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Howden, the international insurance broking group, announces today that it has reached agreement to acquire Aston Lark from Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital. Aston Lark is one of the UK’s leading, independent, specialist complex commercial and private client brokers. The deal is subject to regulatory approval.

The highly complementary union completes Howden’s UK broking business, with Aston Lark joining A-Plan Group and Howden UK to create a full-service broker unrivalled in its quality, scale and reach in the UK.

The transaction marks Howden’s largest acquisition to date and creates a UK business managing over £6bn of gross written premium for more than 1.7 million policyholders who are served by over 5,000 employees from 160 locations in the UK and Ireland.

Aston Lark is one of the UK’s largest independent insurance brokers specialising in complex commercial and private client insurance and employee benefit advice, placing over £1bn of gross written premiums for 200,000 clients, on behalf of the UK’s leading insurers.

The partnership will enable Howden to build on its 27-year history of building leading positions across markets by partnering with independent, high-quality, high-growth businesses with a large employee shareholder base, a shared entrepreneurial culture and an ambitious but long-term and sustainable approach to growth.

Clients will benefit from a breadth of product unmatched in the UK market, with the combined business covering specialist Personal Lines, Commercial, Schemes and Affinity, Health and Benefits, Corporate, and Specialty, all powered by data, analytics and technology.

The business will be led by a combined management team to optimise client solutions and service. Upon completion, Aston Lark Chief Executive Peter Blanc will become Executive Chairman of Howden’s UK retail broking operations while current A-Plan Chief Executive Officer, Carl Shuker will be appointed Chief Executive Officer of the new platform. Andy Bragoli, Chief Executive Officer of Howden UK, will lead Howden’s International Specialty business. The management team will report into Jose Manuel Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer, Howden Broking Group.

David Howden, Chief Executive Officer Howden Group, said: “The completion of our UK Broking platform is a deal a decade in the making and I’m thrilled that Aston Lark’s highly respected and experienced management team has chosen Howden as its final home.

“In a rapidly consolidating and technology-driven sector our commitment to employee ownership, unique structure, scale, distribution breadth and data-led approach stand out, and today’s announcement further enhances our position as the credible alternative of scale for clients and a magnet for the very best talent in the industry.

“Not only is Aston Lark the missing piece of our UK broking strategy but our new strengthened platform signals a new beginning for the Group, accelerating our significant international ambitions by bringing a fresh and energetic dynamic to all our markets and even greater value to our clients.”

Peter Blanc, Group CEO of Aston Lark, said: “I’ve always been determined to make sure that the business we have been building in Aston Lark finds its forever home and I’m absolutely delighted to have done that through Howden. My thanks go to Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Bowmark Capital for allowing me and my management team to choose the right home for us. Together we will be the major force in the UK broking market and I’m extremely excited about what we can achieve over the coming years. Our combined products, services and footprint will enable us to capture every customer in the market.

“The Aston Lark culture of care for clients, employees and insurers resonates throughout Howden and this could not be a better fit. Our leadership team is looking forward to working with everyone at Howden as we become the very best broker in the market. We embarked on an exciting growth journey six years ago and have gone from placing £100 million of premium to £1 billion. We’ll continue to seek high-quality acquisitions and talented individuals to join us as we become part of this amazing story.”

Michele Titi-Cappelli, Managing Director in the Private Equity business within Goldman Sachs Asset Management, said: “Leveraging our deep financial services expertise and operational support capabilities, we are proud to have supported Aston Lark’s success under Peter and the broader management team. The new partnership with Howden positions Aston Lark to continue building upon their strategy of becoming a leading client-centric UK insurance broker. We wish Peter, the broader management team and Howden Group Holdings the very best for the continuation of the journey.”

Julian Masters, Managing Partner at Bowmark Capital, said: “It has been a privilege to work with Peter and the team since Bowmark first invested in the business in 2015, helping to create one of the top five UK independent commercial lines brokers. Over the past six years, we have supported a successful buy-and-build strategy, with 50 acquisitions, and employee numbers having grown eight-fold to 1,600 today. We are incredibly proud of the business that we have collectively built and see Howden as the natural partner for Aston Lark in the future.”

Goldman Sachs Investment Banking Division and Macquarie Capital served as financial advisers, and Latham & Watkins, LLP served as legal counsel to Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Bowmark Capital and Aston Lark. The management team of Aston Lark were advised (on the sell side) by Eversheds Sutherland (International) LLP and PwC and (on the reinvestment side) by Jamieson Corporate Finance, DLA Piper and PwC. Howden was supported by Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, and PwC.