V. Harikes talks exclusively to SR after his first month as head of Asia retail business

You might say that the new managing director of Howden Broking Group’s retail businesses in Asia, V. Harikes, knows Asia pretty well. The Singaporean has managed insurance operations in India, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as in Indonesia where his most recent role was as CEO of one of the country’s oldest insurers, PT Asuransi Indrapura.

So when such a voice of experience declares that his intention is to make Howden a “leading broker” in the region, it’s worth taking note. He said his newly formed regional management team was tasked with creating a strong Howden brand in Asia. “Now that we have this network and platform in all these countries, we’d like to build this to become a leading broker in each of them,” Harikes told SR. “This can only be done through coordinated action from within Asia, and with Singapore now emerging as the insurance hub for the region, it makes sense to have a regional team based here.”

Harikes said that Howden was hoping to soon be “in a position to give another alternative” to the large international brokers currently servicing the region. “What we feel is that with consolidation over the past 20 years, the client has fewer choices now,” he said. “He has basically the big four, if you’re looking for an international broker. But we think that with our size we are a bit more nimble in responding to client needs, as opposed to the other four, so this will give us a bit of an advantage.”

CEO of Howden Broking Group, Tim Coles, pointed out recently that a third of Howden’s employees now worked in offices across Asia. Coles said that the broker’s clients would be served by “local experts who are connected across borders, and will have access to the international resources, distribution and expertise of the wider group”.

Harikes said he believed that such an approach was particularly important when dealing with the rapid growth of the Asia-Pacific region. “We see more companies that were hitherto local companies moving out to other countries within this region, so having a network and then being able to assist them with countries outside their usual operation is an advantage,” he said.

Harikes said that Howden had developed expertise in several – especially financial – lines of business. “With the recent acquisition the FP Marine broking arm [by Hyperion Insurance Group – Howden is Hyperion’s broking arm], it has also given us quite a substantial insight into the marine business,” he added. Nevertheless, Harikes said that there would always be a particular focus on employee benefits. “This is why we have hired quite a senior person, George McGhie [MD for Howden Benefits] who was with JLT before,” he said. “He is also an expert in captive consulting, so we do have that particular expertise, although we don’t have any [captive] clients at the moment.”

Harikes said that during his time working in the region, he had noticed a shift in the way organisations approached the management of risk. “The change which I’ve seen has been generally where countries that have traditionally been operating in one country start expanding geographically, and they start to realise more the importance of risk management; they tend to put more emphasis on it,” he said. “That has happened a fair bit in recent years, that there’s a bit more of an emphasises on risk management, but overall there’s a long way to go.

“It is a challenge for many companies, because they are still quite comfortable with the ways that they have always done business, and it’s only when they’re struck with a loss of some reasonable size that things change.”