Howden aims to create ‘credible alternative’ UK broker with Aston Lark acquisition

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Howden, the international insurance broking group, has reached agreement to acquire Aston Lark from Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital.

The acquisition completes Howden’s UK broking business, with Aston Lark joining A-Plan Group and Howden UK to create a full-service broker “unrivalled in its quality, scale and reach” in this jurisdiction, according to a press announcement.

The transaction, for an undisclosed sum and subject to regulatory approval, marks Howden’s largest acquisition to date and creates a UK business managing more than £6 billion of gross written premium for 1.7 million+ policyholders who are served by over 5,000 employees from 160 locations in the UK and Ireland.

Aston Lark is one of the UK’s largest independent insurance brokers specialising in complex commercial and private client insurance and employee benefit advice, placing more than £1 billion of gross written premiums for 200,000 clients, on behalf of the UK’s leading insurers.

Howden said the partnership will enable it to build on its 27-year history of developing leading positions across markets by partnering with independent, high-quality, high-growth businesses with a large employee shareholder base, a shared entrepreneurial culture and an ambitious but long-term and sustainable approach to growth.

The business will be led by a combined management team to optimise client solutions and service.

On completion, Aston Lark chief executive Peter Blanc will become executive chairman of Howden’s UK retail broking operations, while current A-Plan chief executive officer Carl Shuker will be appointed chief executive officer of the new platform.

Andy Bragoli, chief executive officer of Howden UK, will lead the international specialty business. The management team will report into Jose Manuel Gonzalez, chief executive officer of Howden Broking Group.

David Howden, chief executive officer Howden Group, said: “The completion of our UK broking platform is a deal a decade in the making and I’m thrilled that Aston Lark’s highly respected and experienced management team has chosen Howden as its final home.”

“In a rapidly consolidating and technology-driven sector our commitment to employee ownership, unique structure, scale, distribution breadth and data-led approach stand out, and today’s announcement further enhances our position as the credible alternative of scale for clients and a magnet for the very best talent in the industry.”

“Not only is Aston Lark the missing piece of our UK broking strategy but our new strengthened platform signals a new beginning for the group, accelerating our significant international ambitions by bringing a fresh and energetic dynamic to all our markets and even greater value to our clients.”

Blanc, who is currently group chief executive officer of Aston Lark, said: “I’ve always been determined to make sure that the business we have been building in Aston Lark finds its forever home and I’m absolutely delighted to have done that through Howden.”

“My thanks go to Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital for allowing me and my management team to choose the right home for us. Together we will be the major force in the UK broking market and I’m extremely excited about what we can achieve over the coming years. Our combined products, services and footprint will enable us to capture every customer in the market.”

Blanc added: “The Aston Lark culture of care for clients, employees and insurers resonates throughout Howden and this could not be a better fit. Our leadership team is looking forward to working with everyone at Howden as we become the very best broker in the market.”

“We embarked on an exciting growth journey six years ago and have gone from placing £100 million of premium to £1 billion. We’ll continue to seek high-quality acquisitions and talented individuals to join us as we become part of this amazing story.” 

Michele Titi-Cappelli, managing director in the private equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, commented: “Leveraging our deep financial services expertise and operational support capabilities, we are proud to have supported Aston Lark’s success under Peter and the broader management team.” 

“The new partnership with Howden positions Aston Lark to continue building upon their strategy of becoming a leading client-centric UK insurance broker. We wish Peter, the broader management team and Howden Group Holdings the very best for the continuation of the journey.”

Julian Masters, managing partner at Bowmark Capital, added: “It has been a privilege to work with Peter and the team since Bowmark first invested in the business in 2015, helping to create one of the top five UK independent commercial lines brokers.”

“Over the past six years, we have supported a successful buy-and-build strategy, with 50 acquisitions, and employee numbers having grown eight-fold to 1,600 today. We are incredibly proud of the business that we have collectively built and see Howden as the natural partner for Aston Lark in the future.”

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Mark Dugdale is the editor of Claims Media. Mark welcomes articles, letters or feedback from readers and can be reached via mark.dugdale@barkerbrooks.co.uk