Canadian Underwriter

McLarens Canada is Picking Up Speed

September 30, 2007   by Laura Kupcis

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It’s been a busy year for McLarens Canada. The insurance adjusting firm has formed a partnership with one Quebec-based adjusting company, acquired another adjusting company and added six new branches within the last year, bringing the total number of new locations to 13. And there are no plans to halt further expansion.

What’s the Deal?

Partnership with Demers Zajac Vena

McLarens Canada, in early September 2007, announced its partnership with Demers Zajac Vena Adjusters Inc. Demers Zajac Vena — a Montreal-based adjusting firm founded in 1987 by John Vena, now president — has one branch and approximately 45 staff.

“(It is) known as one of the premier large loss casualty adjusting companies in Montreal,” Michael Holden, president and CEO of McLarens Canada, says. “[Demers Zajac] is very well known for high-end property casualty claims; they have a very very strong following from international markets, primarily overseas and also in the U.S.”

The partnership is not only an asset for McLarens Canada, but also for Demers Zajac Vena Adjusters, Inc. For example, Demers Zajac is now able, through McLarens branch offices, to extend its reach beyond the province of Quebec.

The benefit is mutual, Holden notes. Prior to the partnership, he says, McLarens had been working to secure client bases in certain areas within the province that Demers Zajac Vena Adjusters Inc. had already secured quite some time ago, so “it’s a very nice marriage.”

The new partnership will not affect the work of the existing Montreal branch of McLarens Canada, Holden says, since the partnered companies are not competing entities and have different client bases.

Acquisition of Vanler Insurance Adjusters Ltd.

McLarens Canada in late September 2007 announced it had acquired a six-branch Ontario-based adjusting company, Vanler Insurance Adjusters Ltd.

Founded in 1993 by Dennis Schembri, Vanler Insurance Adjusters gives McLarens tremendous respectability and, Holden says, will “marry up” nicely with McLarens Canada’s current Ontario branches. “Again, we get a little bit stronger,” Holden says. “We strengthen our numbers in the country.”

Holden is quick to add, however, that McLarens Canada is not looking to have a “dot” in every single location in the country. “I don’t think that’s particularly necessary these days,” he says. Nevertheless, McLarens is looking to strengthen its capabilities around the country. “This is what our strategic focus and plan has been,” Holden says. “So we’re certainly well and truly on our way to doing that.”

Six new branches

McLarens Canada has opened six new branches in British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“(We’ve been) quite active and we’re not slowing down,” Holden says. “We definitely will be continuing on this theme right through into say mid-2008 for sure.”

The goal is to increase the company’s geographic presence and strength and, at the end of the day, provide better service to its client base. In addition, it’s about providing a bit more of a competitive edge based on its available national programs.

McLarens Canada is part of a global McLarens entity with roughly 330 locations worldwide. The company is privately owned in Canada.

“The ultimate goal here is really to just position ourselves as a very competitive national adjusting company in Canada and as part of a global network,” Holden says. “We’re looking to strengthen our position in Canada, which again strengthens the global network again.”

Where it all began

McLarens Canada today represents quite a change from the one and only branch office it first opened on Mar.15, 1976. What started out as a two-man company 31 years ago has now expanded to a staff of up to 400.

Founded in 1976, Ponton Coleshill Edwards & Associates had offices in Toronto and St. Catherines until 1996, when they merged with Toplis & Harding Canada Inc.

Toplis & Harding Canada Inc. was a global company that specialized in a number of fields; its Canadian head office was primarily marine-focused. Prior to the merger, Toplis & Harding had offices in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Edmonton.

The merger with Toplis & Harding essentially launched the growth of Ponton Coleshill Edwards & Associates across the country, according to Stewart Ponton, chairman of McLarens Canada.

Ponton Coleshill changed its name to McLarens Toplis Canada, before refining the name five years ago to McLarens Canada. What started out as a two-man operation with one office has grown to become part of a global network of more than 330 locations in 88 countries. Although it uses the services of its global partners and is part of a global entity, McLarens Canada is privately owned and has full directional authority to do as it wishes in Canada, Holden says.

McLarens Canada offers its clients standard property, casualty and auto market services, but they have a strong following in the niche markets, Holden adds. The company handles higher-end and more complex property and casualty claims in addition to the very unique business of claims handling in areas such as rail, equine, transportation, marine, aviation and environmental.

“We have also offered to the market place a very unique service we call Cost Plus, which enables insurance companies to benefit from our stable of high-quality human resources,” Holden says. “McLarens will offer one individual or produce an entire claims department in answering to the requirements of our clients.”

Although the number of its offices might increase, and technology might change how the company processes its business, the company nevertheless remains the same when it comes to dealing with people. “No matter how much you want to push the electronic age, nothing will replace human contact,” Holden says. “That will always be a mainstay.”

The working environment

McLarens Canada is unique in that it attracts entrepreneurial people to work for the company, Holden says of the working environment. “Everybody has an opinion and we genuinely listen.”

One part of the office culture that has been passed down from Ponton, Holden says, is that management knows they are not always right. They frequently look to their colleagues for direction and opinions about which way to move forward.

“We have many people on board who’ve had their own company and everybody has fantastic input as we grow and move forward,” Holden says. “When we come to a fork in the road, we have fantastic opinions out there as to which way to go.”

There is also a feeling of being a part of a McLarens “family,” Holden says, in that employees are looked after and are encouraged to become engaged and involved, Holden says. “There’s a spirit created within McLarens and it’s borne by the individuals here.” In fact, both founders of the company, Stewart Ponton and Bryan Coleshill, are still working in the office after roughly 50 years of service in the industry.

“I wouldn’t be hanging around here as long as I have if it wasn’t for the people,” Ponton says. “You get up in the morning, you’re enthused about going to work and it’s because of the people you work with. I love the work, I have always loved it … I’ve been at it for 50 years last November (and) I still have the same enthusiasm that I probably had 40 years ago.”

His founding partner, Bryan Coleshill, has retired, but he still comes in roughly three days a week. He is the resident rail expert. “I guess you could mark him down as semi-retired,” Ponton says. “When he’s not working here, he’s working from home.”

Ponton’s says his interest in the work is partly because no two claims are ever the same — and even when the claims are similar in nature, the people involved are different.

Embracing change

No doubt the insurance industry is changing. Holden says he can foresee a time in the future when, if a
driver is involved in a collision, he or she will be able to head over to a local kiosk (much like we do with our driver’s license at the moment), swipe his or her driver’s license and all of the insurance information pops up on a screen. “Where is the insurance company, where is the adjusting company?” Holden asks of this futuristic scenario.

Business is moving in such a different manner and at such a different pace, Holden says, companies must find new ways of doing business to remain competitive in the market. “It’s what we have to do to survive,” he says.

McLarens Canada is looking to change the face of business by effectively eliminating the Canadian-U.S. border, Holden says. He notes the company is actively involved in allowing numerous U.S. third party administrators (TPAs) to expand into the Canadian marketplace via the national McLarens network.

In addition, McLarens has been instrumental in assimilating the adjusting business into the insurance company.

“We are acting as an extension of the insurance company and their claims department,” Holden says. “This has been happening now for about four years and there’s a growing interest on the insurance brokerage side.”

McLarens Canada has also affiliated itself with a group of diverse entities, non-adjusting companies, that are insurance-based. This allows McLarens’ clients, should they choose to do so, to go to McLarens to handle a claim, for example, but go to another company for investigations, etc. For client insurers, there is no “cross-pollination,” Holden is quick to point out. At the same time, however, the association format does provide a one-stop shop type of service for client insurers. “We have been approached by a number of very large insurers that say: ‘I just have to go to one spot to get (everything),'” Holden says.

Coming full circle

In short, the company is growing both horizontally and vertically — and the pace of the growth has increased dramatically. Part of the reason for the increased speed of growth is the introduction of a financial partner, Granite partners. Granite provides a financial resource to McLarens Canada that was hitherto unavailable.

“In the past, our growth has always been based on our bottom line, financial resources, Holden says. “Now we can tap into our private equity partner’s funding to move forward in quite a rapid pace and accomplish what we wanted to do.”

And there are no plans to slow down the ride, Holden says. In fact, the ride is actually picking up speed. “We’re going to be continuing on this theme,” he says. “We don’t want to be the largest adjusting company in Canada, but we want to certainly be secured as one of the premier high quality adjusting companies in Canada, offering the multi-line group of services.”