Canadian Underwriter

Inside the merger of Highcourt and Breckles

April 15, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

Office workstation top view with businesspeople working around M&A

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Search engine optimization (SEO), electronic transactions, and contracts with carriers insuring small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are among the capabilities that made the Breckles Group of Companies attractive to Highcourt Partners.

The merger of those two Canadian brokerages, resulting in the formation of the Highcourt Breckles Group, was announced this past Tuesday.

The combined firm is led by chairman and CEO Mark McKay, who founded Toronto-based Highcourt in 2011. The president of the combined firm is Ben Malik, who headed The Breckles Group before the merger. Christopher Coniglio will become chief operating officer of the combined firm. McKay was CEO of Highcourt before the merger.

“Highcourt brought in expertise in very complex commercial accounts, global placements, and in the formation of offshore captives,” McKay told Canadian Underwriter Wednesday in an interview.

For its part, Breckles Group – which has one office each in Markham and Waterloo, Ont. – places mainly commercial insurance for SMEs as well as personal lines.

As a result of the merger, the combined firm now has market contracts with about 60 insurers.

Before the merger, Highcourt had market contracts with insurers that are highly specialized, McKay said. Breckles had market contracts with insurers in the SME and personal lines spaces.

The merger took effect Apr. 7. The exact terms of the deal were not disclosed. Four of the controlling shareholders, including McKay, are on the management team of the combined firm, which is owned by individuals and not traded on the stock exchange.

“We are a Canadian controlled, Canadian-owned company,” said McKay. “We are not controlled by U.S. private equity. We are not controlled by U.S. stakeholders. The capital we raised for the merger comes from Canada.

“Highcourt has very specific expertise in forming and managing captive insurance companies, which is usually within the realm of large international brokerages that are publicly traded.”

Highcourt was introduced to Breckles in 2020, within the March to April timeframe.

“We discovered that Breckles had invested quite a bit of capital into digital,” McKay said, when asked about the thinking process and conversations leading to the merger. “They were a 70-year-old firm and had a very stable platform in terms of being able to serve a very large client base of over 30,000 clients. Breckles has embraced a digital marketing strategy, search engine optimization, and being able to transact business not just electronically but in a vibrant fashion.”

Before the merger, Highcourt’s four offices were in Toronto, Vancouver, Barrie, Ont., and Portland, Ore. The combined firm has about 100 employees in six existing offices (the four offices Highcourt had before the merger, plus the Markham and Waterloo offices that Breckles had before the merger). About 75 of those employees worked for Breckles pre-merger while the remainder worked at Highcourt.

Before the merger, Breckles owned Canadian Labour Insurance Services. The CLIS brand stays the same – exclusively providing insurance for Unifor members across Canada – owned by Highcourt Breckles Group.

Highcourt Breckles also owns eUNDERWRITERS Managing General Agent Ltd., which is based in Vancouver.

“Our purpose is to help Canadians be more competitive and help Canadians preserve their wealth,” said McKay. “If you have a house in Florida, or a yacht sitting in the Caymans, or you have a startup business in Turkey, we are there to help.”

Post-merger, the combined firm brings in annual premiums of about $100 million.

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