majority owned by Highbridge Principal Strategies since February 2015. The acquisition followed a turbulent time for the firm. In November 2014, it revealed it had fully drawn its revolving credit facility, raising fears among bond holders that it was no longer a going concern.

Thirteen months ago, Towergate accepted an offer from its creditors which led to an injection of £375m capital into the firm, and also reduced its net debt by 60 per cent. Before this deal, private equity firm Advent International had been Towergate’s largest shareholder.

John Simpson, the Leeds-based area director for Towergate Insurance Brokers, said the financial security that came with the Highbridge acquisition was giving the company the confidence to hire new staff and move into new offices.

The company now employs around 530 staff across Yorkshire, where it has offices in Hull, Leeds, Halifax, Sheffield and Knaresborough.

Mr Simpson said: “We have seen a steady improvement in client retention and a steady increase in sales, and that has combined to give us some nice growth over the past 12 months.

“We are really keen on organic growth. A really important part of that is getting fresh talent in the business. In addition, we’re looking to develop our specialisms, so across the North, we’re employing people like risk managers, health and safety experts and environmental experts. This is dealing with some of the newer classes of insurance that are creeping up on us, and are really important to our clients, so we need to hire people to support that effort.”

Mr Simpson said that the UK crane hire market was one specialist area that had enjoyed growth as the economy recovers.

He added: “Knowing that we are now financially secure gives us confidence... we have moved into new office space in Sheffield recently, and Leeds has also moved into new office space... so we’re improving our working environment for staff.

“We’ve got the confidence now to do that.

“We’ve got the confidence to hire people. That’s where the difference has been made.”

“What was really interesting (in 2014) was how people pulled together. People do that in the face of adversity. It’s a natural human reaction.

“We saw some fantastic customer loyalty. We couldn’t influence outside events but we knew that we had a really solid business. Leeds is a fantastic place for talent. It’s a real hotbed.”

In Towergate’s most recent trading update, which covered the nine months to September 30, David Ross, the company’s chief executive, said that the company’s performance had been affected by a “well documented period of instability” but there were signs the business was stabilising.

TOWERGATE insurance, which was founded by entrepreneur Peter Cullum in 1997, grew by acting as an industry consolidator.

In the latest trading update, the chief executive, David Ross, said the company had seen improving revenue trends in its broking and direct divisions over the nine months to September 30. It had secured a “healthy” cash balance of more than £84m, Mr Ross added.

John Simpson, the Leeds-based area director, said the company had no official stance on the EU referendum, but he added: “From a personal point of view, I think it’s going to be incredibly close – closer than perhaps anybody thought it might have been when this started.”