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An insight into regional insurance

In a bid to bolster Lycetts’ rural and estate division, the insurance broker has recently appointed Amanda Harman as divisional director at the company’s Sussex office. Insurance Wire spoke to Harman about why Lycetts has a separate rural division and what she hopes to achieve in her new role.

Harman has worked in the insurance industry for more than 30 years as a medical underwriter, direct insurer and broker, and she joins Lycetts from Aon, where she was head of Estates Practice. Lycetts says that “Amanda brings with her a raft of experience in country houses and estates and agricultural insurance, with additional focus in the areas of commercial activity, liabilities and specialist covers”.

But why has an investment into rural areas become increasingly important? Data published by the Health and Safety Executive reveals that the five most common causes of fatal injuries over the last five years include being struck by moving vehicles, being killed by an animal, being struck by an object, falling from height, and contact with moving machinery. Surprisingly, despite there being just over one in a hundred personnel working in agriculture, the sector accounted for one in four fatal injuries to workers in 2020/2021.

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The study also revealed that “agriculture has the worst rate of worker fatal injury (per 100,000) of the main industrial sectors: 20 times higher than the all industry rate”. Harman says that a lack of proximity to insurance businesses remains a significant issue for clients in the country. “You might have a client who is several miles off the main road and their services therefore have to go across several miles before they reach the house, and that in itself could cause problems,” she explains. There are issues with location, and “with factors that would impact a rural insurance risk that would not necessarily impact a risk that’s in the city”.

What is the difference between Lycetts’ rural division compared to its other divisions?

Harman explains that rural areas have specific needs as they “don’t have the same infrastructure in the countryside”. The Health and Safety Executive report revealed that farmers face a “myriad of potential hazards”, from contact with machinery and vehicles, chemicals, and livestock, to working at a height, and the demanding, solitary and relentless work associated with agriculture heightens farmers’ exposure to risk.

Harman highlights that, despite there being different divisions within the company, each member of the Lycetts team has different specialisms so the team works collaboratively. “We all have our own specialisms, so whilst I might be very happy to talk to a farmer about insuring their crops or their livestock, for example, if that same farmer wants to discuss inheritance tax, or perhaps they bought a racehorse string, then I have experts within the company who can assist me.”

“How we treat the client is exactly the same wherever they are, it’s just that the service the client gets is collaborative so that it’s a single offer, rather than being ‘I can’t deal with us, I’m going to send you to somebody else’. So you deal with the person you have the relationship with, but that person that you have the relationship with might be getting support from somewhere else in the group,” she adds.

Key differences

A key difference between Lycetts’ divisions that Harman draws on is that, for example, a listed property on a hill in Sussex is one sort of insurance risk, but there are different risks inherent if you dealt with a property in London as it’s a big city, even if it’s detached property. She highlights that “whilst a London property might be more prone to being impacted by a lorry, whereas a house in the country won’t be, a house in the country might be a bit further away from the fire station.”

Figures published by the Health and Safety Executive revealed that 41 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities in the past year, which is almost double the number of deaths in the previous year and the highest number of deaths recorded in the last 5 years.

Moreover, while there are many companies that offer insurance for rural businesses and rural dwellers, Harman asserts that “if you don’t live and work in the area, and understand how the area works, you’re not giving the client your best. If you live in the middle of a city and you’re trying to insure a country house estate, it’s very difficult if all you know is the city – you can’t relate that knowledge, that experience to a country dweller.” 

Lycetts has 16 offices across the UK and “almost all” are in rural areas or in market towns. “We get right in with the community; local activities are part of our makeup. Most of the people who work for Lycetts live locally. We’re on parish councils, we’re on local charities, so it’s all very much integral.”

Living in the country has enabled the team within Lycetts’ rural division to gain a deeper understanding of their clients and their needs: “If you live and work in a rural community, you can understand how important it is to the people you’re insuring to,” she adds.

She continues by explaining that it makes a difference because she can “see the impact on buildings in the country, I see the impact of changes to farming policy, agricultural policy, and the impact that that has on my farming friends. It also makes a difference if you’re talking to a particular client and you know exactly where they are, it just helps to be local and understand”.

Hopes for Harman’s new role

With her recent appointment as division director, Harman shares: “The first thing I’m planning to do is to develop the strong relationships we have with the existing clients. There’s been a huge amount of change in the company, in this office, over the last couple of years and so I want to reassure the clients that things are settling down. Because of staff changes, there’s been a little bit of disturbance, but now we have a little bit of equilibrium, and we will be developing confidence.

“But also within my plans, I want to nurture the staff relations and make sure that I’m expanding their experience through training programmes and to invigorate business growth, and broaden the insurance offering and the client base, essentially.”

In her new role, Harman aspires to get to know everybody and “work out what their expectations are of me, and mine of them, and make sure that my immediate colleagues are able to achieve all that they want to achieve within this group”. Just as importantly, she wishes “to demystify the whole insurance process, and to make it a collaborative team effort because that will be to the benefit of the company, the individuals, and all of my clients.”

Hopes for the future

Overall, Lycetts are an “acquisitive and inquisitive” company, confirms Harman. “We are always interested in talking to like-minded brokers to see if we can explore synergies, and if that includes the acquisition, then that’s a route we’re not afraid to take, so that is something that is in mind”.

 She adds: “For my particular sector, I am particularly keen to demystify. I want to empower my team and grow my team so that they have career aspirations and career paths that suit them, that satisfy their own needs. And that will further improve our ability to service clients to the level that we want, and we aspire to service them.”

More particularly for the insurance industry, Harman says she thinks the next big challenge for the industry will be insuring against disease. “I think our next big challenge is probably to find some way to insure against disease, having loss of income through disease, because that has been the disaster of last year. 

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see if anybody comes up with anything on that. There are plans afoot for a sort of disease re type, or pandemic re type cover, but whether that ever gets off the ground remains to be seen, but that’s industry wide,” she concludes.

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