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MGAs focus on expanding distribution footprint as soft market becomes main factor impacting on sector growth


MGAs focus on expanding distribution footprint as soft market becomes main factor impacting on sector growth

Mark Birrell, chief executive officer of Castel Underwriting Agencies and Peter Staddon, managing director of the Managing General Agents’ Association review the latest findings from the MGAA Matters survey.

The impact of regulation, whether in relation to the costs or levels of red tape, has been seen by MGAs as a key factor affecting growth for a number year – in the first MGAA Matters survey conducted in 2014, it was at the top of their list. Now, three years later, while still seen as a major factor, regulation has moved down the list replaced by soft market conditions. 

More than 65% of the survey respondents placed soft market conditions as the main factor affecting MGA growth, compared to 46% in 2014. Regulation and compliance, which topped the list in 2014 with 69%, dropped a place to 57% in the latest survey. This change, no doubt, reflects the strong and continuing investment MGAs make to understand and ensure they are meeting their regulatory demands.

There were some factors that have remained stable over the last three years including increased competition, the availability of underwriting capacity and the impact of out-of-date technology.  However, some areas previously seen as major issues have dropped in priority. Challenges created by a lack of understanding of the MGA’s role dropped from just over 20% in 2014 to 12% in the latest survey. This positive movement reflects, in no small part, the role of the MGAA in working with regulators and the industry to ensure a clear and working understanding of what MGAs do and the contribution they make.

Another previously highly-rated factor, which is now seen to have less impact, is the sector’s ability to recruit and retain talent. In 2014, over 30% of respondents said it was an issue. This has now dropped to 12%. There is no evidence to say this change represents a downward trend in recruitment. What is clear from talking to MGAs is that continuing appetite to invest in, and focus on, securing entrepreneurial and experienced talent remains an important factor in developing successful businesses.

Brexit uncertainty

Uncertainty about Brexit and how it might impact on MGAs was identified by just over 17% of respondents. At the time the survey was run, there was little information on the UK government’s plans. A subsequent survey of MGAs, following the UK Prime Minister’s speech outlining the country’s Brexit plan, still did not provide MGAs with any greater certainty as to the likely impact on their businesses. Half of the respondents to this second survey said they would not be reviewing their business plans, and nearly 23% said they did not feel there was enough clarity in what was said to consider changes at this point. Nearly 45% indicated that they did not see Brexit as a factor affecting business growth this year.

However, there is no doubt that Brexit has the potential to impact on the sector’s confidence and future opportunities. Passporting arrangements are a significant issue for MGAs and their capacity providers. However, some MGAs see opportunities for the UK market if Brexit creates a barrier preventing poorly rated offshore insurers passporting in to the UK at lower rates.

Strategic priorities
The latest MGAA Matters survey has indicated a shift in the emphasis of MGA business strategies in 2017 towards the expansion and strengthening of distribution relationships.

In 2014, close to 60% of respondents placed the moving into new lines of business and products as their main strategic priority. This has now moved down the list replaced by a focus on increasing business development and marketing activities, with 65% of respondents identifying it as a key priority.

Areas that continue to be consistently high strategic priorities are around ensuring technology remains up to date and increasing business efficiency. It is no surprise that, when faced with sustained soft market conditions, MGAs are focused on maintaining the highest levels of efficiency and profitability to meet the needs of their capacity providers.

The fact that MGAs are looking to broaden the scope and reach of their distribution partnerships is a reflection on the sector’s innovation and wealth of product knowledge, as well as the ability to understand clients’ needs, and to deliver this all in a cost effective and efficient way.

Heading for a ‘bubble’?
MGAs seem to be optimistic about growth opportunities over the coming 12 months. Nearly 63% of those responding said they expected the overall number of MGAs to increase in 2017. But is this level of growth sustainable in the longer term?

Respondents do seem to have a degree of optimism when it comes to maintaining levels of growth over the next three years. Just under half (48%) indicated they felt current levels of growth and success could be sustained. But over 30% remained on the fence about whether sustainable growth could be maintained.

Merger & Acquisition (M&A) is certainly not a new phenomenon in the MGA space, and expectations are that levels of M&A and consolidation will increase.  60% of respondents believe there will be more activity.  Interestingly, this appears to be a reduction in appetite when compared with expectations in 2014 when over 80% said they expected there to be more M&A.
Of course, we have to be mindful of the challenges ahead. What is quite clear is the role MGAs play in providing markets for specialty and niche business. By their nature they are able to outperform carriers in servicing these markets. MGAs need to continue their focus on responsible underwriting and supporting their capacity providers.

But continued growth in the sector will see MGAs adapting to address these challenges and meet the evolving demands. As long as we continue to innovate and provide efficiencies and returns to our capacity providers, the MGA market will continue to thrive.

Mark Birrell, chief executive officer of Castel, said: “The survey reveals that MGAs expect a further period of sustained growth for the sector. The fact that regulation and compliance have now dropped to second in the list of factors affecting growth reflects, in my view, the strong investment that has been made by MGAs to ensure they meet regulatory demands. With soft market conditions now taking top spot, there will clearly be an even greater onus on MGAs to maintain the highest levels of efficiency and profitability to meet the needs of their capacity providers.”

MGAA Matters
The latest survey of MGAA members was conducted during December 2016.
MGAA Matters is a research-based partnership between the Managing General Agents’ Association (MGAA) and MGA and club-style MGA formation platform, Castel Underwriting Agencies (Castel). It was launched to identify and raise awareness of the issues currently impacting the growth and success of UK MGAs.

Link to MGAA Matters


Castel Underwriting Agencies Limited, part of Barbican Insurance Group, is a managing general agent (MGA) and club-style MGA formation platform focused on achieving success and driving innovation through collaboration.  It provides experienced and entrepreneurial underwriters with stable capacity and a fast-track route to creating their own businesses. Castel is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

More information can be found at www.castelmga.com and on Twitter @CastelMGA.


The Managing General Agents’ Association (MGAA) is a UK based not for profit organisation dedicated to representing true MGAs.
Formed in 2011, the MGAA also aims to provide a better understanding of what MGAs are and the contribution they make to the insurance industry.
The MGAA currently has 119 full members representing over £3.6bn of underwriting capacity.  They are joined by 36 market practitioner members and 38 supplier members.
The board of elected directors leads the organisation.  In addition, five separate committees deliver benefits for members with a clear aim of shaping the future of delegated underwriting.
More information can be found at www.mgaa.co.uk and on Twitter @UKMGAA.