QBE leader reveals highlights and challenges of the job

QBE leader reveals highlights and challenges of the job | Insurance Business

QBE leader reveals highlights and challenges of the job

With over 25 years’ experience in the insurance industry, QBE Australia and New Zealand general counsel Pita Williams has been called one of the most influential in-house lawyers in business today. She was recently featured in The Legal 500’s GC Powerlist, with QBE ANZ CEO Vivek Bhatia commenting that her impact as a QBE leader has been very significant.

Insurance Business spoke to Williams about some of the highlights and challenges of her career, and about the issues facing the insurance industry in the years to come.

“A distinct advantage of being in-house is that you get to see the whole story, beginning to end,” Williams said. “More than that, you get to be a part of it and drive and influence it. One of my career highlights was being a part of the formation of QBE’s shared services centre in the Philippines; this was the beginning of QBE operating as a truly global insurer, and being able to use its economies of scale to deliver better outcomes for our customers.

“Demutualisation was also a unique opportunity and enabled me to look holistically across that business, unstitch parts that needed to be unstitched and change the entire operating model,” she explained. “Being a part of the project team meant I had to go and find out about parts of the business I didn’t know about and deal with people in areas I wouldn’t normally have dealt with. This was the first opportunity for me to see the value and importance of having strong relationships, particularly for such large transactions, and it remains central to how I operate as a lawyer.”

Aside from this, Williams says mentoring junior staff is always a highlight of the job. She says working with junior staff who bring different perspectives and ideas will shape how you develop as a manager, and will help you learn and adapt to new methods and become a better leader.

Nonetheless, Williams says being a woman working in a male-dominated space has been one of the biggest challenges she’s contended with, and she is now committed to mentoring young women who are starting out on their career path.

“As a woman in a traditionally perceived as male profession (law) in a male industry (insurance), I remain conscious of the challenges faced by young women and by people who, for whatever reason, may not be typical of the profession or industry,” Williams said. “I am committed to facing these challenges and ensuring that all people are fairly treated and given equal opportunity. Beyond my work responsibilities, I have mentored young women and have actively participated in initiatives to support the LGBTI community and various charitable organisations.

“As a leader in a senior role, and having been in this role for some time, I see my role as being as much that of a mentor and guide as it is to complete a transaction or lead a piece of litigation.”

When it comes to the future of the insurance industry, Williams says developments such as the Royal Commission will undoubtedly shape the sector for a significant period of time to come.

“This year’s Royal Commission has brought into renewed focus the expectations of the community for financial services organisations, and for businesses generally, to do the right thing,” Williams stated.

“As a consequence, organisations are looking intensely at how they do business. Lawyers continue to have a critical role supporting organisations and are expected not only to be technical experts in responding to regulatory change, but also to provide ethical guidance and consider whether or not the “right thing” is actually “the right thing” – community expectations and doing the right thing are evolving concepts.

“It is this concept of “doing the right thing” and continuing to adapt to it that is the key challenge for insurers. Our entire industry operates on trust – the promise to be there when something goes wrong.”