Ansarada (ASX:AND): Developing software for companies to protect and realise their potential in their most critical activities

Ansarada CEO Sam Riley in The Canadian Business Quarterly

A global B2B SaaS company, ASX-listed Ansarada (ASX:AND) develops technology to solve the problems and frustrations caused by legacy tools, processes, and ways of thinking, enabling businesses to know, raise, and realize their potential.

Ansarada CEO Sam Riley’s vision is to help millions of businesses raise and protect their potential so they can grow sustainably and have a positive impact. Ansarada was established with just $30k in capital and now is publicly listed (ASX: AND). With more than 500,000 professionals using Ansarada’s platform, the company has been a winner of Great Place to Work Awards for 11 consecutive years. Mr Riley is passionate about leadership, simplicity, challenging the status quo, and serving those less fortunate. We spoke with him recently about the formation of the company, the unique products it offers to help customers realize their potential, and the sustained success it has seen since becoming publicly listed.

M&A deal

Starting off the back of a Mergers & Acquisitions deal, Ansarada is a growing company with a unique name, devised as a formation of the first names of the company’s four founders – CTO Andrew Slavin, CEO Sam Riley, CFO Rachel Riley, and COO Daphne Chang.

“In 2005, Rachel, my sister, was working for KPMG preparing a company to be sold,” Mr Riley explains. “Andrew was the Chief Information Officer of that company, and Daphne was the financial controller. During that process they had to get due diligence information ready, which was very stressful and they discovered all these issues in the business.”

When it came time to take the company live, all this information was disclosed to potential buyers. Back then, buyers would do due diligence in person, flying in to the location and physically looking through stacks of paper documents for the information needed.

“The advisors at the time said they should get a virtual data room, because it’s going to be quicker and cheaper, and you get a bit more control. So Andrew ended up building one on his own for that particular deal, and as the deal completed they thought there must be a business in this.”

It was at this point that Mr Riley became involved. With Andrew taking care of software engineering, and Rachel and Daphne being accountants, the group needed somebody with sales and marketing skills to round out the company.

“There was a lot of time and stress involved in these deals. There’s a lot of risk, there’s a lot on the line. So the four of us got together, and our original goal was just to make life easier for those people, save them some time, reduce some stress, give them some analytics to make a confident decision.”

The company is dedicated to getting to know clients well enough to be able to adapt to their problems and therefore help them as well as possible. After many years of doing deals it has been able to identify the gaps in the business that due diligence can illuminate.

Ansarada CEO Sam Riley in The Canadian Business Quarterly
With over $1 trillion in deal value transacted on its platform since 2005, Ansarada has accumulated over fifteen years of experience on 24,000+ critical deals, helping raise and protect every company's potential

“It’s often too late to fix them in a few weeks or a month, and we see a lot of businesses fail or really get an adverse outcome. To be honest there are some investors and advisors out there that would take advantage of those gaps in the company to serve their own needs.”

Mr Riley admits this never sat well with him, and this was a driving force behind the company’s offering – to help companies become more aware and prepared to fill some of these gaps and improve day-to-day operations.

“That would make a huge difference to their potential, and that would protect them from adverse things and help them grow sustainably. So that’s where we started diving in, to governance, and risk, and compliance, because usually it’s those things that are neglected in a company’s day-to-day operations, but they’re so important.”

In addition, industry trends dictate that deals involve more risk and compliance activity, with businesses getting more complex. It’s no longer sustainable to manage this kind of information manually on spreadsheets, and that’s where Ansarada comes in.

“It’s almost like a hidden tax – if they don’t fix it today then they’re going to have to pay it later anyway. So that’s where we started building products for people to do governance, risk, and compliance, and we made a couple of acquisitions.”

Another area Ansarada’s products are used in is to help major infrastructure delivery, such as the building of airports or public rail systems, where there’s a big tender process, a lot of due diligence and questions asked, and it has to be a fair and equitable process.

“All the functionality we built for people to do that in M&A, we extended that into tendering and procurement, particularly in high-value, high-risk projects. Trillions of dollars of major infrastructure delivery runs on our platforms, which is a very fast growth area of the economy.”

Ansarada CEO Sam Riley in The Canadian Business Quarterly
The company has now been ASX-listed for just over a year (ASX:AND), and has reported six times to the market

The company has a number of products in addition to the impressive Tender Platform, with the major offerings being Deal Preparation, Board Management, and a specific product to help with Risk & Compliance and ESG Management and Reporting.

“The deals product can be used to do targeted acquisitions, and the integration work. Post-merger there’s a lot of integration of companies, so we’ve got an excellent workflow tool that helps companies do the integration. If you’re raising capital, like debt-based, equity, you’re doing an IPO, you’re going to sell an asset – our deals product runs all of that.”

The board governance product is useful for keeping things organized during board meetings, as well as committees such as Audit & Risk and Renumeration, all of which can be managed through that product.

“We are very unique, there’s no one company that does all of these things on one platform. There are individual solutions within each of those categories, but what makes us unique is we’ve looked at the problem holistically.”

The company’s core market is the lower-middle market companies that are growing, but the CFO has all of these Risk & Compliance issues on their plate in addition to running all of the finance needs.

“Those companies are our overall target market, because we give them the software capability and automation that can often help them when they need it, instead of having to hire ten people to do all that work.”

The company has now been ASX-listed for just over a year (ASX:AND), and has reported six times to the market. Each time it has reported improvement in revenue, customer growth, and profitability, with the company trading at 50% revenue growth YOY.

Ansarada CEO Sam Riley in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Ansarada CEO Sam Riley’s vision is to help millions of businesses raise and protect their potential so they can grow sustainably and have a positive impact

“We’re in a great shape. The milestones that led to it were solving customer problems, which they see as valuable, and expanding our customers into all those solutions that I spoke about. The major strategy we have is to offer everything in bitesize chunks, and we make that use initially free. So there’s no risk for the customer to use any part of our product.”

This ‘freemium’ strategy allows customers to assess the value in a product, being able to convert it into a paid customer if and when they identify value in it. This also means that every deal it is involved in, the company is exposed to a number of other organizations, making it an excellent expansion channel.

“The long term goal is we want millions of businesses operating with a high degree of confidence, and growing sustainably and having a massive impact, and we want to do that by helping them with all their governance, risk and compliance needs. We also want to bring a great ESG solution to the market.”

Being able to express Environmental Social Governance capability to the market is increasingly important for companies, and there aren’t many solutions in the space, all of which are incredibly complex. Ansarada wants to make that easy for companies.

“I really recommend everyone dive on our website,” Mr Riley concludes. “We have ansarada.com/tv, and we’ve got 2-3 minute films around our customers who tell their story in their own language. So if a lot of this work that we do is foreign to you, just check out some of those videos and you’ll hear various people’s experiences and the value we bring to them.”

With over $1 trillion in deal value transacted on its platform since 2005, Ansarada has accumulated over fifteen years of experience on 24,000+ critical deals, helping raise and protect every company’s potential. Find out more about Ansarada by visiting www.ansarada.com.

Property Solutions Real Estate Group: Delivering flexible and positive real estate solutions

Property Solutions Real Estate Group Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter in The Canadian Business Quarterly

A Calgary-based real estate and property management company that promises a positive experience for every customer, Property Solutions Real Estate Group helps clients maximize cash flow and reduce the stress associated with investing in real estate and rental properties.

Combining a passion for helping people, entrepreneurial spirit, and background in negotiations, legislation, and contracts, Property Solutions Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter brought her vision of a full-service Property Management and Real Estate brokerage to life in 2013. With over 20 years of experience in the industry, Kerry has grown the brokerage into the successful company it is today, managing over 600 properties in that time, and producing top selling realtors. We spoke to Kerry recently about her beginnings as a realtor, the major issues currently affecting the industry, and the relationship-building approach that defines the company’s offering.

Building relationships

“When starting as a Realtor, I noticed a gap in the market,” Kerry says. “At the time, not many brokerages provided both the property management side and the real estate side of the business, so I really wanted to provide more options for consumers, as well as realtors to be able to offer more solutions to their clients.”

At Property Solutions, Realtors can be involved with the leasing and communication with owners and tenants. This helps the firm provide personal assistance for an owner wanting to purchase additional properties to add to their portfolio or sell their existing investments, or for a tenant looking at buying their own home.

Kerry’s route into Real Estate came about from a number of what she describes as “sliding doors moments”, with her previous legislative work leading her into a job that started her on the path to Property Solutions.

“I had a background in criminal justice and legal contracts, and I was then hired in a position overseas in Brunei Darussalam, working as a housing manager. I worked for a company providing homes for teachers, and I just loved the diversity. Every home was different, every landlord had something different to offer, and I really began to love the Real Estate process.”

Property Solutions Real Estate Group Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter in The Canadian Business Quarterly
At Property Solutions, Realtors can be involved with the leasing and communication with owners and tenants. This helps the firm provide personal assistance for an owner wanting to purchase additional properties to add to their portfolio or sell their existing investments, or for a tenant looking at buying their own home

On her return to Calgary, Kerry used personal and family property investment and management to start her own company. Once she became licensed, she worked with a franchise brokerage, and then expanded to a full-service brokerage.

The driving principle of Property Solutions is to recognize that each property and owner situation is different, allowing the team to prioritize responding to the individual needs of each client.

“Ultimately, it’s about taking the time to find the best solution for each client, and that is what makes us different. I feel every client deserves a Property Manager and a Realtor they can trust. We ask a lot of questions, finding out the short and long term goals, as that’s important in making a decision.”

In a constantly changing market, it pays to look carefully at what those solutions might be. By working with investors to find appropriate properties that fit their diverse needs, the company builds relationships with the owner and the tenant, further protecting their investment and maximizing profits.

Property Solutions Real Estate Group Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Kerry has grown the brokerage into the successful company it is today, managing over 600 properties in that time, and producing top selling realtors

“Our Administrators and our Realtors are fantastic, and an exceptional brokerage cannot run without an amazing team. Day-to-day responsibilities range from assessing properties for sale, working with tenant issues, trying to find the best tenants for specific properties, and protecting the properties – looking at minor repairs or renovations that might be needed.”

Protecting the investment property and maximizing profits are essential from a business perspective, and that requires exceptional relationship building and trust and communication with property owners and tenants.

“Right now, in Calgary specifically, home sales are on the rise, and this is reflective of the market really over the last two years, when some homeowners became unintentional landlords. They had a home, their situation changed, they couldn’t sell it at that time, so they rented it out for a while – they’re now able to sell their homes at a good price.”

Another issue in the industry is relocation for work, with many owners moving out of the country and wanting to keep hold of their homes. Property Solutions therefore works with many non-residents of Canada, supporting them through that change.

“One of the things we’re seeing recently is a lot of outside province investors, and of course they need good Property Management to take care of their investments, they’re not there just to see what’s happening. So that trust has to be there.”

The issues created by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the company to work remotely and perform virtual inspections when it wasn’t possible to enter a home. By adapting electronic delivery of services, the team can now easily switch from office mode to remote work. Clear communication has been essential during this time.

“The last couple of years have been a challenge for sure,” Kerry says, “but I’m really proud of the way the team has worked together with their landlords and tenants, having those difficult conversations with respect and kindness.”

Property Solutions Real Estate Group Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Right now, in Calgary specifically, home sales are on the rise, and this is reflective of the market really over the last two years

In an ever-changing market, keeping on top of shifts in the business landscape is particularly important, something Property Solutions is committed to doing in order to help clients get the very best of its services.

“We’re working to build our Realtor team as well, making sure that our Realtors are well-versed at Real Estate and Property Management, so they can offer the different solutions to our clients and reducing that stress for homeowners, regardless of their situation, whether it’s to sell now or invest in a difficult buying market and what that might look like in the future.”

Property Solutions Real Estate Group Broker/Owner Kerry Hunter in The Canadian Business Quarterly
By recognizing that each property and owner situation is different, and prioritizing and responding to the needs of each client individually, Property Solutions is making a real difference in the Calgary Real Estate market

Despite the challenges of the pandemic and the turbulence of ever-changing markets, good business always comes down to respect, relationship building, communication, and trust, and these remain key components in Real Estate.

“It’s not just about the properties,” Kerry concludes. “It’s about people, their homes, their investments, sometimes emotional attachments to that, and planning for the future. Every situation is different, every person is different. At Property Solutions we genuinely want to listen, and offer sound, flexible, and positive solutions. Really, that’s what we’re about.”

By recognizing that each property and owner situation is different, and prioritizing and responding to the needs of each client individually, Property Solutions is making a real difference in the Calgary Real Estate market. Find out more about Property Solutions Real Estate Group by visiting www.propertysolutionsrealestate.ca.

Ride Time: The Brothers of Bargains

Ride Time Co-Owners Doug & Andrew MacIver in The Canadian Business Quarterly

Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, used car dealer Ride Time provides innovative credit solutions and quality vehicles, and is committed to creating a positive experience for customers, even under the toughest circumstances.

Co-Owners Andrew and Doug MacIver – otherwise known as the ‘Brothers of Bargains’ – are the head and the heart at Ride Time, an independent dealership in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As third generation car dealers, Andrew and Doug have been around vehicle dealerships all their lives, and have leveraged technology, social media, and video content to create a brand that is recognized across North America and beyond. They were subjects of a national reality TV show called ‘Bargain Brothers’ and have both received Auto Remarketing Canada’s ‘40 Under 40’ award. The brothers spoke to us recently about growing up in a family of car dealers, the freedom gained from foregoing the franchise model to become independent, and the commitment to a customer first business that has brought Ride Time incredible international recognition.

Riding high

As third generation car dealers Andrew and Doug are once had six franchise stores inside the family. Their father was particularly successful in the franchise business, at one point being the largest Chrysler dealer by volume in Canada.

“Ride Time really started back in 2007,” Andrew explains. “I started it with my dad after I graduated from Georgian College, and we really wanted to start from scratch. If we didn’t have a franchise dealer to tell us what to do, how could we recreate the business, and we’ve done that with some of our unique processes.”

After having worked within the franchise model for such a long time, the family came to a point where this model had become restrictive, and Ride Time grew out of a desire to break free of these restrictions and become independent.

“My dad was tired of the handcuffs that the franchise model put around you from marketing, or choosing what inventory you had to carry,” Doug says. “Having a used car dealership where you’re 100% in charge of your future was really appealing to him.”

The brothers’ paths into the industry were surprisingly different considering their family ties. Doug played professional hockey for nine years, spending six of those with in the US Minor Leagues and three in Europe, before joining his father and brother Andrew, who had a much more straightforward journey, in the business in 2010.

“I knew that I wanted to be in the car business my whole life,” says Andrew. “I had a passion for it. I remember at six years old begging my dad to allow me to come into work on Saturdays. My first job in the dealership was a greeter – I stood by the front door and anyone that walked in, I would thank them for coming to visit my dad and hope that they buy a car.”

From there, Andrew began answering the phones, and once he had obtained his driver’s license started washing and driving cars. After High School, he took a year out before going to study to make sure this was really the business for him.

Ride Time Co-Owners Doug & Andrew MacIver in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Ride Time and the ‘Brothers of Bargains’ are well set to take advantage of the bright future for used car sales in Canada

“I felt blessed my whole life that I always knew what I wanted to do. I always thought it would be a shame that you would go through four years of post-secondary education to get out and find that you hated what you did every day.”

In 2012, the brothers’ father sadly passed away, signaling a change in both their lives and the direction of the business. Doug and Andrew were suddenly thrust into leadership roles in the dealership, and decisions needed to be made on how to move forward.

“We hired an advertising agency out of New York,” Doug says, “and they were going to help us with digital marketing and some different things. When our dad passed away we had a meeting with them and they said we’ve got to brand ourselves – in conjunction with them, we came up with the ‘Brothers of Bargains’.”

This unique rebranding led to a number of TV spots promoting the dealership, with new commercials every month helping create a following for the business, with the brand beginning to grow significantly as a result.

“The automotive industry suffers from a perception issue,” Andrew says. “My firm belief is one of the biggest problems traditional dealerships have is they force customers into their sales process, and their sales process is developed to benefit the dealership, not necessarily to benefit the customer.”

At Ride Time, the true competition comes not from other dealerships, but the perceptions of customers in other industries they deal with. Andrew cites Amazon as a perfect example of a company that has spent time and money reducing any friction in the sales process, making the sales process it as easy as possible for the consumer.

“If you’re forcing your customers through a traditional sales process at a dealership, you are creating friction, and that friction hampers the customer experience. So when we created this business, what we really tried to create is a customer-first business.”

In practice, this looks like a single point of contact for customers, who look after their best interests, with none of the traditional rigmarole of having to contact the manager and retell their story before any deals can be made.

“All of our salespeople are non-commission, which means the customer can have the peace of mind that whatever we’re trying to help them with, is the best fit for them, not necessarily the vehicle that makes the salesperson the most money.”

Ride Time is always looking to offer the best value to the customer, running services such as complementary oil changes for life, and a heavy focus on merchandising inventory so that customers can see exactly what they are looking for before they even enter the dealership.

“Our consumers, from no matter where they are in the world, can see forty-plus High Definition photos of each vehicle,” Doug adds, “as well as videos of the vehicle, and we have three different 360 immersive views of each piece of our inventory.”

When the dealership put up a new facility was built in 2016, it was built around a state-of-the-art photo studio, so that no matter the weather, Doug and Andrew can always take unbelievable photos of their inventory.

The power of video

The growth of the dealership over the years since the ‘Brothers of Bargain’ rebranding has been astonishing, with the success of Ride Time’s YouTube channel helping to promote the business across the world.

“It all goes back to the power of video,” Andrew says. “At this point we’ve got millions of views on our YouTube page, and that really had to do with us making a video of each vehicle that we have for sale. We started posting that on our YouTube channel and our viewership grew from there. It’s the power of the internet being able to shrink the world.”

Ride Time Co-Owners Doug & Andrew MacIver in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, used car dealer Ride Time provides innovative credit solutions and quality vehicles

This ability to shrink the world has seen the dealership sell vehicles in the United States, Germany, Lebanon, and the Bahamas, as well as extending its reach across Canada and into the Northern Territories. This has been achieved through utilizing the tools available and making service and price point desirable to overseas consumers.

“We joke that we’re addicted to technology,” Doug adds. “We price our inventory through a third-party technology partner, to make sure we are the most competitive price out there. Obviously, if you’re shopping from different parts of the world, you’ve got to have a reason why you’re going to do business with somebody. Our pricing is second to none.”

The automotive industry has been hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, just as every other industry has, with the big talk being about the shortage of vehicles being sold into the used market.

“Used cars are created from rental car companies, repos and lease returns,” Doug explains, “and when a vehicle is sold. A lot of new car sales have used car trade-ins, and that’s how these used cars are created. Well, if new car supply is off or non-existent, there’s going to be no trade-ins.”

The Canadian government did a decent job of protecting and feeding the automotive economy throughout the pandemic, and as a result repossession dropped to the lowest it has been for a very long time.

“Travelling globally came to a screeching halt; manufacturers quit selling rental car companies vehicles, because they didn’t have enough to supply their own retail customers, so there were no rentals coming back. It’s really put a strain on supply. Also, if new car dealers don’t have new cars to sell, they’re going to get more active in the used car market.”

With new car dealers typically holding around 70% of their inventory as trade-ins, without those trade-ins they end up fishing in the same pond as independent dealers such as Ride Time. The hope had been that this issue would be resolved this year, but all signs look like it will continue into 2023.

Ride Time Co-Owners Andrew & Doug MacIver
Co-Owners Andrew and Doug MacIver – otherwise known as the ‘Brothers of Bargains’ – are the head and the heart at Ride Time, an independent dealership in Winnipeg, Manitoba

“What we do find is,” Andrew says, “the price of a new car has got so expensive. Since 2017, the average new car price [in the US] is now up $11,581, or roughly 33%. That number in 2017 was up 35% in the last 20 years. That means new car prices have gotten so expensive that you’re going to push a lot of people out of that new car market.”

With the coming interest rate rises in Canada, new vehicles are only going to get more expensive. For Ride Time, this creates a great opportunity to sell more used vehicles to people getting priced out of the new car market.

“Vehicles in general are a need, especially in the Prairies,” Doug adds. “We travel greater distances. Consumers still need vehicles. We made a commitment that we’re always going to stock inventory. We’ve done our best to keep our inventory levels high, because people in our community and across the country are going to need used cars.”

All the signs are pointing to the used car industry continuing to grow, as more and more consumers decide that the high prices of the new market are just not worth it for the value they offer. Which means the future for dealerships like Ride Time promises to be bright.

“The car business is an interesting industry,” Doug concludes, “because no two days are the same. There are always challenges, there are ups-and-downs forever, and it’s an exciting, exhilarating industry to be involved in.”

With its commitment to selling used cars on the customer’s terms, Ride Time and the ‘Brothers of Bargains’ are well set to take advantage of the bright future for used car sales in Canada and across the world. Find out more about Ride Time by visiting www.ridetime.ca.

Spymasters, conspiracies, the PRC, & Dong Jingwei

Noel Hadjimichael in The Canadian Business Quarterly

The tensions currently exposed between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States, let alone the more than 100 years of competition between Communist regimes and the assorted democracies that styled the West (from the early 1917 Bolsheviks via the Cold War Eastern Europeans to present day super-power PRC), are real enough. Trade, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, intellectual theft on a scale never seen before, “social credit / surveillance communism” and continued human rights abuses all make for a toxic conversation. But the reported defection of top spymaster State Security Vice Minister Dong Jingwei made news beyond online commentators like SpyTalk or regional service Chanel News Asia based in Singapore.

Intelligence chiefs are rarely the news story themselves – they are more civil servant and bureaucrat than fast driving, martini drinking James Bond creatures from the world of espionage literature. Think more Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister than an older Jason Bourne or even Liam Neeson on a bad day. William Colby the CIA Director for part of the 1970s or Alan Wrigley ASIO Director General in the 1980s were consummate leaders with strong values – but never let themselves become the focus of the organisation or the narrative.

Dong Jingwei is said to be in hiding or detention or under protection. This prominent Chinese spy in simple terms – more a spymaster or leading organisational figure – was reported to have defected to the United States and offered information about the start of the covid pandemic. News that has slowly gained some traction since February of this year. Deputy Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei is said to have secretly flown from Hong Kong to the United States on February 10, according to information that initially surfaced on Chinese media sites and Twitter.

It was alleged that he travelled alongside his daughter Dong Yang and has sought asylum. Rumours are circulating that Jingwei has offered to pass vital confirmation data about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, at the center of the covid lab leak theory that had been downplayed as a “conspiracy” by many over the past 18 months. The lab leak narrative is getting more oxygen and may feature in President Biden’s soon to be concluded report on the pandemic.

But do spymasters matter? Can you trust the words of someone who is desperate to be given a new life even if under the closest protection for the rest of their lives? History and common sense suggest a mixed picture between trust versus deception. But in this era of big data, global technology and severe levels of disinformation that would have been seen as pathetic over the top propaganda in earlier times, there are few guarantees.

Dong Jingwei was a prestigious head of counterintelligence at China’s Ministry of State Security, also known as the Guoanbu. His intelligence world would have included knowledge about China’s high technology intellectual property strategies, suppression policies towards minorities (religious, ethnic or ideological) and the controversial early pathogenetic studies of the virus, patterns of the predicted spread of the Covid-19 virus with the associated damage to the global economy and societies from PRC decisions taken on people movement and transport. The murky details of the money trail between other governments or corporations that might have had a hand in funding controversial research are also in play.

Former Chinese Foreign Ministry official Dr Han Lianchao, who defected after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, wrote in a tweet in July that Dong Jingwei’s defection “is really a big bombshell”. He also reportedly shared a photo of Mr. Jingwei, claiming that he was last seen in public in September 2020. The photo has since allegedly been removed from the Chinese search engine Baidu. So much smoke, so many mirrors.

There are more questions and precious few answers. It was reported that this spymaster was an attendee at a recent high level Chinese government meeting (with plenty of photos to prove it) but critics and cynics cry “photo shopping or make believe”.

There are mysteries and there are secrets. Secrets are knowledge held by the few from the many. If Dong Jingwei is really in the hands of the West (somewhere safe, secure and hopefully unknown to the Chinese regime) he may provide some of the missing jigsaw pieces to gain a better understanding of what is happening in China and how China is dealing with its immense power at a time when internal pressures (demographic, economic and social) are proving hard to suppress.

Spymasters are not Merlin or even Alchemists. They may not be the key piece of the puzzle but can give context, detail and interpretation to whatever evidence, data or accepted testimonials the West, the WHO or anyone else can muster to better understand the origins of the pandemic.

Sir Humphrey used to offer Jim Hacker always options – including the brave one. This was sure to steer the hapless politician from that direction or strategy. Today we might need to have politicians, business leaders and journalists embrace the unpalatable truths (as best we can establish) to enable us to tackle the challenges of a global breakdown in international affairs.

We are not at war yet … but we are in a warlike environment of hybrid grey zone conflict where the national interest and the broader global peace are precariously balanced between poor decisions and no decisions. This spymaster may hold some of the keys to our better decisions.

Noel Hadjimichael is a London based public policy consultant in the security, defence and civil society space with relevant experience working in politics, the civil service, industry and the charitable sectors.

Sproule Insurance: Straightforward insurance products, advice and prices

Sproule Insurance Owner Jay Sproule in The Canadian Business Quarterly

A full service, boutique, general insurance brokerage in Calgary, Alberta, Sproule Insurance sells and provides advice for automobile, property, commercial, and life insurance products for all Albertans.

Company owner and Broker Principal Jay Sproule is an entrepreneur with a background in hospitality, retail, sales, and management, and an insurance professional. In 2013, he had the idea to create a new insurance brokerage, focused on referral marketing and a unique customer experience designed to deliver products, services, and advice tailored to the individual customer. Mr Sproule spoke to us recently to tell us about how he built the business, the unique offering the company has in the industry, and the resurgence of Alberta as a great place to do business.

Building a business

“I started in the business back in 2003,” Mr Sproule says, “just fell into the business in a customer service role with a different brokerage, and learned the ins and outs of the insurance business, and all the products and the services and understanding the customer.”

Mr Sproule soon moved into a sales role with this brokerage, spending his time meeting new customers and learning all about their businesses and what they needed to help them grow. This later led to a move into a management role, and the opportunity to buy in an equity position in his existing list of clientele

“By 2012, I could see changes happening in the industry, and I had a real vision of what I wanted to do and bring to the table. I was at an age where I could take on a bit more risk, and was pretty excited about maybe what I could do in the industry. To that end, I made an offer to purchase my book of clientele.”

From there, Mr Sproule met with various top ten insurance companies operating in Canada and was able to obtain contracts to place his business. By May of 2013, he was able to open Sproule Insurance Inc. as a full-service general insurance brokerage.

As a full-service brokerage for products and advice, the company offers automobile insurance (personal or commercial), personal property insurance (homes, condos, rented and seasonal dwellings), commercial insurance (small, medium and large businesses), and term life insurance.

“One of the newest products that we have to offer that we’re incredibly proud of is a high-valued homeowners insurance product. It’s a very specialized, niche product. We have the availability of a few unique products, and we’re one of the few brokers that have access to this line of business.”

Sproule Insurance Owner Jay Sproule in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Full-service brokerage for products and advice, the company offers automobile insurance, personal property insurance, commercial insurance, and term life insurance

The insurance space in Canada is big, and there are a lot of different ways to operate within it. Sproule Insurance takes a flexible approach, doing business whichever way the individual customer wants to.

“Insurance started as a brick-and-mortar situation, and really over the last ten years or so there’s been a switch to the digital, online space. I think moving to the digital space our competitors have tried to make insurance seem very simple, and it can be in some respects, but these are very complicated products.”

Customers need trained staff to help navigate these complex contracts, and Sproule Insurance aims to sit in the middle of the digital and traditional spaces, bringing both a hand-holding approach and an online offer.

“Whether customers want to meet us face-to-face,” Mr Sproule adds, “either at our office or their place of business, or complete the process online, we can certainly accommodate all those facets.”

Industry issues

As with most industries, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has created some interesting effects when it comes to insurance, with Sproule Insurance encountering several different issues in terms of staff, customers, and the company as a whole.

“Luckily with our staff and team, we had already put the infrastructure in place prior to covid hitting, which we’re certainly thankful for, having the ability for staff to work outside of the office. So we were able to really just flick a switch, so the learning curve for us was very simple. I think the customers had a harder time with it.”

Sproule Insurance Owner Jay Sproule in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Sproule Insurance moved their office to downtown Calgary just before Covid hit, but they're now looking forward to a return to normalcy and the city's rejuvination

As a result of the industry serving several different demographics, issues arose from the difference in age ranges and comfort levels in doing business online. This resulted in the need to spend more time with customers, teaching them how to use the online infrastructure and communicate with the company in a different way.

“If we look at it from a provider’s standpoint, it actually had some positive impact in certain ways. We can talk about less frequency of claims, less vehicles on the road. Also with staff working from home, they’re able to mitigate problems that were happening at home, so we’re actually seeing a little bit of a decline in claims frequency on property insurance too.”

In the vast insurance space in Alberta, Sproule Insurance is a mature business moving through an ever-changing industry, with one of the most significant recent changes being the move to a direct compensation model for automobile insurance.

“We’ve had to navigate these changes, and certainly it brings an importance to dealing with a good insurance company. We’re really having to communicate to customers some of these changes.”

Another big issue in the industry is the continuing impact of climate change, which has made a big difference in the availability and cost of insurance, as the frequency of extreme weather events rises.

“As urbanization continues to happen, especially in western Canada, with two large cities in Calgary and Edmonton, bad things tend to hit significant areas. Insurance companies are trying to navigate how to provide a high level of coverage and mitigate the increase in costs.”

Sproule Insurance Owner Jay Sproule in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Company owner and Broker Principal Jay Sproule is an entrepreneur with a background in hospitality, retail, sales, and management, and an insurance professional

Another big change has been the recent huge consolidation in the brokerage industry, with an influx of capital to larger brokerage corporations helping them make big moves in the industry, which has come with both positive and negative impacts.

“Some of the larger players are buying up a lot of the smaller Mom-and-Pop brokerages. In generations past, some of these brokerages would be handed down to future generations or sold to other individuals. We’re finding a lot of customers don’t want to be caught up in that mix, so as a medium-sized brokerage we’re finding some real advantages in that.”

A resurgent Alberta

As a referral-based marketing business, the future goals for Sproule Insurance hinge on making more connections with referral sources such as like-minded and complimentary businesses such as real estate agents, car dealerships, and lawyers.

Sproule Insurance Owner Jay Sproule in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Sproule Insurance has been in business since 2013 and has recently introduced a new specialized, high-valued homeowners insurance product

“We also want to bring to market more specialized services for our clients, and create a situation where we’re providing specialized products for a number of people. In terms of growth and expansion, we’re definitely Alberta-based, there’s lots of room to grow in this province, but long term hopefully there’s the opportunity to work outside the province.”

The future for the area itself in Alberta, and Calgary in particular, looks equally bright, after years of the province being known primarily for oil and gas, and struggling to expand into other sectors.

“It’s really exciting to see our mojo coming back. We moved our office to downtown Calgary just before covid hit, and we started to see some excitement happen, with other types of businesses coming downtown to repopulate. We’re seeing finance, IT, green energy and these kinds of things. Alberta is up and coming again.”

With its straightforward insurance products, advice and prices, Sproule Insurance is providing the insurance advice that Albertans need. Find out more about Sproule Insurance Inc. by visiting www.sprouleinsurance.com.