Tenacity and determination fuel Perth-headquartered EBM, one of the few remaining true blue Australian brokerages with a national presence

By Bernice Han

Not many brokerages come with the pedigree of EBM Insurance & Risk. Nor are there many that come quite close to matching the national footprint and breadth of services offered by the broker.

The Perth-headquartered business is a rarity in the broking space. It is one of the few large Australian-owned and operated brokerages left that are wholly in private hands – a trend that has been accelerated in part by deep-pocketed foreign players seeking a share of the growing demand for Australian general insurance risk advisory services.

Speaking to Insurance News, EBM Chief Executive Ward Dedman shares the story behind the broker’s success in the very competitive broking market and the plan to ensure the 48-year-old business remains a force.

“We’ve got an element of stubbornness and quite a bit of tenacity about us – or to put it in another way, it’s determination,” Mr Dedman says.

“Being a privately owned national broker with global capability is unique, and our clients really appreciate it.”

From its beginnings in 1975 EBM has focused on more than just growing its business. The broker has also paid as much focus to building global partnerships aimed at giving it access to resources outside of Australia.

It is a founding member of the Asia Australasia Alliance, a network of insurance broking firms in the Asia Pacific. The alliance provides clients with access to insurance broking resources beyond the boundaries of the country in which their business originates.

EBM is also the Australian partner to GBN Worldwide, a network within the insurance industry with representation in more than 125 countries. It’s a member of the Worldwide Broker Network, a grouping of independent insurance brokers and employee benefits consultants.

Mr Dedman says EBM’s business structure enables the brokerage to make decisions that are right not only for the broker but also for its clients.

“We see our position as a strength. It allows us to own the decisions we make and our clients know that we are solely invested in them.”

EBM’s shareholders are not just passive owners. They are involved in the day-to-day running of the business and Alan Bishop, one of its original founders, retains a leadership role as Executive Chairman.

“It makes a difference that our shareholders are involved with the business,” Mr Dedman says. “They understand the business and what it takes to do the job, what our clients need, what our people need.”

Staying faithful to that philosophy has brought EBM to where it is today: a national broker with more than 260 employees across nine locations, in its home state Western Australia as well as Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia.

“We’ve got a big history in the west, but we have been in the east for more than 20 years,” Mr Dedman says. “Our staff split has actually shifted a bit more to the east now.”

The company started out in Perth as Elkington Bishop and Associates, when Mr Bishop and Neville Elkington decided to stop being employed brokers and set up their own business.

Mr Bishop, 22 at that time, and Mr Elkington, who was in his late 30s, achieved a strong client base from their Perth office in the first six months of operations and moved to bigger premises in St Georges Terrace in the central business district.

In 1977 John Molineaux joined them and the business changed its name to Elkington Bishop Molineaux (EBM) Insurance Brokers.

Fast forward to today and EBM is a powerhouse risk advisory provider, offering more than just broking services. In 1991 it set up EBM RentCover to offer residential landlord insurance. In 1999 it started providing injury management services, and in 2012 CoverLink, an internal-only underwriting agency, was established.

EBM’s move to expand its risk services offerings has paid off. For example, Mr Dedman says RentCover has built up “a very strong position and reputation” in the landlord market. When RentCover was created in 1991 it was one of the first to issue landlord policies, and today it has a portfolio of more than 160,000 rental properties.

“We’ve got great positions in the markets that we are in,” Mr Dedman says. He says EBM’s business has seen double-digit growth for a number of years. However, he prefers not to go into the specifics.

“We actually don’t tally the amount of premiums we negotiate on behalf of our clients. I know it’s a cliché statement, but we believe the numbers will be okay if we focus on our clients and our people.

“Our fundamentals are around people and relationships and they are at the centre of everything that we’re doing.”

This “people first” mindset applies across the company and has helped the business to retain staff loyalty. Many employees have been with the broker for many years – as has Mr Dedman. RentCover Managing Director Sharon Fox-Slater is another long-server, having joined the EBM family three decades ago.

Mr Dedman joined in 2000. He was tasked with establishing a regional and rural division for the broker. In the years since his roles have involved overseeing strategy and operations.

In 2019 he was promoted to Chief Executive after five years as managing director.

“We love to build our team from within, mentoring, growing and developing them so that we do not rely as much on the market for talent.”

That’s also the thinking behind an initiative to nurture potential leaders to lead the business into the future. The Edge Rotational Development Program seeks to provide participants with a variety of on-the-job learning and development opportunities across a range of business areas within EBM over 12 months.

Shortlisted applicants get to work closely with the insurance broking team as well as learn about the workings of broking and risk management.

“At the end of the program the aim is for participants to be offered an ongoing full-time role somewhere across the extent of the group,” Mr Dedman says.

Mr Dedman says the role of brokers has changed as risks have become more complex. The tough pricing conditions experienced in the past few years have also been a factor. These have generally led to better discipline and professionalism for the broking industry.

“Good brokers have been presenting risks in a hard market in a more detailed way for some time and I see that continuing.”