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Broker profile: 'professionalism in Australia is very high'

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broker profile 040822Grace Insurance Director Frans du Plessis, a 2022 finalist for NIBA WA Broker of the Year, embraced broking after studying law in his native South Africa and working in photography and videography.

What led up to you establishing Grace in WA?

I started working as a junior broker for a firm in South Africa. I was studying law and I needed to still pay everyday bills. After finding broking a great career path, I decided to start a full-time career as a broker. That was in 1992.

I began my career on the life insurance side. Later in my career, I was a broker for both life and general insurance. I immigrated to Australia in 2008, looking for a safer environment and a better future for my kids.

I thought it was a good time for a career change and I invested in clothing stores, a brand that's been popular among the South Africans. Unfortunately, retail was not for me. A jail with no bars is just not for a person that loves to move around and see different places and meet new people.

I went back to my roots in insurance and worked for two years for CGU as a business development manager. I then got headhunted and worked for a premium funding company. Unfortunately, about eight months after that, they made half of the staff redundant. It was right when the GFC hit. Finding it hard to get any employment in a hard market, I decided to back myself and start my own brokerage. I knew it would be hard. I literally started from zero dollars income. First month’s total income, $100.

I love what I do. It's challenging sometimes though and the key for me is to find the right staff. It's hard controlling different offices in other states. Finding the right staff is key to being successful in other states as they need to work autonomously on their own. We have a very high standard we work to. My 2IC, Aimee Henderson, does help manage some of our staff. She also does spot checks on our staff and state offices, mainly to make sure we are 100% compliant and we all work to the same standards. We always try to do the right thing by the client and provide the best solutions for both the client and our insurers.

Why the name Grace?

I found the design of the G perfect and was looking for a name starting with a G. I looked at Guardian, all the G names, and then I thought everybody can do with a little bit of grace now and again. It is faith based.

We mostly rank number one in Australia for any faith insurance as brokers. That's one of the many areas I'm focusing on, insurance for churches, religious organisations. We do all lines of this business and we've got a good portfolio of clients in that space.

Unfortunately, some of our insurers have upped these rates quite significantly, so it makes it a bit more challenging. For one of my clients, it has literally doubled – a not for profit going from $5000 to $9500 is hard on their limited cashflow. We reduce our commissions as far as we can to support these organisations in challenging times. It's not an easy sell to the client who doesn't understand it – even though you've worked hard, for example, to reduce an imposed bushfire excess down from $50,000 to $10,000.

How have you grown the business?

We're a team of 12 at the moment. We are growing rapidly in our other states. The head office is in WA, but our clients are across the whole of Australia.

We expand to different states by doing acquisitions to get staff and to build the business to the next level. We currently have staffed offices in WA, NSW and Victoria with Queensland to follow.

CBN has been fantastic, the amount of help they've given me is extraordinary. If they hadn't given me the support, I would never have been able to expand our brokerage so quickly.

They provided me the loan for my very first acquisition, which we've just paid off. Since then, we've done eight acquisitions. We know how we manage them and take care of our new valued clients. We have a high retention of clients and tend to build the newly acquired book of business up and grow the portfolio.

I’m planning an acquisition within the next 12 to 18 months, SA and Brisbane. We're one of the fastest growing ARs in WA and I think we are now one of the largest ARs in CBN in WA. My aim is to be one of the most successful ARs in our network.

There's a lot of movement in the market at the moment. So, if you're awake, I reckon there's a lot of opportunity. Clients are more open to looking around a bit. So if the brokers are not doing their work 100%, they will find another solution or another brokerage.

The key is to look after your clients, otherwise you'll lose them. Our client retention is high. Having said that, we do lose a lot of domestic at the moment. We've reduced our commissions, we've tried everything, but the rates are sky high and most of the clients, they just chase the cheaper rate and then we just say goodbye to them unfortunately.

You try and explain to them the differences in coverage but unfortunately, they don't always listen.

What do you do outside broking?

I am actually a professional photographer and videographer which I did every weekend for the first three years with the startup of Grace Insurance.

I did a lot of international shoots. I would travel across the world. Some of my favorite locations in the world to shoot were Korea, Maldives, and Mauritius. I have travelled the world shooting at some of the most amazing locations. Unfortunately, covid and work has stopped me from doing a few more trips.

Grace Insurance’s expansion and the size of our business requires all my attention.

Insurance broking is a great opportunity and career for anybody that's willing to work hard. It's an amazing industry and the level of professionalism in Australia is very high. I'm very impressed with the industry standards and how our profession has developed.

I've got a lot of respect for brokers, they work hard for their clients.