Karen Beales is back in the driving seat. Continuing her trend of always looking for an exciting new challenge in any new role she undertakes, Beales was announced as the new managing director of Financial & Legal Insurance Company (FLI) in February of this year, and she recently sat down with Insurance Business to discuss this move and what she enjoys the most about being a leader in the insurance sector.
When she first left UK General, where she had served as CEO for over two years, after a period of garden leave Beales found herself consulting for a variety of different businesses, one of which was FLI. When she started working with them in September on a consultancy basis, she worked closely with their team to look at new products, to review underwriting guides, and on an array of compliance matters, she said, and she loved working with the staff and felt very welcomed by the business.
“I really enjoyed the feel of the business,” she said, “and, come January, when the MD decided he was leaving, the group chief executive offered me the role which I gratefully accepted. It was a really easy decision to join the business, and I already knew a little bit about them so I was in a very fortunate position, as normally when you apply for a new role you don’t have that opportunity.”
She had missed being in a leadership position, Beales said, and though she had found her consultancy experience rewarding, she had also found it a little lonely and wanted to work closely with other people again. She believes that the aim to genuinely grow and develop a business can only be carried out effectively if the business is focused on growing and developing its people and this is what has always drawn her to being a business leader.
“I really missed the opportunity of being able to do that when I was consulting,” she said. “I enjoy leading people, taking responsibility and looking at something challenging to yourself and the business.”
Her new role has offered her the opportunity to broaden her own understanding of the legal expenses insurance (LEI) sector, she said, as FLI sells both after-the-event (ATE) and before-the-event (BTE) products and in her own background in general insurance, she was less familiar with ATE. She particularly appreciated being part of a smaller team, she said, as it makes it easier to enact real changes, and to shape the team and the business going forward. With her emphasis on variety and implementing changes, Beales could not have joined FLI at a more exciting time as the business is currently looking at diversifying into other product areas.
“I’m not sure I would fit in a huge organisation,” she said. “I particularly enjoy getting to know people, getting to know both the clients that you deal with and all of the staff and… I like to have variety and do different things.”
The MOJ recently announcing that more time is required to implement whiplash reforms, she said, simply means that the sector has a new date that it needs to look to for these changes. These reforms mean that some of the business that FLI currently writes, such as personal injury RTA claims, will fall away, she said, and so the business must be future-proofed. FLI is now looking at perhaps writing more BTE product, she said, and also other types of insurance products as well.
“We’re doing that research at the moment to determine which products we feel suit our risk appetite and which also fit with the clients that we already work with, and so might enhance and add to their portfolio of products as well.”
For Beales, this involves meeting with existing clients to learn about them and their relationships and she highlighted that in the small world of insurance these relationships are crucial. Looking at ATE business, she said, much of this comes from solicitors and so that represents another world of opportunity for the business and she is reaching out to find out more about these companies as well.
Another essential aim for Beales over the course of her first six months in her new role is to accentuate the involvement of staff. Changes within a business are always challenging for individuals, she said, and not everybody likes change so she tries to keep all of FLI’s employees up to date with any new plans or products so that they are aware of what is happening within the business.
“That’s one thing I’ve always done,” she said. “I always say to people that you can’t tell everybody everything all the time within a business because that’s just not possible but, wherever it is possible, it will be done. People can’t help to deliver goals if they don’t know what their goals are. The way I work is to be open and transparent and offer people the opportunity to ask any questions. And hopefully, they can start to get to know me better because I am as new to them as they are to me.”