An unflagging commitment to taking the road less travelled has defined Peter Robinson’s career to date, with every step of his insurance journey characterised by his determination to prove there is no one way into insurance or to succeeding in an insurance career.
As MD and founder of the award-winning, Tamworth-based brokerage Prizm Solutions, Robinson (pictured) has made it his mission to inject as much life and colour and personality into the insurance offering as possible. It’s an ambition he has seen to fruition, with Prizm’s ‘Meet the Team’ webpage showing staff dressed as their superhero-themed alternative identities, a motif that includes collectable business cards and his own conviction that, when done right, insurance broking can save the day.
“We’re not interested in trying to make ourselves look like every other insurance broker,” he said. “You have to convey who you are. Because our industry is of paramount importance to people, we can save the day. And if people are put off because they don’t want to buy a piece of white paper from a grey man in a grey suit, then we’re doing something wrong.
“We need to get the right message across about insurance. That’s something the insurtechs are doing quite well but there’s still a mass movement of people out there who hear the word insurance and just switch off. But if we can do it differently, if we change the way people think about insurance – through things like being different superheroes or having different business cards – we can pierce that balloon and get people to actually engage with us.”
Integral to creating a new face for the insurance profession is accepting the role that having a diverse and inclusive workforce plays in making insurance accessible to everyone. Insurance has a real diversity problem, he said, and having had the opportunity to build his own insurance business from the ground up, creating an inclusive approach was critical from day one. It’s an approach reflected in the make-up of Prizm – with women representing 50% of its directors and shareholders.
Robinson’s emphasis on authenticity and bringing your whole self to the table began, as did his insurance career, at a young age. At 16, a highly academic young man, he was being fast-tracked towards Cambridge but when he informed his father that he intended to go to university and “mess about” for a few years before getting a job, he was instructed in no uncertain terms that he would do no such thing.
“He told me, I could either “f--- off and leave home that night” or join the family firm,” Robinson recollected. “My dad was an insurance broker so, instead of going to Cambridge, at 16, I became an insurance broker. Three years later, he dropped dead of cancer and I became managing director at 19. And as a result, I don’t take life too seriously, because I’ve seen that you never can.”
An alternative path might have led Robinson to tread the boards at Cambridge Footlights, or become a scientist, or embark on a campaign to save the planet. As it is, he went the route of supporting budding and established entrepreneurs and their struggling or thriving companies in negotiating the ups and downs of being in business – a role that sees him nurture the businesses that make up the backbone of the UK economy.
“When the old man died, I had two choices – either sink or swim,” he said. “So, I swam. And when you look back, you realise you only really have those two choices. And you’ve got to laugh about these things because what’s the alternative? You sit in the corner and cry? And insurance has done very well by me, I’ve got a great wife and kids and a business, none of which I would have if I hadn’t been in this job. And it’s brought me so great friendships, so I have been very lucky.”
Robinson emphasised that Prizm’s success, which has been largely driven by word-of-mouth recommendations by existing clients, is attributable to his brilliant team but also the ethos at the core of the business – providing value over price, and insight and advice as standard rather than exceptional service. Having worked in insurance for four decades, he said, he’s done just about every conceivable job in an insurance brokerage and he could do them all again tomorrow if necessary.
“I may not still be as good at some of them as the people I’ve got around me now,” he said, “but I know what’s involved and I know how to do it. And that gives me a hell of an edge over somebody parachuted in from university with a degree in Greek Archaeology or something. Some people think because they can spell the word insurance, they’re qualified to do the job. But I’ve got the scar tissue, I know what SME businesses need and I know how to speak to them so they understand what’s covered and what isn’t.”
That’s all brokers should really have to do, he said - to explain things in ways their customers understand so they can make informed decisions.
“SME owners are brilliant at what they do,” he said. “They’re not fools so why should we treat them as such? Why just expect them not to understand rather than telling them exactly what a policy means and what it covers in a way that suits them?”
Knowing not just what clients want but also the way they want it delivered is what sets a great proposition apart, Robinson said, and he feels very lucky to have a team around him who buy into that vision and actively work to make it a reality. In 40 years of serving the insurance profession, he firmly attests that his is the best team he has ever worked with.
“That’s because they care,” he said. “And you can’t put a price on that. They want to do the job properly, not for my benefit, not even for their benefit but for the clients’ benefit. They want to do the work and they want to see the results of that work pay off for their clients.”
When all is said and done, Robinson noted, it all really comes back to personalities, because so much about succeeding in insurance comes down to having the right team. And everybody has a personality but all too often in insurance people get too wrapped up in thinking about how they ought to be perceived and what they ought to say, and by doing so, they get scared of thinking outside the box.
“Too many people working in big organisations have to follow the party line,” he said. “And a friend of mine who works with a major company has been literally told not to put anything on LinkedIn because it will reflect directly on the company and their [international] ownership. He can’t even express a comment or something as simple as that. That wouldn’t work for me, I need to be present, I need to be authentic, and if people don’t like it well, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”