Stella Insurance Founder & CEO talks 'Women in Insurtech'
Tell us about yourself and Stella Insurance
I am the founder and CEO of Stella Insurance in Australia (soon to launch in the UK) and the Founder and Chair of Freedom Services Group in the UK.
In the late 90’s, I set up my first business in the insurance industry at the age of 24 from my sister’s conservatory. 20 years on, the business has since grown to 190 employees worldwide and we are on track to turnover £20 million this year.
I am a passionate believer that building the right kind of businesses has the power to change the world for the better and this has been a driving force behind my latest venture Stella Insurance, a female-centric motor insurance business that I launched in Australia and will be bringing to the UK this year. The Stella brand is unapologetically female-first by focusing on designing products for women with a simplified customer journey.
Away from work, I am a proud mum to my nine-year-old daughter Frankie and my six-year-old son Harry. We have a beautiful blended family with my second wife Jennie Guay who is a successful children’s book author and a vocal advocate for normalising blended and diverse families like ours.
What inspired you to found an insurance company run by women, for women?
Having worked in insurance for many years I realised it was so male-dominated that the product design, experience, and marketing were all unconsciously built for men and I was excited to change that.
Stella was created because women make up over half of road users and while research shows that Australian women are statistically safe drivers, many insurance and motor services do not speak directly to them. This is why I wanted to have a female-led leadership team who understands the needs of women and can therefore be charged with designing products and customer experiences that prioritise the needs of women. We reward women for being safer drivers by providing premium benefits, competitive pricing, and tailored products with women in mind.
What differentiates Stella Insurance from its competitors?
Not only are we women-led at Stella, we are also proud that the business stands for more than just growth and profit and our purpose is to ‘change the game for women’ in male-dominated industries and life at large. We also offer cover to anyone who shares the ambition of creating a more equitable world. As a vocal LBGTQI+ ally, Stella is one of the only insurance brands offering a non-binary option on the quote cover.
As a team, we support causes that are close to our heart. As an example, we offer domestic cover to take extra care of those affected by domestic and family violence by waiving excess relating to a claim. To further support this, we have proudly formed a long-term partnership with Women and Girls’ Emergency Centre (WAGEC) and commits AUS$5 from every new policy towards helping women walk away from domestic violence. This year we have proudly donated $35,000 to help women and children walk away from violence.
What have your greatest career achievements been?
For me, every new business launch under the group has been a massive achievement. Hitting my first million turnover, and then first million profit were also big moments. However, I think launching Stella Insurance in Australia during the global pandemic has been my greatest success to date, one that I aim to replicate here in the UK and beyond.
Likewise, what have been your greatest challenges?
I have weathered my fair share of challenging business climates in my two decades in the business - from navigating funding biases as a female entrepreneur in a traditionally male-dominated industry, to dealing with sudden policy changes, and most recently overcoming the uncertainties of a global pandemic.
When I first started as a young woman with no tangible business experience, getting financial help was almost impossible. In fact, I couldn’t get a bank overdraft approved to expand without my father pretending to be involved in the business, which was frustrating when the business was already profitable and I had clear development plans. Similar experiences carried on throughout my two decades in business which meant I had to adopt a self-reliance and self-funded Freedom Services Group every step of the way. This was also the reason why I turned to Australia to launch Stella where I was able to raise 1mil AUD (approx £530k) from Australian investors and negotiated a 15mil AUD (approx £7.9mil) media-for-equity deal for Stella Insurance during the pandemic.
The pandemic was also one of the biggest challenges that I'm sure not just myself but many other business owners faced in recent times.
What advice would you give to LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs at the start of their journey?
Being part of the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t discourage anyone to go for what they want in life. I would encourage anyone starting out in business regardless of sexuality to go into any business meeting or interactions looking to build connections that lead to like-minded goals. Rather than focusing on what separates us, this it could be differences in ethnicity, gender, or sexuality, I would advise to focus on what we’re trying to achieve together, what common goals we have in business, and the impact we can have by working collaboratively and from there strive for a level of comfort where you and anyone you work with can openly communicate with each other without fear or judgement.
What would you say has been the secret to your success?
Being fearless (or some might call it being thick-skinned) is something I’ve learnt over the years. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been rejected in business – from clients that didn’t want to do deals, to banks that didn’t want to fund me. Each time, I wouldn’t give it a second thought and would jump straight back into the next pitch. I think this combined with a genuine passion for building new products and businesses that can impact the community in some way has fuelled my success over the past decades.
I’m also a big believer that people hold the answers to most challenges, so I always look within my network for support, you never know what opportunities a simple introduction can bring or who can do your job better than you – which is why I recently fired myself as CEO of Freedom in the UK and appointed the corporate psychologist in the position as he is better equipped with the skills to lead the company into the next phase as we focus on a human-first approach across all businesses within the group.
Finally, I think for women to succeed in business, we need to lift each other up and find ways to collaborate on projects together. The more women succeeding, the less we have to rely on the old boys club to fund and call the shots. I’ve had plenty of women to thank for thinking of me when new business opportunities pop up and similarly I’m always looking for opportunities to shout out loud about them.