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Orca chief is man with a plan

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


Sean Gallagher with John Molloy and Stephen Byrne from Orca Financial. Photo: David Conachy

Sean Gallagher with John Molloy and Stephen Byrne from Orca Financial. Photo: David Conachy

Sean Gallagher with John Molloy and Stephen Byrne from Orca Financial. Photo: David Conachy

Orca Financial was set up in 2004 by John Molloy and Stephen Byrne. Headquartered in The Grange Offices, on the Stillorgan Road, Blackrock, Co Dublin and with a second office in Portlaoise, Co Laois, the company employs 11 staff and this year will see their turnover reach close to €1.5m

"Ours is a financial brokerage business that acts as an umbrella for three separate yet complementary services," says John, the company's managing director. "Orca Life and Pensions is our core business and as an authorised financial broker, offers Life Assurance, Pension and Investment advice to almost 3,000 clients.

"I am a huge believer in the benefit of life assurance and have received lots of letters and emails from spouses, families and indeed businesses who have lost loved ones or business partners and whose troubles were lessened as the result of such a payment. Likewise, our pensions and investment business is about ensuring people put in place sufficient provisions to ensure they are protected for unforeseen events and have enough money to enjoy a quality of life once they reach retirement age."

Their second service, Orca Private Equity, is a separate company within the group that deals with unregulated investments. Managed by John's business partner, Stephen Byrne, this caters for those investors looking for greater risk and potentially higher returns. "To date, we have raised significant capital for a number of property developers as well as private companies such as Pre-pay Power and Homesecure and are now currently raising equity for another exciting business, Urban Volt," says Stephen.

The company's third and most recent addition is their online service, OOMPH.ie. Launched just last year and aimed at parents in their late 20s to early 40s, this provides fast and efficient online life assurance cover.

"With over 450,000 parents in Ireland with no life cover, this leaves a lot of families potentially exposed to financial challenges in the future," says John. "Having researched the market, we found there was an increasing appetite for a service that enabled customers buy cover in the evenings or over weekends, that provided fair and transparent pricing and provides choice rather than offering only one company's products.

"In addition, the lower cost online model allows us offer discounts on life cover rates and mortgage protection plans which also makes it more attractive for customers."

John grew up in Rathfarnham in Dublin. When he didn't get enough points in his Leaving Certificate to get into the course he wanted in UCD, he completed a diploma in retail marketing in the College of Marketing and Design. Later that year, while deciding whether to advance his studies, John got a job selling life assurance door-to-door. While he didn't particularly enjoy that aspect of the business, he fell in love with the sector and as a result postponed going back to college and joined Norwich Union as a trainee account manager. It would be later in his early 30s that he would eventually return to the Smurfit Business School in UCD where he completed an executive MBA.

He was still only 20 years old when he was promoted as account manager by Norwich. Having later moved to Prudential and through a series of mergers and acquisitions where Prudential became part of the Irish Permanent Group and then the Irish Life and Permanent group, John ended up becoming head of pension distribution for the national network of Permanent TSB branches. "I had felt for a long time that there was a lack of long-term service for pension and retirement planning and that in order for customers to get the most out of their investments, annual reviews should be routinely carried out to assess the customer's risk appetite as their circumstances changed or they grew older. So in 2004, I decided to set up Orca Financial with Stephen."

Also from Rathfarnham, Stephen had studied IT in Trinity College before forming an IT-based startup. When the pair met, Stephen was working as a mortgage broker and the combination of their skill sets and experience seemed a perfect fit for this new venture.

"I realised that mortgage advice was going to be key and that I had little or no experience in this area, so I approached Stephen after a recommendation from a friend. He was also involved in property development and had a great handle on fundraising and private equity which would also become an important part of our business," says John.

Starting out in a small basement office in the city centre the pair were joined shortly after by Sarah McGurrin, now a fellow shareholder and sales director in the business. Apart from customers, John emphasises the importance of a strong team.

The company's focus on mortgages was central to their success until the market collapsed in 2008. "That was our greatest challenge and resulted in a significant drop in income in a very short term. However, we were lucky to have invested to acquire three other life and pension brokerages which we merged into the company, one each year in 2006, 2007 and 2008," he adds.

One of the businesses they acquired had an office in Portlaoise which they continue to use to service their many clients throughout the Midland region.

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"Referrals, too, have played a key part in our continued growth and today we are proud to have €130m of funds under advice for our 3,000 clients," he adds. "Unlike some businesses, our emphasis is on personal service where we get to know the customer rather than treating them as a policy number," says John.

Optimistic about the future of the company, John's short-term strategy is to grow the business by way of further acquisitions and mergers as a result of the number of smaller brokerages struggling with the increased burden of new legislation. And with his new life assurance online service, OOMPH.ie now up and running, he sees this, too, as a strong source of future revenues.

orca.ie & oomph.ie

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