The Diamond Standard – trusted insurance expertise since 1887
9 July 2018
Neil McFarlane, TH March Group CEO
In 1887 the 18-year-old son of a London Hatton Garden diamond merchant experienced a eureka moment when he realised that the jewellery trade he’d come to know through his father’s business was largely uninsured. The young entrepreneur’s idea blossomed to become the UK’s best-known firm of jewellery trade specialist insurance brokers (“Famous for insuring jewellery”), TH March.
A pioneer of specialist “jewellers block” policies (underwritten by Lloyds), Thomas H March’s entrepreneurial vision is still flourishing more than 131 years later. As appointed broker to many leading trade organisations such as the National Association of Jewellers, the National Pawnbrokers Association, the Company of Master Jewellers and the Giftware Association, TH March has continued to follow Thomas H March’s example by constantly innovating, growing and diversifying.
Today, commercial, personal insurance and financial planning divisions are all part of the TH March Group. With chartered insurance broker Neil McFarlane ACII at the helm as CEO, the company offers expertise in a wide range of commercial and personal insurance products to suit the needs and requirements of all kinds of people and organisations.
In 2011, having satisfied rigorous criteria relating to professionalism, capability and ethics, TH March was awarded the prestigious status of chartered insurance broker, the industry’s gold standard award and a mark of excellence.
In 2017, the company’s 130th anniversary year, independent customer service assessor Investor in Customers (IIC) awarded TH March its highest three-star “exceptional” rating.
Expert advice about insurance cover for business, home, health, wealth and life.
Hello, and welcome to Business Reporter's Future of Insurance Campaign. I'm Alastair Greener, and today I'm talking to Neil McFarlane from T.H. March.
Good morning. Why does jewellery and art attract so many dealers, investors? What is it about it?
I think because you're dealing with items of beauty, which can have a very high value, it's seen as being a good investment. I think if you look at jewellery, it's not necessarily investment. This is by particular designers or particular brands. I think with fine art, there is a variation there.
And when you come to the basics of insurance, when you get to things like assessing, you get to valuations and so and and so forth, what is it about arts and jewellery that's different within the insurance industry? Why is it a different kind of industry?
I think you've got to work with insurers that understands those risks. I think we work with people that we know will give us a good service. They take the time to survey risks. They take the time to understand risks. So we really get down to the nitty gritty of what we need to do to put together a proper insurance programme which doesn't really inconvenience people too much, and fits in with our lifestyles so they can enjoy those beautiful pieces, wear them, or have pieces of art without being too restrictive in how they wear them and how they use them.
What are the potential pitfalls or weaknesses within this industry?
I think the two potential pitfalls are people and procedures. Short and simple, most losses are an occurrence of people actually becoming a little bit complacent or not putting in place the right security. Or if they do put in place the right security, not using it properly.
Tell us a little bit more about T.H. March. Where do you fit into this whole programme?
T.H March are 131 years old. We started, basically, looking after the needs of the UK jewellery industry. Since then, we have grown to a much bigger organisation, looking after jewellers, both commercially and also high net worth individuals. We have an expertise and a speciality in those areas, so we can get down and really understand people's needs, and what keeps them awake at night, and what worries they really have. The key part to that is putting together an insurance programme that gives them the protection they need without being too restrictive on their lifestyles.
And it's interesting, you talk there about people being the central part of all this, but they're also the central weakness. as you highlighted earlier on. So how do you ensure that your clients actually do comply with all the rules and regulations that are associated with good insurance?
Very, very good question. First and foremost, we work with insurers that understand their particular needs. We also work with insurers that will do a survey at the time of policies taken out to make sure that all of the things they're concerned about are taken care of. Having good locks, good safe, and good alarms is one thing, but equally understanding procedures as to how you need to actually either run a business or protect your home is something else.
We also like to meet our clients at least once a year. And at that particular meeting we'll do a review of security and procedures to make sure there's no gaps, and just to make sure they're doing the things they said they would do.
Now, there's going to be a lot of companies out there who claim to be able to ensure your valuable piece of art, and jewellery, and so on. So for a jeweller, or an individual, or a merchant, when they're looking for the right insurer, what are the questions that they should be asking?
I think they need to ask, what is your expertise? What experience do you have in these industry sectors? Are you recommended by any particular trade associations as having a speciality in these areas? And equally importantly, what's your track record in settling claims? At the end of the day, claims are the most important part of an insurance policy.
We all know that technology is now very much a part of modern day life, and the insurance industry is very much a part of that. So how has that affected the insurance of items that we've been talking about-- jewellery, fine arts, et cetera.
I think the impact in those areas is not as great as others, but technology is here. It's there to help us arrange policies better. It's also to help us protect risk profiles, risk businesses, individuals better. We use technology in many, many areas to try and improve the customer experience when dealing with us.
T.H. March have invested huge sums in our customer experienced areas just to make sure that we know who our customers are. When they contact us we know what our previous contact has been, and we can actually provide them with the right advice at the right times in the right areas.
Tell me a bit more about this SaferGems initiative. How does that work?
SaferGems is an initiative started about 10 years ago by us and a major UK trade association. In simple terms, we had to view risk in a different way. So it's a national initiative. It's a cooperation between private industry, and UK police forces, and international law enforcement agencies for the detection and prevention of losses against the UK jewellery, fine art traits.
It's interesting you talk about prevention there, because that's almost like a permanent dilemma isn't it for the insurance industry? How much is prevention, and how much is damage control? Where would you put that balance?
I would probably put the balance as both. We certainly look to prevent loss. I think it's better to stop a loss than actually deal with the aftermath after something happens. But equally, criminals will always be out there. And no matter what steps we put in place to prevent them, losses will occur. So the key thing for us is that we'll try and prevent losses, but if something does happen, then we need to make sure that we're there with our clients to see them through that difficult time.
A quick technical question-- if a jeweller or merchant has ensured a valuable item and they then sell that item, are they able to transfer the insurance? Does it work like that?
Yeah, well, we have a very simple scheme called March Insurance Solutions, which enables jewellers, and art dealers, and fine art dealers to basically insure items through ourselves once they've sold those pieces. The key thing is, we have a natural association with those trades and have been doing so for over 100 years. So we understand them, and jewellers are happy to recommend their customers contact us, because they understand we'll deal with them in the correct way, and, wherever possible, send that customer back to the supplier who they purchased the goods from in the first place.
One of the things that we know about having valuable items is it might be nice, but we're also very aware of the financial implications, especially when it comes to insurance and so on. How can you keep people-- because you talked earlier on about it's about the beauty of the item, that's what's important. But when you have these spectacular risks, when you have all of those financial implications, how do you manage to get your customers to still focus on the beauty of the item?
I think is dealing with insurers that understands those profiles-- what risks are those customers susceptible to? At the end of the day, you don't want to make a policy so restrictive that they would never be able to wear a watch, never be able to wear a piece of jewellery, or hang that picture on the wall. So it's working with partners that understand those risk profiles and putting together a programme which actually enables them to enjoy their lifestyle without actually being too restrictive and too limiting.
If you could give three takeaways to our audience today regarding cover of their valuable items such as jewellery and find are, what would they be?
I think the three things I would say for people to look out for is, first, what expertise does your chosen broker or insurer have in the area you look into insure? And what's their track record? What's their heritage? What's their history in those areas.
The second thing is, how do they deal with claims? Claims are the most important part of any policy. A policy is a bit of paper with a promise. How that insurer lives up to that promise to us is key. So find out whether you can deal with your key suppliers to replace any lost and damaged items.
And lastly, I would say, if you're dealing via broker, then find out if they're a firm of charted insurance brokers, because that is the mark of industry excellence for insurance.
And we know one of the benefits of having these beautiful items is the fact that the insurances possibly will go up. So actually getting the right insurer is probably more important now than it's ever been before. So it's been great to get a really good insight into that. Neil McFarlane from T.H. March, thank you very much indeed.