Can you tell us about how Eric Blair the insurance company started in Monaco?
I created Blair Insurance in 1977 when I was about to take a job as a truck driver, which wasn’t really to my father’s taste!!! He suggested I spend some time in his practice, he was a Solicitor, to give a hand and have a look at a small insurance portfolio of roughly 50 clients, before making a final decision about being a truck driver. In doing so, I immediately realised the potential of English speaking clients who needed insurance in the South of France, very much helped by a friend of mine who was a marketing man from London. I then decided to start my own business but used my father’s office to start with to keep costs down.
Was your background in insurance?
I had never dealt in insurance nor studied the matter. But I immediately found it fascinating, by the scope of policies that could be offered, the close client relationship it entailed, and the variety of functions that it englobed (client relationship, accounting, management, processes, law, and later computing).
How much of the business is one-to-one with non-French speaking clients?
I would say that 70 percent of our client base is English-speaking.
Does business insurance make up much of your turnover?
I would say that 40 percent is business insurance.
Has your clientele changed over the years?
Yes, definitely, not only in the average age, but also by its background, i.e. fewer retired people moving to Monaco for mainly tax purposes, to more business entrepreneurs wishing to make the most of Monaco’s quality of life and security, let alone easy travelling with the extension of Nice airport.
What are the advantages of dealing with a family-owned business such as yours, as compared to going to a local representative branch of let’s say AXA?
Whilst we deal with a limited number of Companies, we offer a large scope of plans to fit most enquiries we receive and even create our own plans which take into account the knowledge accumulated over the years as to what our clients are seeking. We also offer an English speaking service which makes clients’ life easier when enquiring on new insurance issues, requesting information on on-going policies and claims. Besides, being a family run business, staff are an important concern to us and this can be easily confirmed by the fact that they have all but one, been in the business between 15 and 25 years.
In this digital age, how have ways of doing business changed? Do you still meet clients face to face?
Of course, meeting face to face is very important, even though a lot of exchanges are done digitally. A paperless office is not quite there yet although we do propose modern tools to our clients such as payment by credit card, digital signatures on documents, etc.
How do you see the insurance market in Monaco changing in the future?
Much more competitive than before, which I am not against as it keeps us “on our toes” for quality of service, but sadly clients are more and more concerned about premium levels and often try and compare “apples and oranges”, just considering the price. I don’t think that we would still be around after so many years if service provided wasn’t present, even though you will always have clients consider that we didn’t offer the service they expected, not realising that insurance is much more complex and government “controlled”, which doesn’t always leave much space to adapt.
Given that HNW clients may have unique or niche insurance needs, how does Eric Blair meet these expectations?
By providing a personalised service, always trying to help customers, and quick but detailed replies.
Can you tell me something of the role of Honorary British Consul?
This role has changed considerably over the years, as I was appointed around 28 years ago (already!!!). Initially, it entailed Notarial work, issuing of emergency passports, prison visits, help to distressed people, general help desk for new residents, etc. Nowadays, the main role as requested by British Authorities is to provide assistance to British Nationals in distress, on a 24/7 basis, most of the other services are now provided over the internet on the British Embassy Paris website.
It is important to remind one that Honorary means non-remunerated, which some people tend to forget and that I don’t have a magic wand. Nevertheless, I am one of the last in France/Monaco to answer the phone, the others having their calls rerouted to a European central platform, meaning I have to very often state that I cannot assist customers in their enquiries but at least they have the satisfaction of speaking to someone locally.
And having your office address in a building named “Buckingham Palace” in Monaco helps?
It certainly breaks the ice.
USEFUL LINK: http://www.ericblairnet.com/
Top, Eric and Audrey Blair next to their office at Buckingham Palace, (centre) Eric and his daughter Audrey, who is gradually taking over the business Max Brodie