Ipswich: People at the heart of success for insurance broker Pound Gates

Kevin Collins. managing firector at the Pound Gates Group in Ipswich.

Kevin Collins. managing firector at the Pound Gates Group in Ipswich. - Credit: Su Anderson

Insurance brokers The Pound Gates Group runs two successful businesses from its offices in Ipswich. Ross Bentley talks to managing director Kevin Collins about why the town is an ideal location to base his company.

Looking out across Ipswich from his office on Cutler Street, managing director of insurance brokers Pound Gates, Kevin Collins, muses on why Ipswich is the ideal town in which to base his business.

“Ipswich is a superb location for us,” he says. “There is a good pool of talent locally and Ipswich is a centre of excellence for the insurance industry – the direct insurers run call-centres here in significant numbers and we also have Willis and a major AXA operation in the town as well.

“We are only just over an hour from London and we do a lot of business in London,” he adds. “The balance of a relatively inexpensive location, a pool of talent to draw on and the world’s biggest insurance marketplace an hour down the road is a very good complementary set of circumstances.”

The Pound Gates Group has been offering insurance broking and risk management services for businesses for over 25 years and today is made up of two distinct enterprises: Pound Gates, the insurance brokers and Sevatas, which is market leader in what is known as the finished vehicle logistics sector.

Currently, 25 people work for the Pound Gates insurance broking part of the business, which generates around £2million in turnover.

Under Kevin’s stewardship the business has had a strong focus on specialisms and is a globally recognised insurer for the tank container industry, which transports a variety of gases, chemicals and powders. The company is also heavily involved in providing insurance for the self-storage market and removal businesses, as well as insuring approximately 3,000 nurseries and schools around the country.

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But while the firm has grown through being focussed on these specialist areas, Kevin says he now wants to concentrate on doing more business locally in Suffolk and the wider region.

“With some of the quality accreditations we have and the emphasis we put on our professionalism and expertise - there is an opportunity for us to develop locally,” he continues.

“The insurance industry has dramatically changed in recent years. In 2005 there were around 10,000 insurance brokers in the UK but today there are less than 3,000. This has happened predominantly through the big brokerage firms buying up other brokers and achieving scale.

“There are very few independent insurance firms left and owner-managed businesses often don’t want to deal with corporate firms – they want to deal with another locally-owned business that is still nonetheless highly professional.”

The company’s ability to deal with insurance issues at a high level is demonstrated by the success of the other part of the business Sevatas, a global concern that represents leading vehicle manufacturers whose cars or vans may have been damaged in transit.

The ins and outs of the business will be of interest to anyone who has ever bought a new car because, according to Kevin, around 2% of new cars have actually been repaired before they reach the customer.

“If you buy anything that is manufactured abroad – it travels from its manufacturing point to the customer and is packaged for that purpose with the expectation that it will be dropped and thrown around,” he says

“But cars get driven off the production line onto a car transporter, ship or train – and are packed into relatively small spaces. Lots of them get little dents and scratches but there are catastrophes as well and we manage these on behalf of the manufacturer. It’s a global business – we are charged with ensuring that the condition of a vehicle at the point of sale is appropriate to the manufacturer and we also manage the cost of the damage and make recoveries from the liable parties on behalf of the manufacturer.”

At the moment Sevatas is managing a major hail event on behalf of a client in the wake of storm that hit central Europe earlier this summer.

“New cars are particularly susceptible to hail,” continues Kevin. “Some of the compounds where new cars are stored can have 25,000 vehicles in them, so you can imagine the extent of the damage in the event of a hail storm. Very often these supply sites are near a production facility, which may be the only site that makes a particular model.

“That number of cars being damaged at the same time can have an enormous impact on a manufacturer – not only in terms of the financial loss but also in terms of not being able to supply their product.”

Around 35 of the 80 staff working for Sevatas, which has grown around 500% in the past decade and today turns over £4m, are based in Ipswich, which again has proved a great place to find people with the right skills.

“Our staff here collectively speak 15 different languages handling operations in all these different countries predominantly around Europe,” says Kevin.

“Ipswich is fabulous place to recruit international people. The people we recruit within Sevatas are not just British people who speak a foreign language. We have people from a wide range of countries including France, Poland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Romania, the Netherlands and Venezuela who are living in the local community. Far more important than language is culture and being able to articulate in a way that a person sitting on the phone in an office in Madrid understands culturally. A lot of what we are doing is negotiating and challenging.

He adds: “It’s part of the international dimension that Ipswich has always had from its port origins – it’s always been a trading location. But we also get the benefit of being an English business, so when we are dealing internationally, particularly in the types of issues we are involved in, we are seen as being fair, reasonable and professional and those aspects can be seen as being very important. So, having the complementary British business but with the tone and cultural understanding suitable for the countries we working in gives us a very good blend.”

The Sevatas part of the business grew from the early days of the Pound Gates Group, which was established in 1988 by friends Allan Pound and Ivan Gates. One of their first clients was Mercedes Benz, whose vehicles used to come into Ipswich and the firm would inspect vehicles and handle claims on their behalf.

Kevin joined the business in 2000 and unfortunately a few months later Ivan Gates was diagnosed with a terminal illness, which saw him pass away in July 2001.

“It was a tough time, to try and stitch it all together, to secure the clients and secure the suppliers but Allan and I worked our way through that and we had very positive management buy-out in 2002,” continues Kevin.

“Allan left the business in 2005 but I remain close to him and still meet up with him socially. We always invite him to any of the social functions we hold within the company.”

These changes created an opportunity for new people to join the company and to take on senior roles and with people at the core of the business investing in learning and development is very important to the company. All of the staff in the insurance broking business that have been with the company more than two years, with the exception of one, have attained professional qualifications through examination.

Kevin says: “It was the staff who decided to go for it. A whole bunch of them who hadn’t studied in years decided that if we were to become a chartered business they wanted to qualify. They supported each other through the process.

“As a service provider we don’t manufacture or produce anything, so the competencies and capabilities we have and the good will we have in our business is entirely invested in the people.”

Corporate social responsibility is also important to the firm, which supports an Ipswich - based charity called Kenyan School Fund and has its own fund within the Suffolk Community Foundation focussed on supporting children and young people. Time off work is also granted for employees who want to support charities of their own that they feel strongly about.

Kevin adds: “Our values are shaped by the nature of the people who work in the business. We have some fabulous citizens here who provide leadership for corporate social responsibility activity.”