Shaun Walker, founder and CEO of S-Tech Insurance
S-Tech Insurance Services was founded over 30 years ago by Shaun Walker from a Cambridge spare bedroom and shortly after that he was joined by Terry Mold. Today S-Tech is the largest commercial insurance broker in the Cambridge region employing a staff of over 70 trained experts.
It works with underwriters to develop products that meet the fast changing demands of biotechnology companies – from its new product for technology startups to complex insurance programmes for catering for globalised businesses.
Working with national and international brands including museums and retailers, S-Tech also offers a full range of commercial insurance, credit insurance, personal insurance and financial services. It was recently awarded National Chartered Status form the The Chartered Insurance Institute (CII).
1. How has the Cambridge business landscape changed since S-Tech first opened its doors? There are now more science and research parks, more businesses coming out of the colleges, different types of industry – such as biotech, chip design, wireless - and, as a result of that, more service companies to support that growth, ie accountants, solicitors, patent agents etc. 2. How have your own portfolio and capabilities evolved to keep pace? We’ve had to recruit specialists in terms of having some knowledge of new industries and the capability to deal with business internationally because a lot of clients have got business overseas. We also have to deal with international underwriters who have got the capability of handling overseas businesses and the more complex risk. 3. What percentage of your work is local, national and international? Probably 80 per cent of our businesses is sourced locally, but in terms of national and international at least 25 per cent of our business involves companies that have got both national and international representation. A lot of our national business revolves around retail chains, Museums and other regional Research Parks. 4. In which industries or technology areas are you busiest at present? Museums, mainly because of the need for the trustees of museums to consider buying insurance as opposed to relying on Government indemnity and also start-up companies across the whole spectrum of what Cambridge represents, ie biotech, wireless, communications and games. 5. How does S-Tech rate the maturity of the Cambridge Cluster and do you think there are any missing ingredients that could make it even more successful? I think the maturity of the Cambridge cluster is seen by the fact that a large percentage still represents a massive investment in research and development. I think attracting people like AstraZeneca sends out a statement that Cambridge is very much open for business and and I think the only thing missing is attracting two or three other large companies to the science parks and other facilities like Addenbrooke’s. This would continue the cycle of new investment into research. 6. In general, are companies switched on to the need to cover their assets or do you find that SMEs, for example, try to cut costs and corners? In general investors will always want to see adequate cover in place to protect their investment. I think investment based SMEs are aware of the need to cover their assets and their liabilities, especially their personal liability arising out of their positions as directors of the company. We don’t see companies wanting to cut costs and corners but find competitive cover at the right price, especially for companies that own IPR that need to ensure the cover is right and to protect the future. 7. What are the potential dangers if they try to stint in this area of their business? The danger is not protecting their future trading and, as a result, investors losing their money or individuals losing their personal wealth. 8. Looking across your portfolio down the years what are some of the most unusual assets you have been asked to find cover for and what were the most expensive? One of the most unusual was the Sinclair C5 back in 1985. When we were asked to provide insurance we invited all the motoring engineers from the insurance companies to a secret driving session in a warehouse. They had a great day driving them round like they were on the dodgems at the fair, but when they wrote their reports not one was favourable. Eventually on the day before the press launch at Wembley a deal was agreed with the Prudential to insure it. That was lucky because the first question the next day was ‘Is insurance available for this?’” There were also expensive gold eggs that a client was using for promotional a number of years ago. They were valued at something like £100,000 each which in those days was a lot of money.
9. Is the legislative regime in the UK helpful to your mission to help businesses protect themselves or are there still some hindrances? As far as our own industry is concerned we are regulated by the FCA, which sets very strict rules and guidelines and that combined with being a Chartered Insurance Broker is helpful in maintaining good standards, treating our customers fairly and ensuring good discipline. The legislation that is most prominent for the clients that we deal with is health & safety and certainly our skills in helping clients risk manage their health & safety in tandem with insurance brings the heaviest workload for our customers. There are certain specialist industries that have legislation that requires them to buy certain levels of insurance. To us it’s a benefit because they need to buy the cover but they may well see it as a hindrance of course. 10. Does S-Tech envisage expanding its range of services or geographic footprint in the future? We don’t need to expand our geographic footprint in terms of office space because we can handle everything with our partners here on a global basis. We have no desire to have branches of offices serving high street business, that’s not an area that we are in. One thing we might look at in terms of expanding market sectors is legal and surveying activities. At the moment we rely on third parties for those services and it might be beneficial to offer it ourselves, especially with the barrier coming down within the legal profession.