Tuesday 17 September 2019

FBD all set for development, not revolution

VINCENT WALL talks to Adrian Taheny of FBDFOR A man once described by a senior female politician as ``the thinking woman's Maurice Pratt'', Adrian Taheny does not miss the high profile his television advertisements for the EBS Building Society gave him over the best part of four years.

Seven months after his surprise departure from the EBS to become group development manager at FBD Holdings, the largely rural-based insurance company, he expresses surprise at the reaction he received to his career move.

``I wasn't aware of having this profile at all when I was doing those ads. They arose because we felt back in 1993 that while the EBS had a good story to tell, the message wasn't getting across to sufficient numbers of people. It was decided to put a personalised management stamp on the campaign and I was put forward because I had some acting experience.

During the four years, when Taheny's familiar silver-haired figure and soft Sligo accent delivered the EBS message to the nation's living rooms, he says he was only ever stopped twice by people asking him if he was the ``fella on the telly''.

``In fact, we were actually in the process of changing the format of the advertising campaign and excluding me from the next series, when I was approached by head hunting agency to see if I was interested in a change.''

Even at a surface level, the bleak industrial landscape surrounding FBD's corporate headquarters at Bluebell, off Dublin's Naas Road, seems to offer a stark contrast to the lively city centre offices Taheny used to inhabit when based at EBS headquarters in Westmoreland Street.

``Following their initial approach I obviously began to do some research on FBD, where they had come from and their likely strategic plans. I liked what I saw and felt that my particular background and career experience could prove useful in helping the company to expand and grow.

``It is a conservative and cautious organisation by its nature and it is true that approximately 60pc of its business is conducted with the country's farming population. But I'm from a small business background myself in Riverstown, Co Sligo and I know the value inherent in the loyalty of that customer base.

``It is also the case that the board has agreed a strategic initiative to develop the company. That involves targeting new types of customers and products and, in particular, the Dublin area for the first time. In this respect too, I hope I can offer something because I understand the nature of the Dublin market and my expertise is in marketing.''

Not that anything revolutionary is envisaged by his new employers. Established by 3,000 farmers in the late 1960s, the company, despite its stockmarket flotation eight years ago, is still over 70pc owned by farming interests and by a similar type of organisation in Belgium, Assurances du Boerenbond Belge.

It has achieved solid profits and earnings growth since flotation by servicing the agri-sector and also, less overtly, the commercial and retail market throughout the provinces. Up to 40pc of its general insurance premium income is now generated from the likes of publicans, shopkeepers and professional firms.

Net premium income in 1994 was just under £80m while profit before tax came in at £13.3m. These key indicators are expected to rise to £109m and £15.6m respectively by the end of 1998.

Apart from its principal general insurance underwriting business, FBD also runs separate insurance broking arms in both the general and life and pensions sectors of the market. It operates a financial services and treasury division in the IFSC, a property investment vehicle and two separate leisure complexes in the south of Spain.

``We have just over 6pc of the general insurance market, but in reality that corresponds to a much larger share of our core market because by excluding ourselves from Dublin we were cutting ourselves off from up to 40pc of the national market anyway,'' Taheny argues.

``Now we have also decided to target specific aspects of the Dublin market in a controlled and focused manner. We are confident that our experience as the preferred insurer with industry groups such as RGDATA and the Irish Vintners' Federation allied to our competitive cost base will allow us to capture significant business in the Capital, on a selective basis.''

In its own conservative fashion FBD has decided not to establish a branch network in Dublin. Instead a small team of experienced insurance representatives will target specific businesses throughout the city, using the Naas Road office as a home base. Interviews to select the new team were in progress at Bluebell yesterday.

``We estimate that this policy will soon bring our ratio of farming to retail/commercial business from 60:40 to 50:50, a proportion we would be satisfied with going forward. As a prelude to this new strategy we have started our first advertising campaigns in the national media, outlining who we are and the type of products we offer.

``It's principally been a question of raising brand awareness and has already reaped significant dividends. We've been surprised at the level of calls to the office here from individuals and businesses around the city enquiring about our product range and our rates.''

As part of its development strategy FBD will also soon announce new preferred relationships with providers of specialised insurance products such as critical illness, term assurance and mortgage protection.

``We will select what we feel is the best product out there in each category and then endorse it for our customers by putting our own brand on it.''

But at the age of 41, is FBD his final resting place? ``My focus is on the next four or five years and who's to say where I might end up? But if the board gave me their support at that time, FBD is certainly the type of organisation I would like to become chief executive of down the line.''

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