18/06/2009 - 00:00

Insurance broker expands country wide

18/06/2009 - 00:00


Save articles for future reference.

THE insurance industry is going through a "hard market" where rates are rising and insurers become more selective in the types of risks they are prepared to write.

BUYING IN: Wayne Cooper (centre), pictured with Greg Evans (left) and Ray Ball, says Country Wide Insurance Brokers has grown through acquisitions. Photo: Grant Currall

THE insurance industry is going through a "hard market" where rates are rising and insurers become more selective in the types of risks they are prepared to write.

Despite this, Country Wide Insurance Brokers is experiencing its best year of growth, with a stable business model and healthy projections.

Country Wide managing director Ray Ball, who was recruited by the Perth-based business's founders Peter Banks and Wayne Cooper in 1994, said the company's diverse portfolio was well spread to ensure it did not suffer if any one sector experienced a downturn.

The 21-year-old company has grown through acquisitions, focusing on the farming, marine and transport sectors, while selectively servicing the sometimes-risky mining sector.

"We are also actively looking for acquisitions of business that fits within our own model," Mr Ball said.

Competing with many small to medium-sized general insurance brokers in the metropolitan market and other brokers and agents in the regional areas of Western Australia, Country Wide has found it challenging to increase market share in a crowded marketplace.

Mr Ball said while the industry presented many unique opportunities to help provide people and businesses with good risk management solutions, the sector's issues were often of a cyclical nature.

To combat the peaks and troughs of the insurance market, Country Wide has focused on maintaining liquidity in the business, while also running a highly selective recruitment process.

"As our company grew, part by acquisition and also by organic growth, employing more staff and controlling our cash flow was critical," Mr Ball said.

"We needed to ensure we did not allow ourselves to be in a difficult position if there was a drought in the rural areas or recession-type influences on the small to medium type business in the metropolitan markets.

"We were also mindful that the boom times of the mining industry would eventually come back."

With 42 staff, including recently appointed operations manager Greg Evans, Country Wide has over the years implemented a robust recruitment strategy to ensure the state's regional markets are catered for.

Mr Ball said Country Wide focused on employing quality staff despite a period when employment was difficult the businesswas under increasing wages pressure.

"During this time the rural areas did experience drought conditions, in particular the Wheatbelt which put pressure on our cash flow," he said.

"Our company took the strategic view to diversify our portfolio of business and also provide a presence in the regional parts of WA for two reasons.

"The first was that we did not want to be just another Perth-based broker.

"We saw the diminishing service being provided to the regional areas of WA as a real opportunity to grow our business and this necessitated opening branches in the larger regional centres.

"This also provided us with the opportunity to have a portfolio of business that encompassed the rural and farming business together with the small to medium business in those centres.

"We also have business in the north-west, which includes some mining, together with the Perth metropolitan and larger city markets of Mandurah, Bunbury and Geraldton.

"In the current economic market it has proved to be very beneficial as the rural market is quite buoyant at the moment while the mining sector is going through some tough times."

Mr Cooper said employing Mr Ball in the mid-1990s had facilitated the company's steady growth.

He said Mr Ball had extensive knowledge and experience in regions such as Narrogin and Mandurah, which became the catalyst for Country Wide's expansion in rural WA.

"A lot of our growth came from coincidence, you could say, but now we have eight branches and we have maintained a good spread in our portfolio," Mr Cooper told WA Business News.

As a registered insurance broker, Mr Cooper said, the company worked for the client and not the agent of the insurance company, maintaining that no single insurance company could provide the best policies at the most competitive premiums to cover all types of insurance.

The business has diversified its portfolio to offer a broader range of products.


Subscription Options