Bruce Stevenson insights – Potato sector

Bruce Stevenson Insights

Potato sector

In the 2015 CAP reforms, potato growers will, for the first time, be eligible for subsidy.

As a crop, potatoes cannot be grown on the same ground in successive years due to disease issues. This means that potato farmers will often take land on a 1 year lease.

It is estimated that it costs a farmer over £2,000 per acre to grow potatoes.

The total Scottish income for 2014 dropped year on year from £275 million to only £105million.

This was as a result of several factors:

  • There was a bumper crop in 2014 due to the good weather and thus supply outstripped demand.
  • Russia banned EU imports.
  • There has been a fall in consumption of potatoes by the consumer.
  • The retailers are lowering prices as there is increased competition to win market share.
  • Also the storage and haulage costs have increased which also reduces profitability.

A retailer may sell potatoes for between £500 and £1,500 per tonne. The farm gate price that the grower receives is only £50 per tonne.

This equates to a 2.5kg bag of supermarket potatoes being sold for £3.00 but the farmer will only receive a payment of 12p for the same 2.5kg bag.

With the excess supply of cropped potatoes, there is a need to sell at any cost in order to clear storage space and reduce associated costs. Surplus potatoes may well be sold as animal feed. The price received for this is likely to only cover the cost of transporting the potatoes to the purchaser with no contribution to the actual growing costs.

Any comments or questions?  Please email [email protected]

Gold, precious stones and old masters art are often under-insured

Great to see our Private Clients Director, Mark Richards featured in Scottish Field online.

Owners of  high value jewels or art collections could well be underinsured, a situation that could put them significantly out of pocket should the worst happen, with complacency following the economic downturn one of the main reasons for the lack of adequate protection, according to Mark Richards, who runs the specialist private-client unit at insurance brokerage Bruce Stevenson.

While the financial crisis and its fallout may have hit general spending, many people in Scotland, and indeed across the UK, have continued to acquire valuable items, keeping prices buoyant. We have all read about luxury brands doing particularly well during the last several years as the spending habits of the wealthy appears to be unaffected by turmoil in the financial world. The uncertainty in relation to conventional investments such as equities and bonds also meant high-net-worth individuals spent more in the past five years on goods perceived as holding their value – jewellery, especially anything containing gold or precious stones, and art such as works by old masters. With an upturn in the economy now in sight, that’s driving prices higher for the trappings of luxury, Richards says.

Richards’ position at the company is a sign of Bruce Stevenson’s commitment to being the leader in serving high-net-worth clients, as well as providing insurance solutions across the renewables, property, farms & estates, risk management, SME / Commercial and Social Housing sectors, in Scotland. His expertise stretches across the full range of fine art, jewellery, antiques and heritage property, having previously been managing director of the Scottish business of auctioneers Bonhams. If anyone in Scotland is going to know about trends in art or jewellery, it’s likely to be him.

“Assuming that the value of everything went down in the crash is mistaken, and in some of the markets that we deal with it’s almost as if the financial crash never happened at all.” Richards says. “But many people think there’s been a decline and haven’t increased their insurance for more than a decade. As a result, they’re left exposed should damage or theft occur to an item that is very important to them.”

In fact, the importance of a precious object is not always immediately appreciated by an owner, especially if that item wasn’t acquired directly and was handed down through the family or gifted by a loved one. Many individuals cite “sentimental value” as a reason not to insure an object because they believe it’s irreplaceable. That’s a big mistake, according to Richards, due to a misconception about the source of most insurance claims coming from total damage, not from the all-too-regular partial damage to a work of art or item of value.

The result is that you may not be able to afford the many thousands of pounds needed to repair something. And a damaged painting can’t be displayed, nor a broken necklace worn, and without repair the item is as good as worthless.

“Everyone talks about the possibility of the house burning down and the artworks with it, but in most case it’s not about that,” Richards says. “It’s about major partial damage as a result of an accident for example  your daughter breaking your diamond earrings as she dresses up with friends or a burst pipe soaks your antique desk. In all of these cases, the restoration is going to cost a lot of money.”

Obviously insurance in this area is quite a specialised interest – not something that the price-driven insurance websites would really cater for – and Bruce Stevenson prides itself on the expertise and advice it’s able to hand onto clients. Taking art for example, there are a few key things to remember:

The most important, according to Richards, is that insuring a painting isn’t necessarily terribly expensive. It is cheaper than insuring general house contents. In fact if with the right insurer it should be cheaper to insure a £5,000 painting than an equivalently expensive television, it is a television, for the simple reason that most thefts occur in order to generate cash. Those breaking into a house also tend to know that an artwork is likely to be one-off and traceable to the owner, linking them to the crime scene.

Another important consideration to keeping your insurance premiums down is think beyond the obvious when approaching the insurance of fine art. Bruce Stevenson works with clients to make sure that they insure the object for the right price, which sometimes need not be the full retail replacement value but another lower basis for replacement or cover just restoration costs. With the right counsel and insurance company, a client won’t get penalised for partially insuring an object.

“It’s all about personal service, building relationships and getting to know our clients very well and what they need,” Richards says. “That way, we can help them keep their premiums manageable possible while making sure they are very well covered.”

If artwork rarely tends to go missing, unfortunately the same cannot be said of jewellery. While the painting or antique chair stays in the house, jewellery tends to go walkabout with its owners, and can often get left behind in a hotel or restaurant, or just fall off. Not only that, it’s beautiful and the sparkles are on full display for any opportunistic villain. Diamonds and gold have been rising in value, partly due to soaring commodity prices driven by the boom in Asia, but also because of the wealth coming into the UK from emerging regions. The replacement value for jewellery, and indeed artworks and antiques, is determined by global rather than local demand and therefore it is quite likely that people will not know just how much the value of what they own has soared in recent years.

Mark Richards concludes: “You can’t expect people to keep an eye on global markets so it’s up to us as their broker to make sure our clients are properly insured. If you don’t have the right policy you may well end up very disappointed should you lose an item or see it damaged and not be able to replace or repair it.”

For more information, please contact Mark on 0131 553 2293 or email [email protected]

Insurance Age – Broking Success: Independent thinking

Our Chief Executive Edward Bruce being interviewed in the latest edition of Insurance Age.

Digging deep for 150 Irvine residents

Some great coverage in the Irvine Times yesterday about our recent Corporate Challenge for ANCHO.

A TEAM of eight ‘green-fingered’ brokers stepped out from behind the desk to get their hands dirty for an Irvine housing association.


With around 150 homes benefiting from the community garden area at Hunter Drive, Irvine, the Bruce Stevenson brokers volunteered to help ANCHO by makeover the garden, seating and children’s play area for the many resident families and children to enjoy in the future.

The larger brokers firm, which makes an annual commitment to charity, works with ANCHO on its property insurance so represents the ideal partner for the 2014 corporate charity initiative.

ANCHO is a community-based housing association with the majority of homes in Kilwining, Irvine and Dreghorn. Formed in August 2000 following a stock transfer of around 900 Scottish Homes, ANCHO prides itself on being proactive in wider action initiatives to the benefit the community such as youth services, financial and employability services.

The housing associating also runs a community allotment and the community garden in Irvine, which was developed following funding from the Landfill Trust five years ago.

For more information on ANCHO, visit


Glasgow team go green fingered for local housing association


Eight staff from our Glasgow office volunteered for the day  for local housing association ANCHO to transform a community garden at the Hunter Drive development in Irvine, Ayrshire.

With around 150 homes benefiting from the community garden area, the team of ‘green-fingered’ brokers volunteered to get their hands dirty for the housing association to help makeover the garden for the many resident families and children to enjoy in the future.

Our Social Housing Team works with ANCHO on its property insurance so they were an ideal partner for the 2014 corporate charity initiative.

ANCHO is a community-based housing association with the majority of homes in Kilwining, Irvine and Dreghorn.  Formed in August 2000 following a stock transfer of around 900 Scottish Homes, ANCHO prides itself on being proactive in wider action initiatives to the benefit the community such as youth services, financial and employability services.  The housing associating also runs a community allotment and the community garden in Irvine, which was developed following funding from the Landfill Trust five years ago.

Liz Docherty, Assistant Director of ANCHO, said:

“Our community garden in Irvine has been a little neglected over the last couple of years so we are  thrilled to be the successful recipients of Bruce Stevenson’s ‘Corporate Challenge’ of giving our garden a much needed make-over.  It is very much appreciated by everyone who uses the garden – tenants and staff alike.”

Richard McDonald who heads up our Social Housing team added:

“It’s rewarding to help make a difference to the local community, many of us are keen gardeners so it has been a privilege to contribute to the development of the garden which benefits so many people. We’ve had a really fun day and it was a great opportunity for the team to work together outside of the office and do something worthwhile for a great cause.”

For more information on ANCHO, visit or alternatively visit

Bruce Stevenson carving out niche for insurance provision

In this week’s SME Focus a man running one of a dwindling band of independent insurance brokerages in Scotland explains why he plans to buck the trend towards consolidation in the industry.

Name: Edward Bruce.25706091

Age: Just turned 50.

What is your business called? Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers.

Where is it based?

Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Aberdeen.

What services does it offer?

We sell bespoke insurance solutions to a range of corporate and individual clients.

Who does it sell to?

Overall, 85 per cent of our business is with corporate clients and 15 per cent is with individual and high-net-worth customers.

On the business side, as well as general business insurance, we have specialisms in social housing, small and medium sized enterprises, renewable energy, property insurance and farms / rural estates.

On the individual side, as well as broking straightforward house and motor policies, we specialise in the art, jewellery, antique and heritage-property markets.

What is its turnover?

Our most recent gross written premium (a key measure for insurers) was £20 million while our income was £4.5m. We think that makes us Edinburgh’s biggest independent broker by a long shot, and the second largest in Scotland.

This insurance market is cyclical. We have generally been in a soft market for the last five years. Commercial rates have largely been flat, if claims experience is favourable. There are certain areas of business which have gone up due to market experience, such as unoccupied properties and recycling businesses. Private motor insurance has come down, gone back up and looks like it is about to come down again. Generally, there is too much insurance capacity, hence a soft market. Some insurers have not been providing a good return to their shareholders – private motor insurers have made a loss in nine out of the past 10 years – so capacity may be reduced in the future.

How many employees?

We employ a team of 80 people but our growth plans mean we are looking to take on more specialists.

Recent consolidation in the industry means others are shedding key employees. We are doing the opposite and are always on the lookout for new expertise.

We have had approaches from those looking to consolidate but we are determined to remain independent. No acquisitions are planned at the moment but a number of very good staff are joining over the next 12 months. We see a very good future ahead for strong, independent insurance brokers who focus on their customers and staff.

When was it formed?

My father started the company in 1981. He had been working for a brokerage that was taken over by a large conglomerate, a business model he hated, so he formed Bruce Stevenson with the aim of providing the bespoke customer solutions that’s still the basis of our business today. I joined in 1996 when we only had 15 employees.

Why did you take the plunge? There was a combination of reasons that made it the right thing to do: I was getting married and my wife wanted to live in Edinburgh, rather than in Fort William where I was based at the time; my father had always wanted me to join him and bring some of my real estate expertise to the company; but mainly I saw the potential in building the business and extending its reach into the areas that we are in now.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I started out as a chartered surveyor based in Fort William – the source of my property knowledge.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

When I joined the business it was going through tough times; the board was divided on whether to sell out or keep going independently. My father and I decided to buy out some of the other shareholders and got bank funding to expand. We remain an independent business with no outside shareholders – the management team all have a stake in the company so it’s our money that’s on the line whenever we come in to work – that helps keep us focused!

What was your biggest break?

The board and my father having faith in my plans to take over the business and to run it my way.

What was your worst moment?

In some ways the best moment – taking over the business – was also the worst. I had a young family to look after as well as running a business that was new to me. On top of that, I am passionate about education in this industry – you can’t help people with specific problems unless you have specific knowledge. I couldn’t insist on everyone else having top-notch qualifications without that extending to me. So besides running the company and looking after my family, I was doing insurance exams, working till midnight and all weekend – it was a nightmare looking back, but ultimately rewarding.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The freedom and also the pride in the business and staff. We aren’t answerable to anyone apart from our customers, so we have a tangible sense that our decisions really count in growing the business and helping our clients, maybe not something that you’d get working in a larger conglomerate.

What do you least enjoy?

We are strong supporters of good, effective regulation. There are, however, some rules about running a business (not necessarily related to regulation) that are unhelpful. I don’t like box ticking for the sake of box ticking.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

Long term sustainable growth and building on our status as ‘the broker of choice.’

The key word here is sustainable. Our growth of the business has always been gradual – we have expanded in increments and I have never, and will never, gear the business up. Insurance is about managing risk – we’d hardly take a risk with the business by burdening ourselves with a huge amount of debt.

What are your five top priorities?

To enjoy what I do and make Bruce Stevenson a fun place to work; build a business which is seen as the preferred choice in the sectors in which we operate; lead by example (even if it means the long hours I mentioned above); have a happy and growing client base; and on the personal front, giving my children the best possible start by instilling in them core values and principles to see them through life.

What single thing would most help?

I’d love more school leavers and graduates to come and talk to us about their career. When people think of a career in finance they often think of banking or fund management – insurance is often overlooked. That’s a great pity. It is a dynamic industry with good prospects. And it’s fascinating – one day we’ll be dealing with a claim on a damaged wind turbine and the next it might be on a famous work of art or an old castle.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Anything they could do to encourage enterprise would be great. It would not only help businesses like ourselves, but also the companies out there that we serve, who are our main source of income.

How do you relax?

A long walk in the countryside with my dog followed by a good meal with entertaining company, washed down with some fine wine – a perfect day.

Bruce Stevenson Team conquer Ben Lomond!

10. Group Photo @ Summit

Congratulations to the Bruce Stevenson Team who climbed Ben Lomond as part of the Isle of Skye Mountain Challenge this weekend.  The 8 strong team (and team mascot, Puffin) enjoyed great weather for the scenic climb.  The challenge, in conjunction with Isle of Skye whisky and Tiso,  is to help raise funds for Scottish Mountain Rescue.

Scottish Mountain Rescue is a vital resource to all those who enjoy Scotland’s mountains.  Over 1000 volunteers deliver more than 30,000 hours of their time to call outs alone, they’re often braving the elements and risking their lives so that we can all continue to walk, climb and explore the Scottish countryside.  With hill walking, climbing and adventure travel in Scotland on the increase, more and more pressure is being placed on the teams of volunteers.

We are delighted to help support this charity and these amazing volunteers who dedicate their time to keep climbers safe.


6. Puffin admires the view

Scotsman Monday Interview – Edward Bruce


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!