In an insurance landscape dominated by international giants, a smaller Australian player is trying to do things differently, breathing new life into what has traditionally been regarded as a rather dull industry.
Although founded in 1964 in Melbourne, it is in the last four years that Honan Insurance Group has evolved its approach and presence in the market, according to Andrew Fluitsma. This new energy comes on the back of a major rebrand unveiled at the time of his appointment to CEO after nine years with the firm in a variety of roles.
The fresh identity gave the company new purpose and meaning, Fluitsma tells The CEO Magazine.
The average age in the business was around 29 years old, far below the industry average. Many of them had come from some of the larger listed firms in search of something different.“We went about seeking a lot of young, energetic people because what we wanted to do was challenge those big international firms,” he says.
“Everyone needs insurance, but it’s a hard thing to make sexy because it’s pretty boring at the core.”
However, there was a sense of confusion around the firm and its point of difference, something Fluitsma was keen to remedy.
“A lot of people within our organization didn’t really understand what we stood for other than going out and seeking insurance for our clients,” he admits.
Emulating the larger companies in the space was never part of the plan.“We don’t just want to be a small version of our larger competitors. We want to be totally different,” he stresses.
“So we spent over a year rebranding the business and coming up with a brand that was representative of our age, our spirit, our energy and our desire to challenge.”
All elements of the rebrand reflect this spirit, according to Fluitsma, who describes its central aesthetic as a “ripple”.
“It’s throwing a stone in the water and creating that ripple effect,” he explains.
The color palette of the Group transitions from blue to pink, a modern design which he highlights as quite different within the industry.
The company also opted to use simple and plain language in its tagline, “With you all the way”, which is representative of the way in which Honan goes to market.
“We take away technical terms, acronyms, we make things really easy to read and understand,” he explains. “We’re not in this for our own egos. We’re in this to help people, but to do it very clearly.”
Thought leadership plays an important role in the rebrand, with Honan constantly providing advice by releasing information around industries and insurance requirements. “There’s a KPI on every single one of the people in the business to deliver that,” he adds.
Honan’s target market is growing businesses like itself.
“What we want to do is always go above and beyond,” Fluitsma insists. “I know it sounds very cliche, but it’s not just a set and forget. We want to be with businesses as they grow.”
Its own growth journey is well underway, having transitioned from an initially organic approach focused primarily on sales to an inorganic mergers and acquisitions strategy, a shift powered by the rebrand. In 2020, Honan sold a portion of the business to Boston-based private equity firm TA Associates, after a selection process that saw it speak with more than 25 peer firms from all around the world.
“That was a big step for us, but we knew that they were a really good firm,” Fluitsma reflects. “They had a proven track record in insurance broking. They’d built some of the biggest businesses in Europe and we knew that they were going to be the best partner for us.”
The deal represented the first step in Honan’s growth trajectory, according to Fluitsma.
“We had always had a solid ethos around organic growth, so sales,” he says, adding that it had achieved impressive growth of around 15 percent for the last five years.
But the evolution of the business over that period meant it was preparing to take a different tack. “We were ready to do something inorganic,” Fluitsma states.
A burst of acquisitions ensued, with six taking place over a six-month period that culminated in the purchase of New Zealand’s Certus Insurance Brokers in March, a deal that would help strengthen Honan’s presence in the Australia and New Zealand market, according to Fluitsma.
“What we found was that it was difficult to secure the first acquisition in a very competitive acquisition market, but once we did that, the floodgates opened and we found that we’re really good at it,” he says.
There are now 11 brands in the Honan stable with other recent additions including Ardrossan Insurance Brokers, Rehab Life, ATIA Insurance Services, Carollo Horton and Trumpet Financial. It’s an aggressive expansion, and the company has no intention of stopping there.
“Our plan is to continue,” Fluitsma confirms.
The company’s technological prowess plays into this plan nicely. Not only is the company’s internal IT infrastructure considered cutting edge, but the tech solutions it provides to its customers are also top notch. This greatly enhances Honan’s appeal to other companies with growth aspirations.
“Claims portals, information platforms, all of these things are really appealing to businesses that are growing but don’t have the resources to continue to grow at the pace that they want to,” he says.
“What we are going to continue to do is acquire, and we’re going to continue to integrate, and we’re going to continue to build all those things that are appealing to businesses that want to join us. So we’re investing heavily on that, on client solutions and client-enabling solutions around tech.”
Honan will also continue to invest heavily in the brand as it continues to attract new business and has laid the groundwork for many of its recent acquisitions.
“We are certainly gaining market share, and that was always our objective, but to do it differently with a different brand and a challenger brand.” Fluitsma says.
Fluitsma is adamant that Honan’s expansion has to be done in a very sustainable way with the focus not simply on growing its piece of the pie.
“We’re very clear on our target verticals,” he stresses. These primarily include technology businesses, insurance solutions, financial institutions, life sciences and biotech.
“And we’re still one of the biggest players in the strata brokering space. So we continue to work very closely with property managers, mainly large property managers, large residential towers, commercial towers and so on.”
This targeted approach sees Honan provide clients with detailed reporting to enhance their experience.
“We’ve got a really big focus on data and analytics now,” Fluitsma says. “That is really providing our clients with bands of benchmarking, for example, to understand the amount of insurance they need to buy, based on how much they want to self-insure versus how much they want to transfer to insurance companies.”
In Fluitsma’s view, this is even more important as the insurance market continues to harden.
“Prices are going up, and everybody recognizes that right now,” he continues. “That’s why we’re really pushing the advice component rather than just saying, ‘Here’s a policy, here’s a premium, take it or leave it’.”
Honan is something of a trailblazer in this regard, with business agility pivotal to its strategy. But, by design, it is perfectly positioned to act swiftly.
“We are big but we’re nimble, so we can execute these projects really quickly and it’s very, very exciting for us,” he enthuses, referring to its projects in the area of client data analytics for decision making.
Rather than simply presenting clients with a quote, Honan works with them to demonstrate ways they can reduce their insurance spend through smart buying, helping them to understand what they can afford to retain or self-insure against what they want to transfer.
“That’s been a hugely successful strategy for us,” Fluitsma says.
The company is also pushing hard into cyber, with data breaches now the number one risk for businesses globally. In line with this, the global cybersecurity insurance market is projected to reach US$38.7 billion by 2030, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 19.5 percent, according to Straits Research. But challenges exist.
“Obtaining cyber insurance is not easy, particularly in certain industries where businesses are highly vulnerable,” he says. “They are sectors where we have a huge focus. For example, medical records – the minute they get hacked, that’s a massive issue with personal information at risk. The same applies with financial institutions, and telco is a big one, too.”
A range of online tools are already available to Honan clients to help them understand the risks at play and the measures they need to put in place to make cyber insurance more attainable. It has also partnered with a number of insurers to provide cyber insurance on an advisory basis to large businesses, particularly those that are listed.
A partnership with Lloyds of London has also led to the creation of an online tool for small and medium-size enterprises (SME), giving them several steps to go through to ensure their businesses are protected to a standard.
“This then allows them to obtain affordable cyber insurance,” Fluitsma explains.
“That’s a very innovative process for us because the industry has never really been focused on that middle market and SME sector, and we really want to ensure clients in that range understand that they’re very at-risk as well – probably even more so sometimes.”
While it continues to provide services to big telcos, IT businesses and financial institutions using a different approach, Honan is invested in making SMEs aware of the risks using its range of online tools.
“I think that’s a really positive story as well,” he says.
There’s no question that it’s been a busy few years for Honan, and its efforts appear to be paying off.
“We are really emerging as a big player in the APAC region,” Fluitsma says proudly. The company now has 10 offices worldwide, with more than 400 employees and upwards of 30,000 clients.
“We’ve certainly challenged the traditional model with the way we use really plain English, the energy we bring, the constant thought leadership and updates we’re bringing to the market as well as us being really nimble and our strong IT and data focus, which is making life a lot easier for buyers,” he says.
Although the average age of its employees has crept up to 32 since the rebrand, it remains young in relation to much of the industry.
“We’re also 58 percent women, and that’s represented at the executive level as well,” he says. “We’ve just qualified for our reconciliation action plan, we’ve got our ESG strategy, we take everything really seriously in creating diversity of thought in the business because we want to break the mold of what is, in some respects, a very antiquated industry.”