“No schoolboy dreams of becoming an insurance broker” says Duncan Sutcliffe, who is the fourth-generation business owner of Sutcliffe and Co. He went to University, served in the army for 6 years and then decided to “give insurance a try”. Starting at the bottom rung with no knowledge of the industry, his first tasks included photocopying and filing paperwork. However, as he studied, he came to love the business and Sutcliffe & Co as a place of work. “Ours is a people business” says Duncan “our job is to help customers solve problems and we develop very close relationships that allows to supply the right cover and the right price for each of them”. 18 months ago, when his dad passed away, he took over as head of the business.
It is testament to this great organisation that they have never had a recruitment or retention issue, everybody enjoys working here and nobody leaves! Even the external auditors comment on what a lovely place Sutcliffe’s is to work. There are 22 staff in the office, and they work in small teams with admin support for each customer facing role. Most of the business is local and a mix of 85% commercial and 15% personal insurance. Sutcliffe see themselves as a truly independent broker and have access to 150 insurers, which, as Duncan explained, is a lot of policies with which to be familiar! The close relationships with customers can mean they get asked some the weirdest questions, but Sutcliffe’s will always be able to connect customers with someone in the business who can answer them. Duncan is proud of the referral business that they receive. They have a large network of people who are happy to say simply “Try Sutcliffe’s” and new customers are delighted with the personal service they receive.
There’s a sister company, Mann Broadbent, which deals with specialist sports and leisure event insurance, sometimes for individuals but mainly for associations, national clubs and sports governing bodies. This means Duncan has a working knowledge of such diverse events as Quidditch, axe throwing, mermaiding and many endurance sporting events such as marathons in Outer Mongolia. They were involved in a world record breaking attempt insuring Mark Beaumont’s Around the World cycling (he did it in 79 days, 44 days ahead of the last world record).
Another major industry change has been the growth of cyber insurance and Duncan has been involved in delivering Department for Innovations and Skills programmes aimed at educating SME’s about IT security risks. “There is a need for every business to be aware of cyber security and able to fend off attacks by viruses” explains Duncan “ it’s like the equivalent of a vaccination programme, a virus can quickly spread from a private company and infect existing government and infrastructure networks, so it pays for them to educate everyone to learn to be more vigilant”.
Duncan’s views on the insurance industry are also illuminating. “Ours is usually a grudge purchase and there’s a widespread perception with the public that insurers don’t pay claims”. In fact, 96-97% of all claims are paid, with the ones that are not either fraudulent or weren’t insured in the first place. The common practice of using a dual pricing model, where an insurer will quote a lower price for a new customer versus a renewal quote for an existing customer has been, he believes, extremely damaging to the reputation of the industry. He adds “huge consumer advertising spend has driven a culture change on the part of some of the British buying public encouraging them to select on price alone; there is a risk that the cheaper price and commoditisation of insurance means reduced cover and poorer customer service. If you then need to make a claim, you may find you’re not adequately insured as a result”
Sutcliffe’s staff are very happy to help charities and to put on silly clothes in a good cause! Their last charity bowling night raised over £2,000 for St Richards Hospice. They recommended an Aviva Community award for a local primary school who now have a £10,000 new play area as a result. On a personal level Duncan supports the Chamber of Commerce, Worcester Ambassadors and Worcester Advance (networking for young professionals), runs an annual local history run and is a trustee of 3 local charities. His whole family recently completed a 120-mile Welshpool to Gloucester canoe trip for Onside Independent Advocacy. The Sutcliffe staff are given a day each year to undertake charity work of their choice, with Rich helping a local junior football club and Sue walking the Worcestershire Way. The whole team is a great example to every business of the value of enjoying work and contributing to the wider community.