Kiwi business goes global

Kiwi business goes global

18 May 2016

During his phone interview for Network, Peter fondly mentions that he is watching his seven-year-old granddaughter compete in her first triathlon. Apparently she has leapt out of the pool with great gusto but is lagging with the transition as she dries off and ties her shoe laces.

He is big on family, but also big on business. Peter spends 130 days a year travelling as the managing director of public listed company, CBL Insurance (CBL).

He flies from one meeting to the next and rarely has the chance to unpack his suitcase while he visits CBL offices located in Australasia, Mexico, South East Asia, Europe and Africa.

Peter and his business partners bought CBL from the Dick family in Wellington in 1996. At the time it was a small company writing niche credit and financial risk insurance that generated about $2 million a year.

The company now has 150 employees, eight offices, three insurance companies and two underwriting agencies working worldwide and is valued at about $350m.

This figure has grown significantly over the past 15 years thanks to organic growth, strategic acquisition and a successful dual listing on the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges late last year.

“We spent the first few years putting in a couple of new products but decided to focus on credit and financial risk. We saw a market for that,” Peter said.

The domestic market in New Zealand was too small for a specialist insurance company. So, CBL made the decision to expand internationally.

“We had two choices. We could grow CBL by taking on more traditional forms of insurance –property, casualty and natural disaster insurance – or stick to what we knew and understood and grow internationally.”

CBL decided that the best direction for the company wasn’t to grow exponentially by introducing high volume commodity type products like house, car and content insurance.

“We could substantially grow our revenue by doing that but our profits would only grow by a fraction of that revenue.”

So, in 2000, Peter and his partners started the overseas expansion of CBL.

“I was in charge of overseas sales and spent a number of years building up an international network of distributors and intermediaries who now sell our product deriving risk from various countries.”

As the company’s international growth took flight, CBL set up offices in Australasia, South East Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa to support the intermediaries that placed insurance risk with CBL in New Zealand.

“With distributors and intermediaries working as part of the CBL team we get the benefit of local market knowledge. We can’t do everything here from NZ.”

Peter says a lot of the company’s growth has been organic through existing business and through the strategic acquisition of insurance intermediaries along the way.

“All acquisitions have been successful and profitable and stay within the group. All the intermediaries that we work with have been with us for 10 or more years. We have very loyal distribution lines.”

Early last year CBL decided to increase the company’s capital by becoming a public listed company on the Australian and New Zealand stock exchanges.

“We have been fortunate over the years to be very profitable and to add those profits to our capital base as we go. We have never had to put in further capital but we saw some real opportunity and thought we would look to the market for additional capital.”

The market’s volatility towards the end of 2015 didn’t deter the team from listing.

“Our view was that we had made a plan and that we would stick with it and execute it. We were looking for long term investors who would see through the volatility.”

Through a series of roadshows in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, CBL raised $198 million.

“We got a firm commitment from investors for $198 million. We were able to scale down the offers to get high quality spread of investors.”

CBL debuted at a premium, in an IPO that raised $125m.

Peter and his partners have no plans for slowing down anytime soon, $90m of this is earmarked for growth.

“We are focused on our underwriting profiles and there are good opportunities to do that. There are growing markets, there are growing economies and there is a lack of competition in our market.”

His driven, hard-working attitude comes from his modest upbringing on the family farm. Peter’s parents are Waikato dairy farmers and his first ever job was washing wool for a Waikato based company. He then went on to study a Bachelor of Accounting at the Waikato Institute of Technology.

Peter has also been heavily involved in youth programmes like Project K, an initiative that pairs mentors with on-the-edgeteenagers. He is a big believer in youth endeavour which is reflected in his work as a founding member of the Spirit of Adventure Foundation.

(Source: Karen Simpson Network magazine)