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Relationships are still where it’s at, as Barker celebrates 50 years

Relationships are still where it’s at, as Barker celebrates 50 years
10-11-23 / Sisanda Ndlovu

Relationships are still where it’s at, as Barker celebrates 50 years

Johannesburg - Anybody who knows Barker Insurance knows that relationships are so important to this family-oriented business, they serve as its core. And have for a half-century now.


"The family culture was there to start with, and it has stayed throughout," says Barker CEO Rhett Barker, and you'd better believe him.


Barker Insurance Brokers was founded in 1973 by Rhett's dad, Ken Barker (pictured), along with his mom, Bev (pictured), and their colleague, Liz Steele. Five decades later, all three are still very much part of the Barker team.


As are their families. Rhett and his brother, Lloyd, and their respective wives, Tessa and Sally, are on the payroll. Liz's sister, Lily Howard, daughter Kim Millar (and her husband, Roscoe) and niece Leanne Panicco also work there, as do Lily's daughter, Angela Somerville, and daughter-in-law Michelle Toweel.


That's not to say that virtually the entire Barker complement isn't de facto family, Rhett hastens to add: "The rest of our staff are made up of referrals." Only one colleague was sourced via an employment agency (but is cherished regardless), with the rest all suggested by staff.


However, Barker's relationships are far more extensive and, arguably, more important than simply the familial and friendship connections; its relationships with its clients are equally vital. "We also regard our clients as extended family, and we treat them like that," says Rhett.


He says clients buy a promise when they acquire insurance, one that must be honoured. Barker's client relationships, sometimes extending across generations, endure because they're founded upon trust, understanding, commitment, empathy and – most critically – responsibility. 


"These add up to what makes us unique," he states, and now more than ever given that the pressure to improve in an increasingly competitive marketplace is "immense".


Another relationship fundamental to Barker is the one it has with Hollard, which has been its primary – almost exclusive – insurance provider since 1986, handling 95% of its business (a fairly even split of Commercial and Personal covers). So vital has been their bond that when binder regulations changed in 2018, threatening the future sustainability of the business, Hollard acquired Barker.


However, apart from Barker Insurance Brokers becoming Barker Insurance, a Division of Hollard, and operating under Hollard's licence, things are pretty much the same. Barker is still Barker, and it still does what it has always done.


"This was the only way for us to continue functioning as we were," says Rhett, adding that things have worked out better than anticipated: "Our expectations were high, and it's been better than expected. It was a magical solution to an almost insurmountable problem."


In fact, Rhett uses the word "magic" freely when referring to the Barker-Hollard relationship. "With the right partner you can create magic," he says in reference to his company being encouraged and trusted to innovate (fun fact: Barker was a pioneer of the no-claim bonus and since 1992 has paid back nearly R55-million in premiums), which does create that win-win-win for Barker, Hollard and their customers. And, pointing to long-standing loyalty to Hollard's people, he says that "the magic of the past will continue into the future".


Nash Omar, CEO of Hollard Insure, concurs. "We are privileged to have walked a long journey with Barker Insurance; the family was one of our very first partnerships, which has stood the test of time. Our partnership operates from a solid base of trust, transparency and professionalism. We consider Barker a showcase part of Hollard, and we are very proud to be associated with them.


"This future looks bright for Hollard and Barker, and we believe that our relationship epitomises the brilliance of our shared vision. The years ahead are adorned with immense possibilities and tangible growth opportunities," says Omar.


So will third-generation Barkers and Steeles join the family business? Will Rhett and Lloyd's kids take their turn and continue the legacy – the magic – started by their grandparents? Hollard is solid, but "we haven't seen much interest in them jumping in here" so far, Rhett admits of his children.


But that might change. There's still time.

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