Thinking that Markerstudy Group was just like any other UK company in the insurance space would be wrong, warns Adam Miller. “Speed and agility are ingrained in our DNA,” he tells The CEO Magazine. As the Group Head of IT, Adam finds himself front and centre of every manoeuvre the group makes. “Technology naturally plays a key role in making sure we can move fast, responding to changing conditions and taking opportunities as they arise,” he says. “It’s up to me to ensure we’re ready and able to respond when needed.”
Adam, an experienced insurance IT professional who joined Markerstudy in 2015 after over 16 years with AXA Group, says his leadership role covers a broad area, including everything from the delivery of reliable and secure core IT services such as desktops, phones and networks, through to security, software development, innovation and taking the technology lead in M&A activity.
“Above all, it’s about leading a fantastic team of around 100 technology professionals who deliver great IT services to all of the businesses that make up the Markerstudy Group,” he says.
“Maintaining strong relationships with our key partners has been an essential component in our success.”
For a company that, in just 20 years, has grown into one of the UK’s leading insurance providers with over 1,000 broker partners and over three million policyholders, it’s hardly a surprise that technology is in the driving seat. Above all, the Markerstudy name is recognised for specialist vehicle coverage that provides solutions for non-standard customer cases, whether that’s insurance policies for high-value and high-performance cars, Japanese import and kit cars, or providing insurance solutions for young drivers, drivers with unusual occupations or drivers with prior convictions.
Headquartered in Kent, the Group also extends to complementary businesses such as windscreen repair and replacement company Auto Windscreens; Internet of Things, video telematics solutions VisionTrack; pet intermediaries, as part of the Markerstudy Broking division, as well as Vision Vehicle Solutions, a collaboration that provides not-at-fault policyholders with replacement vehicles.
In January 2021, the Group announced a £200 million (€235 million) injection of funds from Pollen Street Capital, an investment it said in a statement to the press will be used to pursue an “ambitious and sustainable” growth program.
A lasting legacy
The Group’s impressive two-decade growth spurt has been fuelled by a series of smart acquisitions, including the 2020 purchase of the Co-op Insurance underwriting business and the 2021 purchase of Brightside Insurance. Both names have been added to an existing portfolio that includes brands such as Geoffrey Insurance and Zenith Insurance.
Such a stream of M&A activity has been made possible by increased digital capabilities driven by Adam and the IT team. Technology has lifted entry barriers and new companies are now able to be onboarded quickly and fluently. The past five years in particular have seen the development of an IT blueprint that is applied to each new business that comes into the Markerstudy fold.
This means that Markerstudy isn’t in a position of needing to learn a legacy system with every acquisition. In the case of Co-op Insurance, this meant that a base of existing Markerstudy technology was overlaid with Co-op data in a standalone, cloud infrastructure – a bold move that saw the underwriting business move to the cloud for the first time. In total, the transition took two years and was mapped in finite detail and executed with what has been described as “military precision”.
And rather than needing to increase IT staff numbers to deliver the project, Adam’s IT team was able to absorb the Co-op requirements using its current capabilities. With the staff in play to support such technology systems, Markerstudy has struck a winning balance: the right IT base with the right people who all have the right expertise.
Protecting your pets
Although motor insurance is a core business area, Markerstudy’s other lines of operation also include pet insurance brands Purely Pets and Petwise, the latter recently becoming the first insurance company in the UK to offer new insurance policies for senior pets, specifically cats and dogs aged seven and older. Combined, both brands have over 100,000 customers and counting, demonstrating the growing importance of this segment of the insurance market.
The same technology that allows Markerstudy to onboard companies at great speed also enabled it to easily adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, Adam explains that the switch to home working was treated like an M&A. “When the call came to get everyone working from home, we managed to fully transition the organisation to remote working in about two weeks and with no major disruption to our operations,” he says.
The unprecedented nature of the current global health situation highlights the extent to which technology is, for Markerstudy, “a key enabler to being responsive”, Adam says. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great example of how businesses can have inherent flexibility using technology. To Markerstudy, technology represents the opportunity to do things faster, more accurately and more efficiently, for the benefit of our customers, our employees and our investors.”
Spirit of business
The CEO Magazine first met Markerstudy in a 2016 interview with one of its founders, Group Underwriting Director Gary Humphreys. He and Group CEO Kevin Spencer have always believed in a tech-forward strategy, even before it was a fashionable topic in insurance.
Five years later, little has changed, and the entrepreneurial nature and energy of the duo continue to set the tone for the business. This, along with its empowering environment and can-do culture, gives Markerstudy a point of difference in a competitive marketplace.
Markerstudy has been described as a company that makes things happen and delivers what it promises. It’s a commitment inspired by its founders who understand the importance of putting the fun into insurance, a concept that has become a key part of the company’s vision and values.
A lot of energy and resources are dedicated to the company culture, ensuring Markerstudy is a great place to work and positive memories are created. A business known for social events like its annual football tournament, the pandemic has undoubtedly disrupted in-person meetings and events, but thanks to initiatives sparked in response to the COVID-19 obstacles, the culture continues to remain very strong across the organisation.
Much of this has been driven by technology. Annual roadshows, which allow staff to have direct access to the executive team have been moved into a virtual environment, allowing all employees, regardless of their position, to have their say and participate in open forums with the senior team.
As Markerstudy scans the horizon to ensure an ongoing handle on emerging markets and technologies, one of the challenges it’s facing over the mid-term is ensuring that its people have the right skills to support technology’s constantly evolving nature. Rather than being intimidated by what such innovations can achieve or their potential to displace large amounts of people, Adam says it’s important that technological advancements are seen for what they are: tools that remove friction points and make the job easier.
Stronger as one
Behind the scenes is a strong research and development team that is increasingly leveraging cloud technology while empowering the business. Artificial intelligence is prevalent across many of the developments currently in the pipeline. One innovation involves Markerstudy’s brand VisionTrack and its high-definition video telematics cameras that can be installed into a vehicle. With the capability to capture what the driver sees in real time, as well as stream live telematics data to a designated base, this is a tool of incredible potential. For the individual specifically, the benefit lies in the protection that information like this can provide in the event of a claim. To date, the number of video telematics devices shipped exceeds 250,000, spanning commercial fleets, commercial vehicles and private insurance.
It was second time lucky for Markerstudy when, earlier this year, it announced the acquisition of Brightside Insurance — the company had been very close to closing a deal back in 2013 (Brightside would, on that occasion, be acquired by private equity firm AnaCap Financial Partners). As one of Markerstudy’s underwriting broker partners, it was the blend of synergies and potential opportunities that made the acquisition such an attractive proposition, Group Underwriting Director Gary Humphreys told Insurance Business in March 2021.
Another exciting project in play is the partnership with Google and Hitachi Vantara to bring Google’s AI capabilities into its contact area space, using voice analytics to fast-track customer enquiries. A project that is projected to be fully operational within the next 12 months, it will see Google intelligence take a greater lead in the early stages of the customer journey, such as asking basic identity questions and regulatory information.
The objective is to make the contact shorter for the customer and to free up Markerstudy’s agents to really address the problem or provide the service that triggered the call in the first place. Feedback from early testing has been positive, and the accuracy of the Google engines have been deemed outstanding.
With the company looking to grow even further on the back of the Pollen Street investment and, with that, conduct more than one merger or acquisition at any one time, such partnerships are indispensable, especially as it looks to create an industry-leading technology framework.
“We have a great team behind us who are backing our strategic growth plans.”
“Maintaining strong relationships with our principal partners has been an essential component in our success,” Adam says. “These relationships have, over time, helped to build up the reliable delivery of services that our businesses need to be successful.”
By ensuring its staff have the very best technology and tools at their disposal, Markerstudy is able to offer the best services to its customers. Just as critical, he says, are the firm’s strategic partnerships, many of whom have grown right along with the company. “Together, we’ve gone from strength to strength, and the nature of their services has evolved,” Adam says. “For example, our technology product and service provider CDW has moved from being mainly a hardware reseller to becoming an important technology partner, providing a wide range of services. As long as our partners can continue to grow with us and help us navigate the ever-changing technology landscape to make the right choices, we believe that there will always be opportunity.”
A great team
Markerstudy is a case study for how, when applied properly, technology can be a true enabler for a business. Central to that, however, is having the right group of people. And Markerstudy has that in spades thanks to its strong, entrepreneurial culture that naturally cultivated an outstanding team. For Adam, that means that the world is their oyster.
“We have a great team behind us who are backing our strategic growth plans,” he says.“And we’re working closely with a number of technology partners on more innovative projects. I’d like to think that, in the near future, we will see some of these projects come to fruition for our customers, suppliers and employees.”
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