Of the many executives Insurance Business UK has featured, a fair amount stumbled into the industry. The same can’t be said about The Risk Factor Ltd (TRF) managing director Rhiannon Bates (pictured), however, who grew up being exposed to the workings of insurance.
Here the scuba diving aficionado – who might just ditch the blazer and don diving gear instead – shares how it all started for her and what drew her challenge-seeking self to TRF. Bates also opens up about a bold thing she did at age 15.
How did your insurance career begin?
Stamping the back of envelopes with the company address at five years old in my dad’s office at Ellis Bates. I was a regular visitor, and was roped in to do all the rubbish jobs in school holidays. Summers in a cellar shredding documents by hand, anyone?
After uni I started working there for real, from office junior, through the personal lines team, to commercial. Then they started Broker Network, initially as a side business. Quite a few of us worked on both companies – I worked commercial broking in the day for Ellis Bates and I ran a night shift of the accounts team from Broker Network in the evenings. Eventually as the companies became more separate and got their own premises, I moved over to Broker Network.
What made you make the switch to The Risk Factor?
I’d been out of the country for a few years teaching scuba diving. On my somewhat reluctant return to the UK, I was looking for a new challenge to get my teeth into. I heard about an opportunity to get involved in TRF with an MBO (management buyout) when the former MD was retiring; it was perfect timing.
With a large proportion of public sector clients, it also ticked other boxes for me. The importance of an ethical and CSR-based (corporate social responsibility) approach when dealing with public money takes on more meaning for me, and gives me a feeling of doing something good as well as just going to work – and that’s something I personally find really helps you to enjoy what you do. And it brought new things to learn – all the regulations around public sector spending and the tender and bidding process – it’s always good to have new challenges to rise to.
As managing director, what do you envision for the business?
It’s all about growth and diversification. The talent and commitment from the team within the business is extraordinary and we will continue to grow in our core market of public sector – the range of activities, risks, and liabilities within these organisations is immense. That complexity gives us a huge opportunity to take the expertise and skills honed in that market, to a more diverse client base.
We’ve been working on our core messages, to help us articulate what we stand for, to the wider third sector and commercial arena. We’ve always been comfortable with who TRF is and its focus on transparency, consultancy, and close integration to the customers’ day-to-day operations; but that needs translating to new audiences with new messages that resonate with them. There’s a new website on the way, new approach to marketing. It’s an exciting journey to be part of.
In terms of challenges, what would you say have been the biggest in your role?
It’s a David and Goliath situation for us. Public sector brokers in the main are large global corporations. Our model is very different to that and brings different things to the table. So, educating clients on the differences in the model, and standing up for ourselves, even though we are small. Small and wonderful!
Where would you be if not in insurance?
Scuba diving in Fiji or Indonesia – without a doubt.
Name one thing your peers probably don’t know about you.
I tried to take a small statue out of communist Russia when I was 15, that I’d bought on the street in Moscow. I got caught by the customs officer – no art was allowed to leave the country in those days. He took one look at the statue, told me he hated that artist’s work and that I could take it – he didn’t want it in his country! It’s still on my mantelpiece and reminds me to dare!