How La Playa helps insure Oscar winners, art collectors and Youtube millionaires
It sounds like a Spanish resort, and it serves clients including Oscar winners, superyacht owners and millionaire ‘influencers’, yet its origins lie in a spare bedroom in Waterbeach.
Over 20 years, La Playa, a specialist insurance broker, has grown into an international business, with offices at Milton Hall, London, New York, and – shortly – Dublin.
Its corporate customers including leading life science, technology, media and entertainment businesses, while art and wine collectors, classic car aficionados and small aircraft owners are among its private clients.
What this somewhat eclectic mix of entrepreneurial companies and wealthy individuals have in common is a need for insurance policies you can’t pick off the shelf.
“They throw up some idiosyncratic risk exposures that your regular insurance broker doesn’t encounter,” CEO and founder Mark Boon tells the Cambridge Independent.
At the end of June, La Playa celebrated its anniversary in typical style – with cocktails and live flamenco dancing at the Cambridge Union, reflecting Mark’s love of Spain and philosophy that life’s a beach and should be enjoyed.
“We are a social office,” notes corporate director Hanna Beaumont, “not a standard nine-to-five. We even have our own in-house band!”
Fitting, then, that La Playa also helps secure the right insurance policies for orchestras, opera companies and theatre troupes.
It was an awareness that such creative organisations needed bespoke insurance policies that prompted Mark, a musician himself, to set up La Playa from his spare room in 1999, serving music, arts and media sectors.
With colleague Matt Mullee helping affluent individuals to insure high-value homes, fine art, antiques and jewellery, La Playa began to flourish.
“The business quickly outgrew the bedroom,” recalls Mark, who was previously a partner at N W Brown.
Moving to a converted garage, then a farm, then onto business and science parks, La Playa succeeded in drawing in science and technology businesses from the Cambridge cluster that were equally in need of specialist policies, including database gurus Redgate Software and gene-editing pioneers Horizon Discovery.
“What is important for us is to understand our clients,” says Hanna. “It’s all about gathering information from them that we can present to insurers so they can set the policies.
“A classic example would be sheet music for an orchestra. If you don’t know how important it is, you wouldn’t have cover.
“On the life science side, most people would ask about their turnover, but many of our clients are pre-revenue.”
La Playa works with specialist insurers – including Lloyds of London – that are able to price bespoke policies that meet the needs of such clients.
For life science and technology companies, these needs often start with directors’ and officers’ insurance.
“If they have raised money, the VC or whoever is investing would like the company to have this to protect the individuals running the business,” says Hanna.
Policies can cover a host of other risks particular to the sector.
“These companies might do their own R&D, but also might earn income from contract research, so there would be professional indemnity exposure.
“Quite often their asset is their intellectual property, so we offer solutions around protecting them in terms of defence, should someone say you’ve infringed IP.”
Equally, protection is available to help cover the legal cost of pursuing someone over an IP infringement.
And for companies whose real value might lie in a raw material, like a cell or a tissue, there is cover available if the work is lost.
Hanna explains: “All insurance policies cover loss due to fire or accidental damage, but if there is a loss due to a change in the control environment, such as light or temperature, that wouldn’t necessarily be covered, so it’s important to have specialist cover that protects, for example, if someone unplugs a freezer, causing three years of work to be destroyed…”
There may also be liabilities surrounding virtual offices or contracts with collaborators to consider, and requirements for insurance in other countries.
“Having specialisms and international reach means we can look after small or large companies with esoteric insurance policies,” adds Mark.
“As soon as a company starts expanding across international borders, you have a potential friction point because they have different regulatory systems, compliance elements, and trading conditions, which impacts on the way they trade and their contractual terms.”
In addition to the usual travel insurance, La Playa is increasingly providing help with cyber insurance.
“People are relying more on their website – that might be the face of the company,” says Hanna. “You could have ransom or extortion attacks, phishing attacks where people pretend to be the CFO and settle invoices. You could have a business interruption where people hack your server and you lose income. All businesses have become more digitised, so everyone needs to consider it.”
Just as life science and technology companies may have collaborators that impact on their exposure to risk, so too do many in the creative industry.
“In media, with a film production, festival, opera or theatre tour, you have a whole myriad of contractors. If any fail, there is a cascading effect. If there is big sponsorship involved, or ticket sales, there are some big financial implications,” says Mark.
“We can insure against the production not going ahead if the cast and crew or the soloist is injured or ill.”
The bespoke nature of the policies mean that La Playa will often help modify a policy.
“In some sectors, we design our own policy – for vloggers or bloggers, influencers and festivals, for example,” says Mark.
Surely there can be few examples of a more modern business phenomenon than insurance for influencers – people paid to endorse or promote products via their social media platforms.
“It’s a new risk, and was underestimated,” notes Hanna.
The risk is that an influencer might go badly off-message – perhaps by promoting a rival company, defaming someone or breaching copyright, for example – breaching a lucrative contract with their brand.
“We have clients with hundreds of thousands of followers. We have one with two million on Youtube alone.
“They are millionaires – at 19,” says Mark.
Libel is also a risk for film and TV production companies.
“We work with a company that will clear scripts for film. If there’s a documentary for example, we will insure it in case it causes defamation,” says Mark.
No such problems so far for their Oscar-winning client, whose identity remains firmly under wraps.
“He is insured for his collection of art and cars and, depending on what film production he is in, we might work on that,” reveals Mark.
From a $20m Stradivarius cello to $400m art collections, La Playa’s policies cover a veritable treasure chest.
“It involves a lot of discretion, confidentiality and sophistication in putting together insurance programmes needed to protect these assets and liabilities,” he adds.
And that makes it challenging to recruit.
La Playa has 25 people at its offices in Milton, and at WeWork premises in London’s Chancery Lane and Midtown Manhattan. It is looking to hire three or four more across these offices.
“There is a war on talent in lots of sectors, but particularly ours, as the insurance industry deskilled 10 years ago. We are increasingly dependent on growing our own. You can teach insurance but they need the passion,” says Mark.
To further its aim of providing 24-7 service across the world, he is looking at new offices.
“We would like something on the West Coast and something more central in Europe,” he says.
A presence will be retained within the EU post-Brexit thanks to the opening of a Dublin office, due next month. Mark also has ambitions to open in Geneva and the Far East.
“Capital is always the issue. The way we have regrown the business is that we have reinvested our profits. We’re in the 20th year of a start-up!” he says.
“But we have a really good platform and a great team. It’s a case of scaling.
“It’s quite an eclectic little business that we started in my bedroom...”
More by this authorPaul Brackley