John Needham, Partner, Financial Services at PKF Littlejohn, talks to Robin about changing attitudes to technology and supporting insurers, plus his advice for insurtech founders on navigating the market.
Robin: John, lots of people have heard of PKF Littlejohn because you have a high profile in our community, but not everyone knows what you do. Tell us.
John: PKF is a global accounting network and we’re its London office. Our Financial Services team is well known in the insurance sector and consists of around 70 industry specialists. Everyone in the team has an insurance focus, which is what makes us a little bit different to our competitors. We work with about 100 brokers and 50 insurers from early stage start-ups to top 5 UK composite carriers… and everything in between.
Robin: What is your role at PKF Littlejohn?
John: My official role is head of transaction services, but I also take responsibility for the continued development of our Insurance team. I look for new opportunities in the market and for bright people to join the team. If we’re constantly innovating and finding new services that we can provide clients, then I’m doing my job well!
Robin: What sort of advice and services does your firm provide to the insurance community?
John: We provide a full range of services to our insurance clients – audit, tax advisory, M&A, transaction services, internal audit and valuations. Everything is delivered by one team which has a very specific insurance focus. So, for instance we have a partner, Chris Riley in our team heading up the tax side of things.
The nature of our involvement will depend on the type of client. The mega brokers or major insurers tend to come to us for specialist services – transactional advice, due diligence or real sector-specific tax advisory services. On the start-up side, we provide more of consultative service; things like structuring, regulation, advisory and even developing FCA business plans.
Robin: PKF Littlejohn has been early supporters of ours, and corporate members for three or four years now. What was your reason for joining the community, and why are you interested in what we do?
John: Clients tell us that they value our services because we understand the inherent mechanics of what's going on in the market. When we started to see insurtech and technology playing a greater role in both start-ups and established insurance businesses, we were curious and keen to play an active role. Becoming part of the “Steel Yard crew” was therefore a no brainer! We’re proud to have joined at an early stage and are enjoying the combination of continuous learning, meeting like-minded people and getting involved in fun events.
The attitude of firms towards technology has completely changed in the three years that we’ve been InsTech London members. The kind of conversations about technology that we’re having are very different to those we had when we joined. We've got insight into that from your events and talking to InsTech members. We’ve found that the understanding and connections that we've made have led us to clients choosing us over our competitors.
Robin: Are you up for helping any kind of insurtech business or do you have an ideal target type of client?
John: As the market is maturing in the insurtech world, there's a clear understanding of what business models are going to work and what investors require.
In the early days, it was less clear cut. Something could look exciting but didn't necessarily have any funding or traction to go to the next level. But that doesn't necessarily mean that we couldn’t help them.
The clients we take on come with investors or have emerged with an existing team with a really good track record.
With almost any insurtech, we’re prepared to invest time getting to know the firm – so it’s worth getting in touch with us for those initial conversations. We find people get a lot out of that and can act on a lot of that discussion themselves.
We tend to say to firms. should take advantage of our expertise when it's important or relevant. They don't need PKF to do very basic things like bookkeeping or tax returns; where we can add real value is when they have something very specific, and potentially complex, that they need advice on, often based on the discussions that we had right at the start.
Robin: John, you've helped a lot of insurtech businesses at various stages over the past few years. If you could give the next generation of Insurtech founders a bit of advice, what would it be?
John: A common theme that we’ve seen is that some companies can run into problems because their founders come from outside the industry. They run pretty fast and build up a head start… and then suddenly the insurance market catches up with them.
My advice is to get out and about and surround yourself with knowledgeable people from the insurance market who understand what you're trying to do. It’s important to know what's coming down the road, and what the likely challenges are going to be. The good news is that there’s no shortage of people that are interested in helping firms and founders navigate the market.
Robin: John, if you have one message to give to the members of the InsTech community, what would it be?
John: Get in touch - we are really interested in understanding your business more. We would like to see if we can help in some capacity, but we're also happy just to chat things through and tell you more about what we get up to, and some of the value that we can bring.
For more information on PKF Littlejohn, go to pkf-l.com.