Amet Insurance Solutions, a Belfast-based managing general agent (MGA), exists to “provide the best end-to-end insurance solution for our policyholders, brokers and insurers”. Managing Director Vincent McIvor talks to agendaNi about their work and hope of breaking into the public sector.
MGAs such as Amet are classed as intermediaries, between insurers and brokers, and underwrite business on behalf of the insurer while managing their claims locally. In Amet’s case, this underwriting and claims handling is done for Liberty Insurance, which benefits from the financial strength of being part of the Liberty Mutual Group, a trusted global insurer with a Standard & Poors A rating.
“Myself and the three other Directors had all worked together at Europa General and RSA and decided to set Amet up three years ago to get back to our values and roots, which are local underwriting and local claims handling,” McIvor says. “We wanted to get back to the service levels that we were used to, and we had seen a gap in the market with insurers here centralising operations by moving claims teams and underwriters back to either the Republic of Ireland or across to GB. The dilution of these teams and the loss of key decision makers from Northern Ireland offices opened up the opportunity for us and we felt it was the right time for us to fill the gap.
“We underwrite for Liberty Insurance and it’s working out really well. The two products we offer at present are employers and public liability and commercial motor, which we will be looking to expand upon in the near future. We’ve grown quite quickly, and we are now a team of 11 experienced insurance staff. We will also be adding to the team throughout the year to ensure our service levels remain market leading. We’ve gone back to our core values whilst remaining focussed on our expertise, which is working in our core sectors in the Northern Ireland market.”
Any claims brought under the policies underwritten by Amet on behalf of Liberty in Northern Ireland are handled by the Amet team locally. McIvor reasons that a mixture of local and sectoral focus has been key to Amet’s success: “We’re very sector focussed, we concentrate on construction, transport & logistics and manufacturing and we want to be able to tender for the public sector and local government insurance contracts. From a motor insurance point of view our appetite is very wide ranging, from a single van or taxi to the biggest fleets in the province. Our Liability product can offer cover ranging from sole traders for allied trades such as plumbers, electricians, etc. all the way through to the largest construction companies. We have a varied appetite in terms of what we can offer but we are very focussed on the sectors we want to work with because we have a history of doing so and understand their needs and they also have a history of working with us.
“We work primarily in partnership with insurance brokers although we do also deal directly with a few client’s with whom there has been a long historical business relationship. There are approximately 100 commercial brokers in Northern Ireland, but we’ve been specific about who we want to work with and kept our broker panel small. We’ve purposely done that to build and maintain the service levels we want to be able to provide for our customers. We are competitive with pricing but we’re not chasing prices, we underwrite to achieve the right price and cover for the risk. Our claims handling is a key part of our service and I would say we have the best service in Northern Ireland. The expertise and local knowledge we have in the team is excellent and we are adding to it as we want to make sure we stay one step ahead of our competitors. When incidents occur, we are pro-active in our approach to ensure our clients are looked after with as little disruption to their business as possible. This is what our customers require and remember, and we want the relationships between Amet, the broker and the customer to grow and flourish.”
It is Amet’s sectoral focus and McIvor’s stated intention of breaking into the realm of public sector insurance that has caused the company its greatest headache. Amet are unable to offer their cover or service under the current tender process however they see this sector as a key area of growth for the future. “Our team here have in-depth knowledge and experience handling Public Sector business in the previous MGAs we worked for. Our team underwrote and handled claims for the government fleet, Local Councils, NI Water and the Education Authority for example. Our expertise is locally available, and we know we can bring added value to the Public Sector however we are unable to do so at this point in time.
We understand an A-rating is an important measurement for the security of a company however there are other factors and measurements that can be taken into consideration. Solvency levels for example, basically the capital held by a company to cover potential or expected claims and liabilities are a strong indicator of a company’s financial strength.
More awareness of the opportunities out there is what is required, and policyholders can then make an educated decision on where to place their insurances.
“Being unable to tender is frustrating as we feel that the Public Sector is missing out on a good opportunity with Amet.” There is of course the other albatross that hangs above the heads of every business working in Northern Ireland. “Brexit is always on people’s minds,” McIvor says. “We can write business in the Republic of Ireland through passporting but haven’t gone that route yet as if there is a no deal scenario then passporting goes. If we wanted to continue writing that business, we would have to set up an entity in an EU region. With a deal, there would be a transition period allowing passporting to continue until a trade deal was put in place which, ideally, would contain a deal that allowed passporting between the UK and EU in the future. At this stage we are reviewing the cost/benefit of an application for full authorisation with the Central Bank in the Republic of Ireland. Like any company, we want to expand, and the Republic’s market is something we understand through our previous roles and experience.”
However, Brexit and public sector barriers have not stopped Amet and McIvor’s plans for the future. “We’re looking at adding a contract works product to our portfolio, which would go hand-in-hand with our liability book of business for the construction sector,” he details. “Our plans are to grow and keep employing good people. We see Northern Ireland being drained of good people in the insurance sector as mentioned however we can offer the knowledge and expertise on the ground. Building this team locally and building upon our relationships locally is our opportunity to build a strong company that brings employment to the Northern Ireland economy. If we can help, in a small way, to keep some insurance expertise here in Northern Ireland, then I’m proud to be part of that.
“The priority now is to grow organically; one way would be to be able to offer our services to the public sector. Our plan was always to bring our values back and have a close-knit team. We’ve created a culture that’s doing that and that’s what we want to keep going. For me and the other Directors, it was the challenge of creating a good company, a local company, employing good people and creating a good culture that inspired us to create Amet. We will keep to those values and try to expand Amet into new markets and create a full suite of products to offer to our customers” he concludes.
Vincent McIvor, Managing Director
T: 028 9692 3949