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Newbie news: Independent Living

Paul Dickson tells Insurance Age why he started afresh after leaving Arthur J Gallagher in 2014

The CEO of Innovation Broking, Paul Dickson, launched the new offering in April 2015 with development director Howard Pearson – the former boss of Oamps in the UK.

Dickson was previously regional managing director for London and the South East at Giles before it was bought by Arthur J Gallagher, where he had the same role.

“A big company tends to be all about politics,” he says. “After a year, and with changes at the top, I decided to quit. The big corporate life is just not really for me.”

He confirms that he had opportunities to return to the market with established brokers but decided instead to start from scratch and co- found the insurance offering with Pearson.

“I’ve done it before and it was familiar territory,” he said. “I set up and ran Dickson Insurance Brokers for 20 years before it was bought by Giles in October 2008.”

So, how did the new firm – based in Watford – come about? Firstly he was keen to work with Pearson. And then there was a crucial phone call.

“We had a tremendous amount of goodwill from the industry itself. We were able to establish more than 40 agencies within two months’ Paul Dickson

Getting backing
“Howard and I were very fortunate to be approached by venture capital trust firm, Albion Ventures, who were keen to back us so we’ve had backing from day one,” says Dickson.

“That was an unsolicited and a pleasant surprise. With their backing we put together a business plan and the objective is to build a high quality commercial insurance broker.”

One of the first steps was to create a solid base of insurer relationships using old contacts.

“The challenges were not such that we struggled too much,” he explains. “We had a tremendous amount of goodwill from the industry itself. We were able to establish more than 40 agencies within two months.”

Dickson describes the process, including dealing with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), as being straightforward. “I was still running Dickson Financial Services, an employee benefits business, in parallel to my work at Giles and Gallagher,” he says, detailing that Giles had not wanted to buy the financial services arm during the 2008 takeover.

“As that was already an authorised company we could use that vehicle to establish the insurance broking division. It was an extension of permissions. We had some [insurance permissions] but not client money and that took about seven weeks for the FCA to approve.”

The firm is targeting £15m of gross written premiums in three years and £25m within five.

It has already achieved £3m in the first seven months and now boasts a staff of 12 with two directors recently appointed from Gallagher and Stackhouse Poland respectively. It has also opened a second branch.

Winning clients
“We are looking nationally for clients and that is why we set up the London office,” says Dickson. “We are looking at mid-market, commercial and corporate sectors. That is our background and I’m used to dealing with larger clients. We are assembling a team of like-minded practitioners.”

In particular he lists technology, private equity and high growth companies as being sweet spots for the firm, with a focus on cyber and evolving risk areas and specialities also including professional indemnity and global programs.

“We expect to be competing with the larger, international and commercial brokers,” Dickson sums up.

“Our resource is board level insurance advice. We are focusing on working with boards, engaging with them and providing quality solutions to risk and insurance issues.”

The business is looking to promote itself through a variety of routes such as word of mouth, its website and social media. “We are targeting certain sectors using outbound calls, our own networks of contacts and introducer models,” he confirms. “We are covering a lot of ground.”

Better off
Having taken the leap to return to independent broking, is he enjoying it? The answer is an emphatic yes. “I am enjoying it hugely – I don’t have anyone telling me what to do!”

So would he advise other people to go down the same path? Dickson observes: “I have found that the leadership in the commercial broking space is extremely variable and a lot of people would be better off setting up their own businesses.”

Continuing: “One of the problems with the very large brokers in the commercial space is they have their challenges around integration. We are focused on more and better service for clients. Now is a great time because the market has changed.”

He is adamant that insurers are enthusiastic about backing quality, independent broking firms.

“The insurers generally are supportive of independent brokers,” Dickson concludes.

“The era of significant consolidation of the market is possibly at an end with most of the large regional brokers having been subsumed into the large firms. Insurance companies are more than happy to support the independent brokers.”