Has private equity interest in P&C brokerages peaked?

The words 'private equity' appearing above a laptop

Private equity interest in the Canadian P&C brokerage space is showing no sign of slowing down, industry observers said last week at KPMG’s 2023 Insurance Conference in Toronto. 

Private equity groups remain eager to acquire Canadian brokerages, said Andrew Mathias, senior vice president of corporate finance of KPMG in Canada. 

“There’s these gems that are out there, whether it’s in B.C., or it’s in Alberta or Ontario, there’s a ton of opportunity,” Mathias said during the Navigating through the current M&A dynamics breakout session. “We’re expecting this [private equity interest] to continue. 

“And more importantly, it’s not just the U.S. and Canadian private equity, it’s now going to be U.K., European private equity groups that are coming to Canada.” 

The benefit is that the European insurance market is far more advanced than in Canada, said Mathias. “And so, [European PE firms are] bringing that knowledge, expertise, digitalization, all those aspects to the Canadian market.” 

Mathias and Georges Pigeon, a deal advisory partner with KPMG in Canada, discussed the role global and local M&A plays when insurance industry players develop business models and strategies to drive sustainable, profitable growth, among other topics. 

“Georges and I each probably have weekly calls with U.S. private equity that want to come up into Canada, and ask, ‘Is the market tapped out?’ Similar to how it is in the U.S., where it’s just so aggressive,” Mathias said. “My response weekly is, ‘No, please come up.’ 

“There’s just such a highly fragmented space,” he said. “And there’s just tons of opportunities.” 

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Mathias said brokerage M&A activity in Canada is largely being driven by four players — Westland, BrokerLink, Hub and Navacord. Westland, Hub and Navacord are all private equity-backed, while BrokerLink is a subsidiary of Intact Financial Corporation, Canada’s largest insurer. 

Private capital entering the insurance sector is a recurring theme, Pigeon added, one that can challenge incumbent carriers to find ways to cut costs and improve capital efficiency. 

“We’re not seeing [private capital] going away,” he said. “They’re going to be ever-present.” 

Mathias and Pigeon expect continued consolidation in the industry. Pigeon also anticipates consolidation to be “much more targetted in Canada, as opposed to what we had seen probably for the 15 years leading up to 2020.   

“What we’re expecting, though,” Pigeon added, “is the carriers, distributors and service providers really moving up and down the value chain to acquire capabilities and underwriting the capacity, as well as in claims management and cost mitigation,” he said. “That’s definitely an area that we’re seeing, that we’re hearing about.” 

On the distribution side, Mathias says he sees “brokers wanting to take a bit more control of the book, or just having a little bit more risk tolerance. And so, trying to move up from just being a traditional broker into a bit more of an MGA, TPA; in return, getting a higher commission, increasing profitability. We’re seeing that across the spectrum, typically it’s on the larger insurance brokerages.” 

 

Feature image by iStock.com/ra2studio