2022 ERS Matt Perry BL

Matt Perry joined our Agriculture team four years ago and has recently been promoted to Senior Underwriter, responsible for managing our renewals book and getting our terms out as efficiently as possible. We chatted to him about what’s involved in his new role, why great broker comms is so important, and how farms are responding to current challenges facing the sector.

How did you get started in your career?

Around seven years ago, I was living in Sydney after doing some travelling, contemplating my move back to the UK and the sort of career I wanted to pursue. A friend of mine worked for an agriculture insurer and put in a recommendation for me. I got the job and started my way up.

You don’t set out to choose a career in insurance – I don’t think many children are thinking about becoming underwriters! But I was intrigued by insurance as a career option, and I’ve always had an interest in agriculture as I grew up in North Yorkshire, surrounded by rural businesses. Several of my friends still work on family-run farms.

Tell us about your progression through to your new role.

At first, I worked in Operations before becoming an underwriting assistant. Then I spotted an opportunity to move to London and join ERS. My interview was with our Agriculture Product Manager Malcolm Cawsey, who was incredibly knowledgeable and made me very excited about the role. When I told my MD that I was leaving to work on Malcolm’s team, he sat me down and told me what a great opportunity it was, such is his reputation in the industry.

I’ve progressed a lot under Malcolm’s tutelage in the past four years, gaining confidence in my underwriting abilities to the point where I’ve been able to take on the Senior Underwriter role. As a team, we get a lot of commendations for how we perform, and a lot of that is about how we’re managed.

Describe your day-to-day role at ERS.

My role is to ensure we have clear sight of upcoming renewals, so I funnel all of the data in, then share these insights and give early warnings to the rest of the team. I’ve also become a referral point for our Operations team in Swansea. I spend half an hour with them each day going through all the inbound queries – for example, around large claims or requests that don’t match our expectations.

It’s great working so closely with the Operations team and helping them to act with more autonomy. We’ve just added two underwriters to the Agriculture team who have moved over from Operations, which is indicative of our company culture. There’s a real appetite for development, and we’re all given so much encouragement internally.

How do you add value to brokers?

The biggest thing for me is being open, forward, and proactive. This means things like getting our terms out early or speaking to brokers to explain our thinking around a particular issue. It’s an approach that was particularly important during Covid, and now through the inflationary pressures everyone is experiencing. If we talk to the brokers proactively and explain our decisions, they’ll see the whole picture and can communicate with clients to set expectations upfront.

How are the inflationary pressures affecting renewals?

Inflation will lead to some tough decisions for all insurers. When it comes to renewals, we try to apply rate increases little by little rather than springing sudden, significant surprises on brokers. One of our selling points is our consistency. Brokers always know what we’re going to do because we tell them about it ahead of time.

Just as costs are going up for everyone, Brexit has also had a domino effect on the industry. If a vehicle breaks down and a part has to be ordered from Europe, it takes longer to source, leading to longer hire car requirements, which means higher claims costs, which impact premiums, and so on.

And how are rural businesses responding to these pressures?

We’re continuing to see a lot of diversification across the sector. You rarely see farms that are just farms these days. If a farmer has some land, it helps to maximise its use, and we’re seeing everything from agriculture tourism to farms hosting giant wind turbines.

The nature of the diversification depends both on the type of farm and also the region. For example, with sheep farmers in Scotland or the Pennines, where it’s tougher to grow things, you might see land being used to support equestrian centres and stables. Whereas with arable farms, you often see a bit more contracting. Harvesters cost a lot of money, so the more value farmers can extract from their machinery, the better.

Consequently, we try to be as flexible as possible in what we offer to these businesses, covering all their diverse vehicles, machinery and use cases.

Are there any other key agriculture trends you’re seeing right now?

It’s a tough market for smaller farms, and the worry is that over time the larger farms could grow even larger, while the smaller farms either sell their land or diversify entirely.

It would be a shame as this country has a rich heritage of family-run farms. It’s great to see rural businesses being passed down from generation to generation, and I don’t think anyone wants to see our industry defined solely by large farms serving supermarkets.

Yet it’s becoming a real risk since the loss of the EU subsidies. Understanding the UK Government’s position is critical. There’s a big sustainability drive underway, which means real change for farmers, who are being asked to change their practices, move away from diesel vehicles etc. But the biodiversity side of things needs to be sufficiently rewarding for smaller farms as well as large ones.

Does a local presence still make a difference to brokers and their customers?

It’s a vital part of what we do. The farming community is very close-knit. Farmers want to deal with brokers they know and trust, and many clients have held these relationships for years or even decades. We have to develop similar levels of trust, and face-to-face is an integral part of this, which is why we’ve expanded our regional underwriting team. They can spend more time in person with the brokers talking about our risk appetite and what we can offer. They also bring a huge amount of local agricultural knowledge, which is great for educating the wider team.

What are the key opportunities for ERS and its agriculture brokers right now?

Some of the biggest opportunities come through forging stronger broker relationships. Many of our growth deals are led by the regional underwriters in the field, and now, post-Covid, they can get back out in person rather than doing everything remotely.

Outside of farming, recreation and leisure has been a big growth area for us over the past few years. We’re incredibly diverse in what we offer we have a golf scheme, an education scheme, and even an internal drainage board scheme! Brokers like our approach because in some rural business fleets you can find everything from combines and quad bikes to a Ferrari. As a specialist motor insurer, we can provide a complete package, so brokers aren’t left to manage multiple risks from multiple providers.

Why does ERS stand out as an attractive partner to brokers?

Consistency really is essential. Not just in our pricing, but in day-to-day processes – like the fact that people can consistently get through to us. Our brokers are time-poor, and their rural clients have even less time to spare. The biggest insurer bugbears from brokers are when they send things in and hear nothing back, or when the insurer sends the terms back late. In contrast, we operate to strict SLAs around all of these communications, so brokers know exactly what to expect when they deal with us.

What are your passions and pastimes outside of working hours?

Living in London, there’s so much going on that you need to make the most of it. I enjoy trips to the cinema, gigs, and sports, particularly tennis and football. I’m a West Ham fan, so there are plenty of ups and downs in my world!

If you weren’t working in agriculture vehicle insurance, what would your dream job be?

Being an author would be very gratifying. Despite all of the advances in technology, people still love making the time to switch off and sit down with a book. I’d love to be the creator of those moments.

Looking for A+ rated Agriculture or rural business motor cover? Contact our specialist team on agriculturequotes@ers.com.

Discover more about our ERS agriculture motor products here.

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