Insurance broker Brightside says van insurance provides the bedrock for its business. Whether this involves arranging cover for individuals or for fleets with more than 100 vans, it often takes on customers who struggle to find cover elsewhere.

Brightside sells van insurance via third-party relationships, and through its lead transfer business to AXA and More Than customers who fall outside these firms’ own risk appetites. Brightside also has a white-label arrangement with Churchill.

Its wide reach also extends to offering quotes to customers with criminal convictions (motor and non-motor) plus customers born outside the UK.

It adapts to changing environmental standards for vans, with cover available for electric and ultra low-emission models, and the business is also happy to cover niche and one-off conversions.

Brightside’s trading director – vans, Clare James, says being crowned What Van?’s Insurer of the Year 2020 is a “fantastic accolade”.

“We pride ourselves on helping everyday van drivers with everyday differences, and so to be acknowledged for the work we do is fantastic.”

She says Brightside has promoted the award online, where it serves as a “fantastic trust indicator” for customers, as well as using it to build the confidence of third-party business partners offline.

As a broker, Brightside aims to take the strain out of searching for insurance cover from its customers.

“Time, particularly for small business owners, is precious, and making sure they have got the right cover for their needs is important, particularly if the worst was to happen and their van was off the road,” James explains.

“We offer a digital online journey for customers who are looking for cover quickly with a range of products.”

She points out, however, that customers who prefer to talk to someone at Brightside rather than use the website are able to do so and adds this is often the case for those with more specialist needs.

“We will search the market for more complex cases, referring where needed to our bespoke network of insurers that are willing to listen to the customer’s circumstances and create a rate and policy that are suitable for them,” James says. “We also partner with a number of household brands in the insurance sector who rely on us to help the customers who come their way [who] cannot be accommodated on their products.”

This could encompass anything from those with modified vehicles to situations where the customer’s age, occupation, previous claims record, criminal convictions or the area they live in makes finding suitable insurance more tricky.

“We know in life not everything is straightforward, so we take pride in helping customers with their everyday differences and not charging them the earth to do it.”

Brightside prides itself on catering for all types of risks, and on the van side it deals with small businesses, couriers with owner/driver policies and those with a van for personal use.

“We also have a fleet division that can cater for larger fleets,” James says.

“We see around 25-30% of business is for private individuals and the rest is for business use.

“The market is growing currently for delivery drivers and we handle this through our contact centre. We can access a variety of markets offline to make sure we are offering the right cover at the right price.”

Insurance premiums can be prohibitive for operators and James says some insurers provide discounts for security features such as alarms, immobilisers and dashcams. She adds that there are schemes requiring camera fitment or telematics black boxes to assist claims settlements but says these are less common for LCVs than in the fleet and taxi markets.

“Other ways customers can reduce their premiums include adding a voluntary excess to their policy, building up their no-claims bonus or driving history. Sometimes paying for their policy in full can get a small discount too.”

She says the insurance industry is now making much more use of data enrichment to check customers’ identities and so making sure your details are up to date on the electoral role can ensure providers can access background checks and offer the best prices. Accuracy in supplying information about previous claims and convictions is also important, James says, as failing to supply details could lead to insurers declining to offer a quote.

Investing in driver training can also create a good impression with insurers by demonstrating a willingness to reduce risk, claims James.

Technology is playing an increasingly central role in the motor insurance sector and a feature of this is the emergence of apps that can enable rapid first notification of loss (FNOL). So how useful are these apps?

“They are really useful for the insurer to be able to deal with the customer’s claim as quickly and efficiently as possible,” is James’s view.

“This keeps the costs of claims down and in turn should be reflected in lower premiums to customers.”

The coronavirus lockdown has had a profound effect on all operational aspects of the light commercial vehicle industry, including the van insurance sector.

When the crisis struck James says Brightside quickly enabled all its call centre staff to work from home.

“We have continued to be able to offer great customer service,” claims James and adds that Brightside’s positive scores on the consumer review website Trustpilot bear testament to this.

In terms of how the pandemic affected the market, James says: “During the course of lockdown there has been a huge decline in van sales; however, much larger demand for delivery drivers and couriers. As lockdown has began to ease we have seen general van sales start to increase again.”

Brightside has been a leading player in van insurance for more than two decades and it is no surprise that James says the biggest change in the market over this period has been the move from a full telephony service towards online policy purchasing.

Nevertheless, James adds that the Brightside’s offline operation has continued, largely to meet the needs of those customers with specialist vehicles whose requirements cannot be met online.

Predictably, James says Ford’s Transit name is the one most commonly seen on Brightside policies, followed by Vauxhall’s Combo and Mercedes’ Sprinter.

Apart from these core models, however, it finds insurance for an array of specially modified vehicles such as catering and ice cream vans, mobile dog groomer parlours and mobile tattoo studios as well as the likes of camper vans and cherry pickers.

James observes that demand for cover for electric and alternatively fuelled vans is still at a low level but is starting to grow, particularly in London where congestion charge fees have increased and the low-emission zone expanded.

“As these vehicles are not so common yet the coverage from insurers is not wide,” she admits.

“As [they] start to become more commonplace then we can expect the challenges to minimise.”

So how does James see the market changing in the future?

“Online shopping and [home] deliveries continue to increase year-on-year and certainly the climate of 2020 has rapidly increased that growth,” she says.

“I don’t see the high street returning to where it was so there will be further demand for delivery drivers, fleet policies and an increase in the electric vehicle market.

“It is important for our propositions to be customer-centric – customers expect good value for money and good service to boot. 

“To do this we will be reviewing our customers’ journeys and making it easy for [them] to engage with us and do business.”

With a diverse range of insurers on the company’s van panel chosen to accommodate a wide range of customers’ circumstances, James concludes: “At Brightside we can cater for any kind of commercial vehicle.”