MGAs: A Leader’s Perspective – Nick Grazier, Geo Specialty Underwriting
The MGA market continues to grow in the ever competitive and changing insurance landscape.
I have recently interviewed the CEO’s and leaders of several MGA’s to discuss their views on various topics relating to the MGA market.
Today’s interview is with: Nick Grazier, Managing Director of Geo Specialty Underwriting
- Nick was Strategic Partnerships & Development Director at Dual prior to Geo Specialty.
- Nick currently leads the London market MGU within the Ardonagh Group with a strong team of market leading underwriters across a wide range of specialty lines. Full P&L accountability and regulatory responsibility as well as a member of the group underwriting Executive team.
Q1. What was the initial attraction to you in terms of getting into the MGA space in the first place?
For me, it was genuinely the best opportunity to utilize my skill set. I bring a different lens to the business which compliments the strong underwriting talent we employ.
That’s unusual isn’t it?
I guess it’s unusual in a lot of underwriting businesses to be a CEO and not come up through the underwriting route, as a lot of MGA’s are run by underwriter’s and ex underwriters. I did start my career as a casualty underwriter and I understand the underwriting process however, my skill set is much more commercially focused, with a strong sales and marketing background, so I guess I challenge the status quo somewhat. I left a Lloyds syndicate environment to join an MGA, and it was just a better fit. I felt at the time it was somewhere I could really make a difference. Having worked in insurers, syndicates and brokers, for me personally, the MGA was the best of all those environments.
Q2. Is the MGA and specifically, the Geo Specialty environment, different to other MGAs you have worked with?
The emphasis for me has always been about being an underwriting business first and foremost but the real difference now is understanding, and then executing, a strategy that brings to life what specialty really means. You can find a lot of businesses in the market that are specialty, so unless we can bring something different to the table, it’s just not sustainable.
Q3. Do you see any shift in emphasis from the capacity providers and the insurers in terms of appetite for MGA’s?
Certainly, with what’s going on within Lloyds right now there’s going to be a lot of underwriters looking at what their next move is.
The MGA is definitely seen as a credible, stable and accepted part of the Insurance market and with this comes greater emphasis on not only being better underwriters but also bringing something different. Whether you’re on Lime Street or in the Regions, just simply replicating what insurers or capacity providers do isn’t enough anymore. The MGA has to deliver genuine value to its partners, and this isn’t just about product, it’s about the whole business mix.
As expenses get squeezed at the top end, that comes down the chain. So, the trick for an MGA isn’t just to be good at what you do from an underwriting perspective, but you have to be more effective and you have to deliver it more efficiently than anyone else can do it, certainly over your capacity providers. Otherwise there is no value with them working with an MGA.
Q4. Have you seen a greater appetite from reinsurers and overseas, in terms of supporting MGA’s?
Reinsurers are certainly becoming increasingly active in our space, I think the challenge will always be how we can practically make this relationship work. Where we are engaged with them, they get it, and whilst they have a desire to be in a class of business they will allow us the opportunity to show genuine underwriting leadership. Putting Underwriting at the heart of the MGA means going out and getting what we believe are best in class underwriters. What we want to do is the underwriting from start to finish; create the proposition, develop the wordings, create the pricing. We all operate in a much more demanding environment now, with greater competition for capacity. As a virtual insurer you must be able to demonstrate your pricing model and reinsurers respect that. If the capacity provider has to re-underwrite or duplicate underwriting process either the model or the partner is wrong.
Q5. How would you say working in an MGA environment is different to an insurer or broker environment?
The Insurer environment offers much greater structure and certainty and as an underwriter you probably benefit from more established broker relationships and are able to leverage larger books of business other classes can provide. MGAs have to fight much harder, underwriters have to be much more entrepreneurial and the best ones will go out and make things happen. There is also much greater emphasis on product development and innovation with the MGA environment. Insurers typically don’t do this well or quickly.
Q6. What does it take to grow a profitable, sustainable MGA business?
Startups are hard, in any business. I think there are a lot of startup MGAs that understand that. To grow and be sustainable you have to provide something different, and I will always talk about a unique point of difference. It doesn’t have to be about product and I think a mistake a lot of businesses make is they only focus on product. For me, it’s about the whole proposition. That could be product, the tech you are using to deliver it, the experience a broker gets or the use of data, but it has to be something you can clearly identify. The trick for an MGA is to have that right blend and to continuously invest in it to stay ahead.
Q7. What would you say is the biggest opportunity in the market?
Over the next five years, for MGAs there’s going to be a couple of things that play out. Firstly, there is going to be a much more sophisticated capacity model, the model of just going to a market with a binder and placing it transactionally is outdated. It will still happen, but I don’t think the most successful MGA’s will operate like that. MGA’s will also look at ownership of risk in terms of having some of their own capacity and in terms of being able to attract the best underwriters and develop the best business plan, that’s going to be an important part of that.
Tech will inevitably play a part as well, not just about being more efficient, but more about how we engage with our brokers and capacity providers. Virtual underwriting rooms, blockchain, apps to bind and place risks, it’s all possible and more importantly, relevant. I think the traditional ways of doing business have changed however the premise of underwriter and broker trading remains, just done in a different way.
Q8. What’s the greatest challenge?
The greatest challenge is to be better than your peers and to stay relevant.
Q9. What does the future hold for the MGA market?
Prosperity I hope… I think we will see a natural reshaping of the sector and a greater move towards more sophisticated underwriting businesses that compliment rather than duplicate the insurer model.
Q10. Do you think people working outside the MGA environment look on MGAs differently?
Yes, I think they do now. I talk to a lot of really talented underwriters that are genuinely interested in going down the MGA route as an attractive and positive career option not because of a pay check but because it’s an environment that will support them to fulfill career ambitions.
Q11. How has the MGA market changed in recent years?
In London we see a lot more international/regional development now and I think when you map that against what the market really wants, an MGA is one of the most effective vehicles for a business based here. A lot of local business isn’t coming into the wholesale market anymore and local producing brokers whether they are in the UK, Leeds or Spain, want to talk to underwriters.
Q12. How do you see the future of the MGA landscape?
I think there will be less, and there probably should be, but at the same time it will be a much more specialist market. I would also hope to see MGAs sat alongside syndicates and consortiums within Lloyd’s.
Q13. In terms of technology, what part will technology play in the future development of MGAs?
The world has changed in terms of how people engage with each other and business is no different. I think technology will go beyond online quote and buy, or simply how we produce a policy schedule.
Q14. Do you work with any insure tech style providers in the market?
We talk to them, but it goes back to that unique point of difference piece. We are mindful of the opportunity but also of rushing in. Where it can add value and where it can deliver better insight and better knowledge for us, and for our brokers, then we would clearly be much more inclined to invest more time.
Q15. Have you seen a shift in terms of the insurance capacity providers in tech?
There is a lot more emphasis coming in now on tech from the Lloyds market, especially in terms of how things are processed. There is lots of talk and discussions, but less tangible change.
Q16. Does it take longer because they are a bit further behind the rest of the market?
In part yes, but it’s also about the complexity of the market and the interplay between managing agents, Lloyd’s, the wider insurance market and the regulatory environment. Partly it’s just about the way things have always been done.
Q17. They have been pushing for a while, haven’t they?
Yes and this will only continue.
Q18. Is the tech play more geared towards personal lines?
Not necessarily. I think the sophistication inherent in tech doesn’t need to be just personal lines focused. That’s always been the argument that it’s all about commodity, but customers wouldn’t expect that. A customer for me now would expect to be able to work with a broker or work in a market where their risk can be accommodated with tech and I don’t see why the market shouldn’t continue to evolve to reflect this. The whole underwriting approach to tech has to change. In an MGA environment, the difficulty has always been that most of the tech has been built or developed by underwriters. What we are trying to do then is create an underwriter online that does it in exactly the same way as an underwriter! The tech play has to change that otherwise you are asking 30 underwriting questions online which is just disproportionate to what the rest of the world would do for similar financial risks.
Q19. From a recruitment point of view, what would you say is the attraction for someone coming to work for an MGA if they haven’t before?
The key attraction is you can genuinely make a difference. It’s a healthy space for people to think differently, with people who will back you. However, you live and breathe at the coal face, the results are more visible and there is nowhere to hide.
Q20. What advice would you give someone who is looking to start up an MGA?
You have to think really long and hard as to what is going to make you different; spend more time developing your business plan up front and do your research. At the same time think about how things need to be done, don’t just simply replicate what you know or how things have always been done. Challenge yourself and the model and focus on how you can deliver the greatest value to all of your stakeholders.
Right International are specialist Headhunters to the MGA/Insurance market and have extensive experience of supporting start up MGA’s, recruiting key individuals as part of the initial senior management team. We also have a successful track record of sourcing the top talent for market leading MGA’s. If you are looking to fill a key role, please contact me to discuss how RI can help.
If you would like to be involved in future articles, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback. Look out for the next interview coming soon!
All the best,
Founder & MD
Right International Insurance Headhunters
At Right International our specialty is sourcing the top achievers for the Insurance Market.