Structure & Ethos

Managing business transition is best tackled in small steps, Chaucer’s Head of Marine Specialty, Mike Smith, says about his role in integrating Chaucer’s acquisition of Lonham Group Limited, into the company structure and ethos.

In 2015, Ipswich-based specialist marine underwriting agency Lonham Group Limited was acquired by Chaucer Group, as the insurer looked to strengthen their long-standing presence in the UK marine market. With a complementary book of predominately UK and US SME clients, Lonham brought an additional dimension to the company’s global marine offering.

Whilst Lonham ran as a parallel business for several years, the company restructured their Marine Division into Marine Specialty and Marine Global. Lonham became established as the key pillar of Marine Specialty, providing underwriting expertise in cargo and freight.

Head of Marine Specialty, Mike Smith, is an industry veteran with more than thirty years in the marine broking community. As a people-person with a reputation for creating strong relationships, Mike joined Chaucer in 2021 to drive the integration of Lonham and lead the newly formed Marine Specialty business.

Mike has been pivotal in overseeing the integration of the business including embracing company’s ‘One Chaucer’ culture. His key focus, however, has been developing a clear client proposition for Marine Specialty, which now combines teams across Ipswich and London.

“We have brought three lines of business under the umbrella of Marine Specialty, operating from the Ipswich and London offices of Chaucer. We have de-mystified the business, refocussed our strategy based on our products, distribution and geographies.

"We've got three products; cargo insurance, freight liability and marine Professional Indemnity, and three forms of distribution; open market activity with brokers, delegated authorities, and a digital solution which we're soon to launch. We also have three key geographies; UK, USA and Europe/Middle East, though we can write worldwide. This gives us a clear, client focused proposition and a broad range of solutions for our marine clients.”

Critical to developing the new proposition was creating a team seamlessly operating across the specialty areas and distribution channels, with touchpoints in both Ipswich and London, including working with a dedicated in-house claims function.

“One of my key roles was getting everyone on to a common strategy and implementing an integrated business approach and behaviours."

"We have a strong team who are very passionate about what they do. Our business is all about client service and expertise - and dedication to delivering those two things efficiently and quickly. Our progress shows what can be achieved by a positive mindset, determination, and optimism.”

In an industry where changes of ownership are commonplace and consolidation is prevalent, integrating teams and strategies will be a challenge many are familiar with.

Creating a united business following an acquisition takes time but according to Mike, the key to success is in breaking it down into individual hurdles and dealing with each of the steps one at a time, whilst staying mindful of the end goal.

“When you're working through a transition sometimes challenges can seem insurmountable, but if you break them down and get everyone to take each change one step at a time, then you can overcome them. We’ve managed to do this effectively.”

Having restructured teams, fostered relationships between the two offices and adjusted roles to enable cross-collaboration, there is further progress in the pipeline with increased technological integration. The team is currently soft launching their digitalisation project, their UK Cargo Quote and Bind platform, which was showcased at BIBA.

“Automation has been changing the landscape of the insurance sector, including increased use of AI, for many years. With high volume, lower value SME cargo and freight risks, a certain amount of automation makes sense for both brokers and underwriters so that we can all work smarter, and give more time to technical underwriting on more complex risks and growth.”

Looking ahead to what Mike sees in the pipeline for the next ten years, he is expecting the traditional marketplace Lonham has previously operated in to continue changing significantly due to broker consolidation, so has one eye on the bigger picture.

“Lonham has historically had strong local office relationships, which is how the business was built. These are hugely valuable to us, but as local brokers are acquired by larger progressive broking houses, the local autonomy may no longer be there. We need to ensure relationships with the bigger brokers are in play through our Distribution team and seek opportunities with key partners, in spite of the changing market dynamics.”

Having built the framework and the foundations for the business over the last couple of years by blending expertise, reviewing processes and eliminating duplication, the next step is to bring in efficiency and maximise opportunities, which Mike sees as achievable through resilience and succession planning.

“We have brought resilience to our business, and now we need to be smart about how we grow longer term, for example, through geographical spread and methods of distribution. Increased use of technology will help with this, working smarter so the great people we have can use their skills and time in the best way possible.”

Although Mike has had a busy time the past few years, the road still has plenty of steps ahead on it. It’s a challenge Mike embraces, even though his children, many grandchildren, chickens and dogs keep him busy at home too. As someone with a deep love of all things marine – he keeps a boat near his home in Suffolk and would be doing “anything involving messing about in boats” if he wasn’t working in insurance - it sounds like he’s perfectly suited to push forward Chaucer’s Marine Specialty plans.