"People come back to us for face-to-face expertise" Norwich insurance branch celebrates first birthday
PUBLISHED: 11:41 08 October 2019 | UPDATED: 12:48 08 October 2019
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
A-Plan Insurance Norwich is celebrating its first birthday - fundraising and a friendly face-to-face service has been key to its successful first year
How many people can say that they've skydived, swapped recipes with strangers and driven the 1989 Batmobile as part of a day at work? Perhaps surprisingly, Krushal Patel, Sophie Hodges, Katherine Radmore and Mark Jacobs, who make up the small team at A-Plan Insurance in Norwich can.
Since opening one year ago, A-Plan's Surrey Street branch has thrown itself into hosting activities as part of community events, including Norfolk Day and the Royal Norfolk Show. They even installed an old-fashioned 'candy cart' in the branch, giving away much-loved sweets like flying saucers, white chocolate mice and gummy fried eggs to clients and sweet-toothed passersby.
Krushal Patel, manager at A-Plan Insurance, Norwich, is first to admit that this might not match the assumptions that people have about brokers: "Let's be honest, not many people get excited by the insurance industry!" he says, "But we're probably a little bit more fun than the average insurance company - there's always something going on here."
Being involved in the community and getting to know local people has, according to Krushal, been central to the A-Plan ethos since it was founded in 1963. In the last year, fundraising has been at the heart of the branch's activity, raising funds for East Anglia Children's Hospice. Krushal's recent charity skydive - "It was terrifying, I definitely drew the short straw!" he laughs - raised £582.50, while donations towards the Santa Run Norwich 2018 raised over £1,000. In August they funded a day trip to Hilltop Outdoor Centre for 32 children staying at the hospice, and there are always donation boxes in-store, too.
Krushal explains that customers like popping in-store for advice or explanations of policies instead of wading through complicated jargon online. He observes that people have started to value a face-to-face experience over the impersonal convenience of online: "Some clients just come in to say hello and have a cup of tea," he says. "That's a nice personal touch, that I don't think you find in many places now."
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As well as the fundraising activity, another highlight for the A-Plan team this year was the chance to get behind the wheel of a very famous car. To launch Eastern Daily Press's schools competition to design a Norfolk superhero for Norfolk Day, Krushal drove one of the two Batmobiles from the 1989 Batman film through Norwich city centre. After excitedly sharing a video through social media, he recalls: "I got a phone call from my mum, asking, 'Have you bought a new car!?'"
It's been a busy year, and the team is showing no sign of slowing down. "I've worked in insurance for 15 years, and this is the only company where I've had the opportunity to do things outside of the day-to-day, like hosting events and doing charity work as well as meeting with clients face-to-face," Krushal explains.
It helps that the Norwich branch staff are a tight-knit group that feel like a real 'work family'. "Without Mark, Katherine and Sophie, I don't think the move would have been as enjoyable for me," admits Krushal, who moved to Norwich from London last year.
"They're awesome. People pick up on that friendly atmosphere when they visit the branch, and they always comment on it." Krushal puts this down to the fact that, unlike many other insurance companies, the A-Plan team doesn't work from a script.
It means they can have genuine conversations with clients: "They don't just talk about the work, they'll talk about personal things too. Sophie loves dogs, so if a customer has pets, they'll be talking for ages. And Katherine loves hearing about peoples' holidays, so people will update her on where they've been, and where they're thinking of going next."
It's this personalised experience that keeps people coming from as far as Cromer, Sheringham and Great Yarmouth. "We're not a big call centre, and people know they can come back and deal with the same team face-to-face," Krushal says. "That's reassuring for them, and rewarding for us."