Before he joined the insurance sector, Edward Bruce, CEO of Bruce Stevenson, was a Chartered surveyor working in the northwest of Scotland, an interlude that even 25 years into his insurance career he remembers for the passion for professionalism that it instilled in him.
When Aston Lark acquired Bruce Stevenson earlier this year, the broker’s CII Chartered status and role in promoting insurance qualifications was emphasised, and Bruce noted that the culture of his business is one that cements the link between these qualifications and professional progression.
“It’s good to invest in your staff,” he said, “and to develop them so they can serve customers with the best possible advice. I think that’s a win-win all around. That’s why we have those barriers in our business, where you have to have certain qualifications before you can get to certain levels. I have always felt that, from a cultural focus, that’s a good thing. But also from an exposure [standpoint], if your staff are better trained they should have less exposure to things going wrong, though of course there’s no guarantee.”
It was important to him and the team that Aston Lark was a Chartered broker as well, he said, and he believes that the industry should make more out of those brokers who have achieved that “badge of honour”.
Bruce highlighted that, since 1996, when he joined the business, which was co-founded by his father, he has seen it grow from a tiny firm with around 10 staff in an Edinburgh office to a brand enjoying real recognition for its expertise, customer-centricity and values-led culture. The hallmarks for success were there from first-doors, he said, as the culture of the firm has always been strong and it has maintained a strong and loyal customer base.
“Some of those first customers are still clients to this day,” he said. “So, when I decided to join I was very keen to give [broking] a try and I felt that my surveying skills, particularly around customer focus, were very transferable. I gave it a shot and joined, and 25 years later I’m really glad I did as I’ve enjoyed it so much. I’ve had an opportunity to build a business which had a great name but was very small, and develop that and build teams with people who have real expertise and market knowledge.”
Bruce Stevenson has diversified into several niche areas where it has seen the opportunity to provide something new to the market, he said, and has even done a bit of M&A along the way. To date, this hasn’t been a driving force for the firm but, where it finds like-minded, culturally aligned businesses, it also finds an opportunity to bring new people and new ideas on board. By the time the firm was sold, it boasted over 100 staff and four offices, each linked by a strong brand and a shared culture.
“And I’d always said I’d remain independent forever, but there was a lot going on that made me think about the future,” he said. “And I’d got to know Stuart [Rootham, group MD, Aston Lark] really well some 20 years ago at a management training course in Bordeaux, where we’d got on instantly… And I’ve known Peter [Blanc, group CEO] for over 10 years as well, and as I got to know them, I understood that we have very similar values and business ethoses.
“So when I did start thinking about the long term future of Bruce Stevenson, there was a lot at play. I had a confidential chat with Stuart and Peter and very quickly realised that our values and ambitions were very similar. What was great was that they were very big in England and Ireland but didn’t have great penetration in Scotland. For me, that was very attractive as I’m very protective of my staff, my offices and my brand.”
Bruce noted that he has seen other firms in Scotland who sold to big corporate insurance brokers and within a year their identities were dissolved. To see a brand and a reputation crafted from so much hard work just disappear like that was exactly what he wanted to avoid and so the team has been delighted by the deal done with Aston Lark. As per its terms, Bruce Stevenson will take over the existing Aston Lark office in Glasgow, which will rebrand as Bruce Stevenson and Aston Lark Scotland will operate under the Bruce Stevenson brand.
“It’s a great outcome - it means that my legacy continues, and we continue to build and grow quicker as part of the Aston Lark team. It’s a win-win as our client service appears to be very similar, which is a real focus for me. Now, some six months in, it’s all looking very positive,” he said. “I’m really pleased with the home that we’ve found and all my executive team have invested in Aston Lark and bought shares as a sign of commitment. We’re in it for the long-term, so it’s exciting.”
You can read Edward's introduction to our autumn newsletter here