Tuesday 17 September 2019

Insurer with a client-first policy

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Tim Dooley, managing director of Dooley Insurance group, and his father Ned. Photo: Mark Condren
Sean Gallagher with Tim Dooley, managing director of Dooley Insurance group, and his father Ned. Photo: Mark Condren
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

The Dooley Insurance Group was set up by Tim Dooley in 2002, who has gone on to acquire a number of similar broker firms - putting him among the top 3pc of brokers in the country. Located in Millennium Park, in Naas, Co Kildare, and with 12 full-time staff, the company has an annual turnover of more than €1.6m.

"Our business generally falls into three main categories," says Tim.

"Our main business is general insurance, which includes car, housing and business insurance as well as public and professional liability. We are also specialists in health insurance, which takes in both individuals as well as families and corporate policies. Finally, we offer a wide range of financial services from investments and life cover to individual and group pensions."

The company's 8,000-strong customer base is drawn mainly from the counties of Kildare, Dublin, Meath, Wicklow and Laois and Offaly and include a broad mix of individuals, corporate firms, SMEs and professional businesses.

Having effectively grown up in the business, insurance is very much in Tim's blood.

"My father, Ned, set up his own insurance business over 60 years ago. Because it was run out of our family home in Kildare town, people would pop in seven days a week to drop off their premiums. We had everyone from the military and Bord na Mona workers to local farmers who came into town at the weekends to do their shopping," says Tim.

"I was always struck by the extraordinary level of customer care he gave and it was this, I believe, that helped him build up a strong and very loyal customer base. It was that sort of very personal type of business back then. And, in many ways, it still is," he adds.

Aged 88, Ned is still working in the sector on a part-time basis having merged his business with Tim's in 2016.

Tim started his own career in the insurance sector, firstly with Irish life and later with AIB Ark Life where he eventually became pensions manager for Dublin city and county.

A qualified financial adviser and a fellow of the Life Insurance Association, he then moved to become insurance and investment manager with Ulster Bank for two years before setting up his own brokerage firm in 2002.

"Growing up in the business and watching my father for so many years gave me the itch to emulate him. Knowing the sector so well, I knew it would give me a great sense of achievement.

"Since then we have gone on to acquire a number of other businesses including D & E Insurances in Newbridge in 2002, Gorry Insurance in Rathangan in 2005, John Commins Insurance in Newbridge in 2007, Mark Norman Financial Services in Kildare in 2008, the general insurance arm of Mortgage Direct Ltd in Dublin in 2009, Morrin Mortgages in Naas in 2013 and finally Goldkey Financial Services in Dublin in 2013."

These acquisitions have enabled Tim to more than double his business over the last five years and he plans to double it again in next five by a mix of organic growth and further acquisitions.

Consolidating these various businesses into a single office in Millennium Park also proved beneficial in terms of streamlining efficiencies in the business.

"Over the years I have learned that having the right staff on board is essential if you want to thrive in this business," insists Tim. "I have found too that the key to sustaining a good business is to hire hard and manage easy.

"You have to hire good talent and then let them get on with it without micro-managing them. This is especially important when acquiring staff as part of an acquisition.

"You have to bring these staff with you on the journey, and that involves making sure they buy into your vision for the business," he adds.

Putting the interests of his clients first has always been important to Tim. And it's a philosophy that yields strong results for the business, with 90pc of new business now coming from existing clients or by way of referrals from satisfied customers.

It's the client interaction and the act of helping customers that continues to motivate him.

"We pride ourselves in having a range of products that tied agents or other companies cannot provide, something that provides choice, transparency and competition for clients," says Tim.

"But what's really important for us is that in order to advise our clients on financial products, we first need to get to know our clients.

"That's about sitting down with them through an informal process, finding out about what they want and need. And there can often be a difference between what a client thinks they want and what they actually need."

While it's in a tough and competitive marketplace, Tim insists he still finds the business rewarding. "There's a great sense of satisfaction when you meet the widow or widower of one of your clients and hand them over a cheque in the knowledge that, while it won't bring back their loved one, it will help smooth out other challenges for them at a difficult time in their lives.

"Or making sure a client gets a pay out when their factory or business burns down. These are the times you realise just how important the work we do actually is," says Tim.


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