Sean Anderson

The Head of Change tells us what can be learnt from the retail sector, his love of Spain, and his moment in the 2012 Olympics limelight.

What was your dream job as a child?

I wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter. Somewhere at home, I still have signed photos of Sarah Green, Philip Schofield and Gordon the Gofer.

How did you get into insurance?

I’d worked in the retail industry, and it was time for a change, so I started to look for opportunities in other consumer-facing industries. An agency rang me to ask whether I fancied applying for a job in insurance. It sounded interesting, so I came in to Hiscox for a chat.

It quickly became clear to me that there’s an appetite and a real desire here to lead change within the London Market. That excited me. Also, although I knew nothing about the insurance industry, the principles of any consumer-facing business are essentially the same: you need to know who are your customers, what they want and why, how to develop a product that meets their needs, then how to market and sell it. I knew my retail experience would be useful here.

There’s an appetite and a real desire here to lead change within the London Market.

Hiscox’s culture and values also really appealed to me. Watching its recruitment video made my mind up that I wanted to work here. Often, employees in these films are told what to say by their companies, but it was clear that the Hiscox people genuinely meant what they said about there being a focus here on people and on empowering them. I’ve also realised there’s a culture of openness here too. You can have very honest conversations, whereas in other companies you daren’t speak the truth.  

What have you achieved in your first 12 months?

I’m pretty chuffed with learning so much of the insurance jargon. But, it would be putting more structure around our change agenda. We’ve created a number of themes to focus our energies on: digital trading, operating efficiency and data-driven pricing. We choose projects according to whether they will help us to achieve those core objectives, which means we can do fewer, but bigger initiatives better.

Also, I’d like to think I’ve encouraged people to “look in” rather than to “look out”. Retail companies are very focused on the ‘customer journey’, and particularly what impression of them customers form in their dealings with them during that. I’ve tried to get people here to think along the same lines: to view the insurance process from start to finish, and how what we do looks to our various customers during that process: Lloyd’s, brokers, coverholders and, of course, the end customer.

Insurers need to be true to their roots but also open to new ideas from new competitors.

Are there lessons for the insurance industry to learn from the retail sector's woes?

Yes, plenty. Consumer demand has changed a lot but there are also disruptive players that have revolutionised the way we shop, such as Amazon and Google. Those retailers that have successfully adapted have been able to build on the legacy of their heritage by learning how to do things in a new way. The same goes for insurers: they need to be true to their roots but also open to new ideas from new competitors.

Insurers haven’t really had to deal with radical change from the outside – yet. Whereas, the cinema business, for example, has been turned on its head by the rise of home entertainment. That’s meant they’ve been forced to recreate their product into an experience, almost to the point where the experience of going to the cinema is as important as the film itself.

Insurers also need to think more about how to refresh or, if necessary, exit an existing product. In the fast-moving consumer goods industry, for example, the life cycle of a product might only be six to 12 months. The pace of change in this industry is much slower, which means companies haven’t really needed to deal with this issue. But the risks companies face are changing fast, which means insurers must react quicker to their needs.  

Do you personally enjoy change?

I think we’re innately averse to change. It’s to do with the survival instinct: like every animal, we stick to a routine because it makes us feel safe. Change essentially involves risk, because it means doing something new. I don’t feel the urge to redecorate my home every year – I don’t have the time for a start. But I like new experiences; going to new places, seeing or doing new things.

What is the biggest challenge facing your team over the next 12 months?

Getting a grip on our data. Retailers have been using Big Data – in the form of store cards and loyalty schemes – for ages to track what customers buy and to help them create new products that anticipate shifts in consumer demands. It’s coming to the banking sector through the new open banking standards, so it’s challenging for the insurance industry that it still has so much information on paper and spreadsheets.

We need to work out how to unlock the potential of our data. We’ve made great strides in transferring data from paper onto computers, but there’s still a lot that is stored in separate silos, which, if we could put it all together, would help us to produce some valuable insights. That’s made more complicated because we don’t control all of that data.

Where’s your favourite place in the world?

Andalucia. I studied Spanish at university and I love the pueblos blancos: beautiful, peaceful Moorish hilltop villages of whitewashed houses that are near enough to Seville and Granada to visit but also to get back to at the end of the day. I like having a retreat that’s close enough to the big lights, but not too close. Also, I don’t like to be too far from the sea.

What’s your favourite pastime?

I love the theatre, particularly musical theatre. I spend nearly all my spare time either seeing shows or performing in them and I’m the chairman of my local musical theatre company.

What’s your favourite food?

Tapas. Again the Spanish influence, and it means I don’t have to make a decision about which main course to have.

Apart from a house or car, what’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought?

I’m not very materialistic, so it would either be my Brompton bike or my home cinema system. I hesitate to admit it but I don’t like to go to cinemas to watch a film sitting next to people scoffing hot dogs and popcorn.

What would be your perfect weekend?

It would be spent in a country cottage, preferably near a river, perhaps in the New Forest. I would go out for a long cycle – which is my other favourite pastime – then have dinner outdoors. I’d go to a concert or to the theatre and then finish off with a glass of good sherry or port.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people?

I’m not sure I have too many secrets as I’m a very open person. I’ve tried really hard to keep some details about myself back, but I’ve failed. But I did perform in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics in London. I was in the section on the Industrial Revolution, starring Kenneth Branagh. Danny Boyle, the director, was amazing; he came to every rehearsal and mingled with the performers and spoke to us all.