Scotsman Monday Interview – Edward Bruce

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Edward Bruce admits that, when he first joined the insurance broker that was co-founded by his ­father, David, the firm “wasn’t in a good way at all”.

But 18 years later, Bruce Stevenson is one of the largest firms of its type in Scotland and is seeking to expand further by taking advantage of ongoing consolidation in the sector.

Bruce, who joined in 1996 and took the helm five years later, says: “A number of the big takeover vehicles have got themselves into a lot of debt. As a result, my perception is they’re pulling away from customer service because they have to cut costs, but we’re going in the opposite direction – the customer has to be at the centre.”

His firm went on something of an acquisition spree itself at the turn of the century, racking up seven takeovers in as many years with the purchase of Glasgow’s Downes Cameron in 2005. However, Bruce said deals began to get too pricey so he reined in purchases in order to focus on bringing in teams and individuals from elsewhere.

Takeovers have not dried up entirely though, and earlier this year Bruce Stevenson bought Glasgow-based Premier Insurance Brokers.

“We’re looking at other acquisitions, but growth will also come from people who aren’t happy working at consolidated businesses,” Bruce says. “Growth has to be sustainable. What I don’t want to do is get too much gearing.”

The company now has about 80 staff, across bases in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, along with what Bruce describes as an “office on a farm” in Banff, from where it hopes to expand its rural and renewable energy business.

“It always helps if you can bring someone in who’s an industry expert because you can build around that,” he adds. “It’s a good area to compete on; if you become the industry expert, people then default to you and you can get away from just trying to compete on price.”

Speaking of industry experts, he is particularly pleased to have secured the services of Mark Richards, the former Scottish managing director of auctioneer Bonhams, in 2009.

“He came in and I made him do some exams and he now runes our private client side,” says Bruce. “He’s very customer-focused and he knows what the contents of a client’s house should be insured for.”

Customer service is a theme that the firm’s chief executive keeps returning to, and he ­reveals it has just tasked an ­organisation called Investors in Customers to measure whether it is delivering on its promises. The move will see staff and customers quizzed on their experiences before a rating of one to three stars is delivered to Bruce, who observes: “If we’re not quite at three stars we’ll have an action plan to get there.”

The journey to this point has not always been easy, however, and Bruce acknowledges that the outlook was not so bright 18 years ago.

“It was a very small business when I joined. There were 15 people and we were making a loss. It wasn’t in a good way at all.”

He adds: “My father was the managing director but he didn’t actually have control of the business. His other directors were at a crossroads and looking to sell, and it wasn’t a good place for a year or two. Luckily, my father eventually backed me to buy out a lot of the other shareholders and directors to move it ­forward.”

Now the majority owner, he is also a director of the UNA Alliance – a network of 12 regional brokers that work together to share best practice and market information. Bruce Stevenson is the only Scottish member of UNA, and while it remains fiercely independent the firm can benefit from the buying power that comes from being part of the alliance.

But Bruce points out that being a successful insurance broker is not just about providing the cheapest level of cover. “With insurance, all you’re doing is buying a promise. It’s a promise you don’t want to ever call upon, but if it doesn’t deliver then cheapest isn’t always the best.”

The firm, which saw its gross written premium grow 10 per cent to more than £20 million in the year to August, is now looking at an initiative to help the owners of listed buildings get enough cover in place without being burdened by crippling premiums. It is also looking at a solution for museums and ­galleries.

Bruce Stevenson is “constantly” on the receiving end of approaches, but these advances get short shrift from the boss, who says he is “just not interested” in seeing his company swallowed up.

“Every business ultimately has a price but I don’t want to sell. I’m a relatively young man and there’s still a lot more to do. I have children and they might want to get into it.”

Despite admitting that he “didn’t particularly” enjoy his schooling at Strathallan, Bruce’s two teenage sons have been sent to “rival” boarding school ­Glenalmond.

If they were to join the broker, that would see the firm – co-founded in 1981 by Tony Stevenson, who once owned ­Edinburgh’s historic Prestonfield House hotel – enter its third generation.

But Bruce is adamant that the “name still fits” and rejects the notion of dropping Stevenson from the brand. “I’m not that vain,” he laughs.

30-second CV

Job: Chief executive, Bruce Stevenson

Born: 1964, Fife

Education: Strathallan; Seale-Hayne; Reading University

Ambition while at school: I always wanted to run my own business

Car: Audi A4 Allroad

Favourite mode of transport: Train – I go to London a lot and you can get lots done when the wi-fi works

Music: Very varied – my wife has booked tickets for us to see Passenger

Can’t live without: Family

Favourite place: The west coast of Scotland when the sun is shining and the midges aren’t out

What makes you angry? Over-use of email and negative people with a “can’t do” attitude

What inspires you? Building a sustainable long-term business with strong core values

Subsea cable woes threaten renewables industry

Great article by our Renewable Energy Director, Derek Skinner, published in the Press & Journal.  Let us know your thoughts – via email at [email protected] or tweet us at BSIB_Renewables. 

Failure to upgrade subsea power lines linking the Scottish islands to the mainland could hamper investment in the renewable-energy industry, it is claimed.

Insurance broker Bruce Stevenson said windfarm development on the islands had slowed dramatically over the past three years, partly due to a lack of available cable capacity for new generation and concerns over the impact on generators should a cable suffer damage.

Uncertainty over power lines may hamper Orkney’s “pre-eminence” in the development of technology, it warned.

The firm, which is involved in numerous green-energy projects, said the knock-on effect was higher insurance premiums for windfarm and wave/tidal scheme operators.

Derek Skinner, renewable-energy director for the company, said: “The insurance market is getting cautious, which could lead to restrictions on insurance cover – even if you have the perfect land, with the perfect amount of wind.

“We’re not quite at the place where development has stopped but it’s time to deal with the cable issue.”

According to Bruce Stevenson, which has offices in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London, uncertainty about upgrades to subsea interconnectors – mainly overseen by power firm SSE – is “bedevilling” people looking to invest in the sector.

The firm has a £45million exposure to windfarms on Orkney and in the Western Isles and it said it had handled insurance claims totalling more than £650,000 during the past three years related to difficulties in exporting electricity from the islands.

It added: “If an undersea cable fails, then a wind turbine will at best be operated at a restricted output or switched off completely.”

A community turbine on Tiree had to be turned off after a connector cable failed and it took three months to rectify the fault, Mr Skinner said, adding: “Insurance companies have had to react to the increased risk of lost income.

“Premiums have gone up about 25% in the past three years, whereas those for mainland windfarms have remained flat.

“The economic aspect has to be considered for an industry that employs about 12,000 people in Scotland and which attracted investment of £1.2billion in 2013.

“It’s affecting Scotland’s current pre-eminence, which should be ensured given the highly suitable climactic conditions, and could affect the development of further renewable industries.

“The European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney may find projects going elsewhere if it is unable to find a reliable electricity connection to the mainland power grid.

“Scotland has some of the best renewable-energy real estate in the world but if we don’t get the issue of the cables fixed, that could all go to waste.”

A spokesman for Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission, part of SSE, said: “It is clear that the Scottish islands have great potential for the development of renewable-energy, but there is widespread recognition that there are challenges to be overcome.

“It is widely recognised that no single party can resolve the outstanding issues and that is why the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum, co-chaired by the UK and Scottish governments, is actively working with all parties, including ourselves, to resolve the issues.”

Renewables in Scotland – adding up to a brighter future

The team at Bruce Stevenson are delighted to support this new video from our colleagues at Scottish Renewables.  It communicates  key messages about the advantages of renewable energy to Scotland in terms of energy generation, the economy, people, communities and the environment.   We hope you enjoy it.

Click Renewables in Scotland – adding up to a brighter future to view!

Bruce Stevenson Sponsors Heriot’s Rugby Club

Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers are proud to be Shirt Sponsors of Heriot’s Rugby Club for Season 2013-2014.

For more information on Heriot’s Rugby Club, please visit http://www.heriotsrugbyclub.co.uk/

Business relationship with Fineholm

Fineholm LogoBruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers are delighted to announce a business relationship with Fineholm, allowing their clients to access an exclusive insurance arrangement for Landlords Insurance, providing competitive, market-leading policy cover. Fineholm is a family run company, who manage in excess of 2,000 properties from their offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh and whose forward thinking approach and dedicated service has enabled this arrangement.

Please contact Lynne Cairns for more information or to receive your own quotation.

 Contact [contact_info color=”orange” title=”Contact” phone=”0141 354 2883″ email=”[email protected]” contacttitle=”Account Executive ” name=”Lynne Cairns”]

Bruce Stevenson Becomes Member of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce

Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers became Members of Partners in Enterprise, Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce in November 2012.

The Partners in Enterprise network creates a strategic alliance of members who are serious business players and large corporate organisations located in and around the city of Edinburgh.

Whilst this Coinstar online strategic alliance represents the interests of those companies individually and collectively, it also influences the business and political agenda in Scotland.

Bruce Stevenson join Edinburgh Rugby Business Club

Edinburgh Rugby Business ClubBruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers join Edinburgh Rugby Business Club

BSIB are delighted to become Members of Edinburgh Rugby Business Club effective from July 2012.

Renewable Energy Insurance advisor recognised by National Insurance Alliance

Yvonne MillerThe UNITAS Achievement Award 2012 has been awarded to Yvonne Miller of Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers to recognise her career development within the Renewable Energy team.

Yvonne’s aim was to not only be an expert in the insurances for renewable energy projects, but to be knowledgeable in all aspects of the renewable energy sector including financial, technical and legal.  Yvonne has committed herself to being 100% focused on the renewable energy sector and has assisted in both the growth of the Bruce Stevenson Renewable Energy account but also their reputation in the sector in helping the UK and Scottish governments achieve their 2020 low carbon targets.

As part of the team, Yvonne engaged in regular and detailed training and development.  With the assistance of Bruce Stevenson internal technical consultant, Yvonne has attended training courses on the complexities of Renewable Energy projects (Windfarms, Hydro Electric plants, Solar PV, Biomass and Anaerobic Digestion plants, waver and tidal devices). This has included theory, site visits, industry seminars and conferences.

On the financial and legal aspects of the job, Yvonne has engaged with specialist lawyers and bankers to understand the processes and risks, ensuring that the Insurance programme meets these onerous requirements.  Training has been facilitated to ensure that this has been done to a high level of competency.

On a personal level, over the past 3 years, Yvonne has successfully passed her Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute, gaining The W P Campbell Award from the British Insurance Brokers Association Scotland in 2011 and is now progressing towards her Fellowship qualification.

Derek Skinner, Director at Bruce Stevenson commented “Everyone within Bruce Stevenson is delighted with Yvonne’s recognition.   We were aware of a significant number of applications this year and we are delighted to celebrate Yvonne’s fantastic achievement.”

New Regulations for Driving in France

2012 has seen the introduction of 2 important new laws which visiting drivers should be aware of:

Radar Detection
From the 3rd January radar detection devices are illegal in France, even if they are not in use. Non compliance is punishable up to 1,500 euros, with possible confiscation of the device and vehicle! The law covers Satnav and GPS systems which show speed camera locations, so to ensure you do not fall foul of the law ensure that the function is disabled before entering France.

Breathalyser kits
The drink-drive laws in France are stricter than in the UK, with the legal limit for blood/alcohol levels being 0.5mg per ml rather than 0.8. Clearly sensible advice is not to drink any alcohol before driving. As of July 1st it is now illegal to drive without a breathalyser kit in your car. The fine, which will be compulsory from November this year, is 11 euros and it is advisable to keep 2 single use kits at hand in your vehicle so if one is used, there remains one unused in the car. Simple kits can cost from £2 and are widely available.

Other regulations already in force for driving in France include the need to carry a warning triangle and a high visibility vest.

If you can’t insure it, you can’t borrow on it.

‘If you can’t insure it, you can’t borrow on it.
‘That was the message when Andrew Johnstone and Derek Skinner from Bruce Stevenson called at Community Energy Scotland’s Dingwall office recently.

Bruce Stevenson are associate members of Community Energy Scotland and have been keen to help community groups arrange their insurances. Andrew Johnstone has also participated in a Knowledge Exchange Session on insurance, where full CES members telephoned-in to benefit from specialist advice from a range of sources – not just a single supplier.

Derek Skinner of Bruce Stevenson leads their renewable energy insurance team. Derek said ‘The key issue is that banks will need to be sure that any wind turbine selected is insurable. If a developer can’t find an insurer to accept the risk of a particular make of turbine, then the prospects for a loan to erect it are non-existent.’

Insurers and wind turbine manufacturers work together to make sure that projects can proceed. Lenders such as the Co-op Bank and Triodos Bank have worked with specialist insurers and brokers like Bruce Stevenson for many years. Banks want to make sure that new turbines will perform, and that manufacturers have sufficient business strength to support their products.

Smaller wind turbines can often be insured along with the risks of an existing business, and are typically just added to an existing policy. The situation for larger turbines is different. Where bank borrowing is specific to the renewable energy project, insurance matters are normally more crucial in the process of achieving financial close on a project.

The British Insurance Brokers’ Association has a useful ‘jargon buster’ page on its website at
http://www.biba.org.uk/JargonBuster.aspx

This article was originally published on the Community Energy Scotland website at
http://www.communityenergyscotland.org.uk/latest/news/1106_insurance_matters