Five minutes with...Donna Scully, Director/Owner, Carpenters
It was a real pleasure to speak with InsurTech Digital's second 'Five minutes with...' guest, Donna Scully, the Director and Owner of Carpenters Group. An insurance industry expert, an inspiring leader, and incredibly proud of her Irish heritage, we asked her five questions.
Q. Who was your childhood hero and why?
A. Johnny Giles, the former Manchester United footballer. As my second cousin, we sort of ‘had’ to support him. Having had two football-mad brothers, my Granny (his Aunt) was a huge football fan, so she ‘made’ me support him at Man U and then Leeds United when he went there. Knowing a fellow inner-city Dubliner who had made the big time as a famous footballer was very exciting for the family. For clarity, though, and just in the nick of time, my brother converted me to Liverpool FC and I’ve supported them ever since, and I am a long-time season ticket holder.
Q. What's the best piece of advice you ever received?
A. Be yourself. Early in my journey to becoming a lawyer, I attended an advocacy course and the lecturer told me to embrace my Irish accent and personality. They said it would help rather than hinder me. This really resonated with me. It helped me subdue my ‘imposter syndrome’ of believing that somebody like me, coming from my background and education, could never be successful. I now know better of course. Your background and education do not have to dictate your future, but they can certainly make things harder. Sometimes it's you that is the biggest barrier to your own success. Later in my life, John Carpenter, the co-owner of Carpenters, said pretty much the same thing – that I should be proud of who and what I am.
Q. Which activity are you most looking forward to doing when the pandemic is over?
A. Those who know me will probably expect me to say drinking and dancing. Not wanting to disappoint them, these will certainly be high on my list. Really though, I’ve missed people. I’m a sociable person, so top of my list will be to see family, friends, and colleagues again. I want to socialise with them and give them a big hug, which I’ve really missed.
Q. Is there a personal achievement from 2020 of which you are particularly proud?
A. Surviving it broadly intact is a good starting point, but I suppose I’d say making the best of it. It’s a huge Irish thing to try to make the best of even the most awful situations and I really have tried to do that. I have had to dig deep and I’ve somehow just about managed to embrace the virtual world. As we've all had to, I’ve adapted, learnt quickly, and above all I’ve tried to help others because if we can’t be kind during a pandemic like this, then I don’t know when we should be. I have focused on the positive, tried to be grateful, and got a routine going soon as best I could.
Q. What inspires you in insurance today?
A. I know she will hate me saying this, but it is Amanda Blanc [Group CEO of Aviva], for a variety of reasons. She is very Welsh, authentic, open-minded, grounded, and down to earth. She is also brave and hardworking. She stands by what she thinks and doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects and issues. She is constructive, open and collaborative, and manages to be funny too. She’s smashed the glass ceiling based on her talent, hard work and intelligence. She’s a great role model for the sector and aspiring women generally.
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Insurtechs are winning the race with legacy system companies
Nestled in its own place within the world of financial services, insurance is arguably more unpopular than retail banking.
That’s hardly surprising given that, from a customer service perspective, insurance is something of an off-kilter transaction. You pay a sizable premium in exchange for a service you hope you will never have to use. This image problem is exacerbated by ubiquitous tales of insurers not paying out when it is time to make a claim.
The insurance sector has long been due to an overhaul, and this is where the disruptive force of insurtech comes in - one of fintech’s most upwardly mobile subcategories. Accordingly, last year, insurtech in the UK alone attracted £262m in investment, a growth of 60% on 2019, according to Tech Nation. Insurtech’s momentous growth has been captured in a new report by The AI Journal exploring this burgeoning sector.
What exactly is insurtech?
Put simply, insurtech refers to technological innovations that seek to make insurance cheaper to buy and more efficient to use. In a similar vein to fintech, the large, established institutions have been dipping their toes into insurtech, but it’s the disruptors who are genuinely looking to shake up the status quo, diving into and exploiting those areas that traditionalists have little imperative to explore.
Examples are price comparison sites (one of the earliest forms of insurtech that was eventually snapped up by the insurers it initially sought to disrupt), claims software, customisable policies, or even smart-tech-enabled dynamic policies whose premiums can fluctuate depending on changing circumstances.
The latter, for instance, could use someone’s fitness tracker or smartwatch to monitor fitness levels, thus reducing the premium of a life insurance policy; or track a GPS system that records the location of a car and assesses risk levels accordingly.
Most consumers tend to shop around for their insurance needs and perhaps end up buying their contents insurance with one provider, their car insurance with someone else, and their pet insurance with yet another underwriter. Managing all these different policies, with their varying renewal dates and payment terms can be complex. This has led to the increase in apps that pull everything together.
More prosaically, insurtechs are developing AI that uses machine learning to act as an insurance broker, eliminating the need for a human intermediary and therefore offering more cost-effective and impartial advice.
Insurtechs and risk
But there are some obstacles in the way of insurtech’s continued evolution.
Insurance companies are averse to risk. Understandably so, as at the crux of the industry is the role of the actuary, whose job it is to analyse and measure the probability and risk of future events. So it’s little wonder that there’s a reluctance among the traditional players to welcome the disruption that insurtech brings.
Insurance is heavily regulated, a minefield of legality and labyrinthine jurisdiction, which means the idea of shaking it up can be anathema. And why would they, when their old-school business models are working perfectly fine?
There’s an understandable nervousness and unwillingness to work with startups, who themselves need to work with the bigger firms in order to underwrite risk.
While it seems like a catch-22 situation, there is growing, if cautious, interest from insurance companies, who can see the benefits of insurance with a friendlier face, innovative solutions, and a competitive edge through differentiation. As that tentativeness dissipates, the growth of insurtech will gather even more momentum.
Tom Allen's analysis is based on the findings of a new report on the fintech and insurtech industries produced by The AI Journal.