One of the most well-known names in the UK insurance industry is back in the saddle.
It was back in January this year that AXA announced the departure of Brendan McCafferty (pictured), its then chief executive of intermediate and direct. The move came as a shock to many, with McCafferty having built a strong reputation in the industry as the former president of Willis UK and particularly for his two and a half years leading the establishment of Flood Re. For McCafferty however, what may have appeared as a step back was one that he feels has ultimately benefited him greatly as it opened doors for him to expand his knowledge and get on top of the industry’s rapidly advancing trends.
“I took a couple of months off, but I stayed tuned in,” he explained to Insurance Business. “I looked at the opportunities and took the time to go and learn about the fintech space. I looked at what entrepreneurs were doing and how they see the world – I wanted to improve my education and I learned a lot.
“They [fintech entrepreneurs] are very keen to speak to people who can help them navigate the industry and who can help them see what will work. I handpicked three or four that I was interested in talking to and helping along the way – you have to be selective, it’s partly about the chemistry and people believing in what they’re telling you.
“You realise as you get older that you lack all the answers to all the challenges that exist in the industry. It’s a really healthy thing to talk to people who come from a different background and come from a different environment. It was also helpful for them too. The most compelling thing for me was the attitude – even if I said something wasn’t going to work, they’d say ‘I don’t really care about that’. I wanted to take that into my role – taking a new attitude to not let anything get in the way of what you believe in.”
That new role is as CEO of Brightside Group, one of the UK’s largest insurance brokers, and which has made its name through a series of specialisms particularly in the motor insurance field – offering the likes of taxi insurance, GAP insurance, fleet insurance and even horsebox insurance. But with so many offers on the table for McCafferty, why Brightside?
“I’ve been taught – ‘don’t do the first thing that comes along,’ and I couldn’t agree more with that philosophy,” McCafferty explained. “The reality is that once you’re a CEO, people only really want to talk to you about CEO jobs – a nice problem to have, but it can be limiting to. I wanted to make a deliberate choice and so I had detailed conversations with the shareholder to see what attitudes and philosophies we shared. The Brightside story was one I was aware of, but I felt increasingly captivated to get involved.”
Now, McCafferty is aiming to apply the lessons he learned during his time away from the business to the group.
“Ultimately, it’s about being given the autonomy to follow an agenda that you really believe in and take the decisions that need to be made,” he said. “To be successful you have to have scale – efficiency and effectiveness in your operations; you need to have a niche footprint and operate in a space where you add real value; and a digital agenda that will be the foundation of the future of the business. We pursue an agenda that reflects those.
“Tech capability is changing all the time. We have to look at what is out there and available. Pricing and risk selection – we have more to do there; customer insight; customer journey and proposition: they are the basic strands that I see being applied to our business. We need to share them across the business.
“It’s about having a multi-channel approach and letting them [clients] decide how they want to interact with us. We have to optimise the parts of our business that are already online. But it is also about optimising the elements where there is a voice involved.”
The business definitely has big plans. McCafferty points, in particular, to the launch of its MGA, Kitsune, in the short-term, stating that the team in Southampton have “built an excellent prospect” that will include a “wholesale element” in a part of the market in which it can be “difficult to find capacity.” In addition, he points to the “excellent distribution partnerships” that the firm plans to build on.
“We have cornerstones on which to build and each has a niche within it,” he said. “We are great at delivering results for our insurers which I am very keen on, especially being from an insurer. We always want to deliver a return. We are very good at that already and now it’s a case of laying over that with technology and an operating model that works for our customers, our employees.”
Perhaps most reassuringly, McCafferty confirmed that Brightside is “no longer involved in any litigation” and that it’s now “time to concentrate on growing our business.”
“It’s hard to know what the real perceptions of the business are,” he said. “The things that matter here are that Brightside is exceptionally good at what it does. We have those ingredients of scale and niche. Not many businesses are growing at the rate that we are, and we plan to re-double that growth in the years ahead. We need to make sure our customer journeys work for the business and enhance the power of our distribution.”