360 ways to keep growing
All angles covered: from left, Denis Morrissey, Jason Clarke and Chris Lynch
When insurance executives Denis Morrissey and Chris Lynch turned 50, they began to contemplate what the next decade of their careers could look like.
They’d both been at Allianz for more than a decade and corporate life had served them well – but they had a hankering for more.
In 2017, they’d been working on a deal for Allianz to snap up an AUB Group commercial agency called Sura 360. The acquisition fell through, but Mr Morrissey says a dinner to break the bad news was where a new idea began to form.
“I said, ‘would you be interested in a private investor?’” Mr Morrissey tells Insurance News.
“They said ‘who?’, and I said ‘me and Chris’. And that’s how it evolved, how that first acquisition started.”
The pair’s association goes back far beyond Allianz. They started their careers together in 1985 with NRMA Insurance, but even before that they were family friends.
By 2017 they’d decided the next career chapter should be “something other than corporate” and Mr Morrissey says the acquisition of Sura 360 represented “the perfect opportunity”.
“We’d been close to the underwriting agency model,” he says. “We’d seen how successful it could be for the market, and also for the people running it.”
The 360 tag resonated with its new owners, and so 360 Underwriting Solutions was born, with the initial agency rebranded as 360 Commercial.
Mr Lynch says an early decision that needed to be made was whether the business would be a “lifestyle agency”, or a serious competitor.
“Were we going to go through the motions and play golf every Thursday, or create something really special?
“We attended a conference celebrating Insurance Advisernet’s 20th birthday, and we said look what [IAA founder Ian Carr] has created in 20 years – what can we do?
“And so we really set about making a conscious decision that we wanted to take the initial acquisition and build something well beyond that.”
And build they have.
Initially, Mr Lynch focused on running 360 Commercial while Mr Morrissey built back office capability and got the ball rolling on acquisitions.
The new agency’s mantra of “solutions you want, service you expect and people you know,” struck a chord with brokers.
“We wanted to be renowned as a company that does what it says it’s going to do,” Mr Morrissey says.
“Chris and I have been lifelong broker guys. It’s been about taking the knowledge and learnings that we had, and putting that into a shape that we thought would be welcomed by the market.”
They quickly teamed up with specialists Peter Banks and Craig Davie to launch into accident & health and aviation respectively. CGU backed a commercial motor offering, then a cyber opportunity presented itself out of London.
“All of a sudden, very quickly, we had the commercial agency we acquired and four start-up agencies.”
Further acquisitions took 360 into agriculture and construction, and then at the end of 2020 came a 180-degree turnaround – AUB wanted a stake in what was now a much larger and flourishing agency.
The broking and agency giant secured a majority stake in 360 and its own agencies – Fleetsure, Sura Bus and Coach and Sura Plant and Equipment – joined 360.
The expansion hasn’t stopped, with 360 launching into New Zealand in June 2021 by acquiring a majority equity stake in TLC and later Rosser Underwriting, while continuing to add agencies and grow its current stable. The latest additions are professional and financial risks, marine cargo and transit, and prestige motor.
360 now has 19 agencies and, from an initial $28 million a year in premium is writing more than $440 million.
“We’ve certainly far exceeded our expectations in terms of growth, and I think that’s a reflection of the market’s need for specialisation,” Mr Lynch said.
As the hard market has dragged on and mainstream insurers increasingly focus on “vanilla” risks, it has opened up opportunities for 360’s detailed underwriting and specialised service.
People have been key too, as technical underwriting talent seeks out opportunities to demonstrate their craft, and 360 has been smart with technology.
A construction acquisition, eSentry, came with an impressive technology platform. 360 built it out and now uses it more broadly across its range of agencies, giving a nimble edge that is yet another attraction to capacity providers.
Mr Morrissey says 360’s approach to capacity partners sets it apart. While some agencies distance themselves and closely guard their independence, 360 sees itself primarily as a “complementary distribution partner”.
Firm friends: Mr Morrissey and Mr Lynch have spent much of their careers together
It treasures relationships with the likes of QBE, CGU, Allianz, Lloyd’s, Chubb and BHSI.
“We are as conscious of our need to deliver underwriting profit as we are agency growth,” he tells Insurance News.
This attitude stems in large part from the founders’ career background.
“We have a saying, that you can take the boys out of Allianz, but you can’t take Allianz out of the boys,” Mr Morrissey says.
“We’ve brought to the agency a lot of those strong underwriting and corporate disciplines that a big insurer like Allianz had ingrained in us. We are both eternally grateful for the experiences and learning we gained from our time at Allianz.
“We’ve never lost a capacity provider in our time. We’ll keep protecting the capacity at all costs. It’s at the heart of what 360 stands for in terms of delivering that predictable underwriting outcome.”
AUB’s decision to buy back in sets 360 up for further success, Mr Lynch says. And while AUB is the major shareholder, the founders are still driving the business.
“They’ve been terrific partners and largely just let us get on and do our thing. What they’ve done is help us, through the investment, to continue on the growth journey.
“For us it was a good economic deal in the sense that we retired some debt, but as part of the deal we also picked up three new agencies.
“And we de-risked what we were doing. We had got scale quite quickly, and grown beyond our imagination. To have a partner like AUB sitting next to us for the next part of the journey felt like the right move.”
That next part of the journey includes ambitious targets – like their intention to be writing $1 billion in premium by 2030.
It also includes a vital new addition to the management team. Last year Jason Clarke, a key player on the QBE management team, moved across to 360 as a director and its Australia Chief Executive.
Mr Lynch now heads up the New Zealand operation and is also building London relationships, while Managing Director Mr Morrissey has been freed up to focus on broader issues such as group services and technology.
Mr Morrissey sees Mr Clarke’s appointment as a game-changer.
“We have 19 agencies and 240 staff. It’s that rapid growth that really drove the need to have a CEO running the Australian business,” he says.
“We couldn’t think of a better guy who knows how to run a large profitable underwriting business. He brings different relationships with his QBE background, so there’s an enhancement there.”
He says the plan to grow the business to $1 billion by 2030 is now “what keeps us awake at night”.
“During that journey Jason will continue to absorb more of the functions that Chris and I are responsible for.”
Mr Clarke says he’s impressed with what’s been achieved at 360 so far, but his reason for moving from QBE was “the scale of the challenge still to come”.
And he has a pretty good idea of where growth is going to come from.
“We have a well-defined plan,” he tells Insurance News. “We’ll grow the current agencies, and there’s maybe some potential new ones, or add-ons to existing agencies.”
He says there are some “glaring areas” that 360 currently isn’t in, which may offer opportunity – like standalone casualty and business pack, for example.
“Whether we do go into those will probably be a matter of whether we think there’s room for us, whether we can make a difference through technology, or capacity, or specialists,” he says.
“We don’t think there’s sense in us just being a generalist agency. There’s not a lot of sense us going head-to-head with QBE and CGU and others to do what they do.”
One area of focus for Mr Clarke is ensuring closer ties between the 19 agencies, and bringing them together under the 360 umbrella.
“I hate the phrase ‘cross-sell’, but the opportunity is in making sure we’re doing something for the client which is adding value across more than one agency,” Mr Clarke says.
“We have optimism there because at the moment we probably don’t leverage that as much as we could.
“A key part of my role is how do we leverage the broader 360 group, rather than being seen as 19 individual agencies.”
For Mr Morrissey and Mr Lynch, the appointment of Mr Clarke is a major milestone that allowed them to take 360 into the next phase of development and beyond.
Early ambitions of hitting $100 million in premium were surpassed long ago, and have been replaced by bold new targets as the market continues to respond to the products and services on offer.
They’re immensely proud of what has been achieved in six years, but it’s clear the 360 journey has some distance still to run.
360’s Australia Chief Executive Jason Clarke grew up in Mount Gambier, South Australia.
He had ambitions to become an optometrist, but after a few months of his university course he packed it in for a job at Mercantile Mutual, which later merged with QBE.
“I was going to go back to university, but then I thought ‘this insurance thing’s pretty cool’,” he tells Insurance News.
His career at QBE saw him moving across Australia in various roles, and more recently transferring from the position of chief customer officer to assist Group Chief Executive Andrew Horton in creating a global distribution function.
“Candidly, I said to Andrew after a few months the role couldn’t be done out of Australia – it’s got to be done out in New York or London. And I wasn’t in a position to move.”
He was exploring opportunities when Mr Morrissey and Mr Lynch made contact.
“I’ve known Denis and Chris for a while, but I’d never worked with them directly.
Unbeknown to me they had a plan to bring a CEO into 360. And again, unbeknown to me, I was one of the candidates.
“I was very fortunate at QBE. I still have a bias for the company. It’s a great organisation and I’m very fortunate to still be working closely with the QBE team.
“But this is a new challenge, and I’m really enjoying the fact that I think I’ve seen more brokers in nine months than I did in three years in my previous role.”