We may not realise it, but insurance is pretty much a part of every aspect of our lives. Here AXA’s Deepak Soni (pictured) tells Insurance Business why he believes that is the case, and how he cherishes being part of the industry.
Zealous about value proposition and serving customers, the commercial intermediary director also opens up about a conscious career choice, his priorities, as well as thoughts on the likes of Airbnb.
How did your insurance career begin?
Like most people, I sort of fell into it, although mine was slightly more deliberate. My background has been quite varied: I’ve worked in the retail sector, banking, and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods). I have always had an interest in customer-led businesses, and insurance very much fits into this mould.
From the outside, insurance might not look that interesting… but when you reflect on it, it enables people to do so many things that they couldn’t or wouldn’t do – from buying a house or driving a car, going on holiday, or opening a business employing people, etc.
Whatever it is, insurance, from a risk management or risk transfer point of view, becomes a huge enabler. Insurance touches all facets of people’s lives, whether they recognise it or not. It’s quite an empowering industry to be in and that’s how I started my journey about 15 years ago.
Having been both a broker and an underwriter, what made you pick the side of the industry you’re on now?
I started my insurance career in a large broker in the UK to get a greater understanding of the customer. Brokers, certainly in the intermediate market, are more likely to talk to customers of all sizes and in all sectors. That enabled me to really understand where customers place value on insurance, what they are genuinely interested in protecting, and how they view that protection in the context of products, services, and cost. It was a really good insight for me.
As I went into underwriting, it has helped me understand what proposition development looks like, how best to underwrite, and how best to engage not just with the intermediary but with the end customer. It has definitely given me a full lifecycle understanding.
As director of commercial intermediary, what are your priorities at AXA UK?
My first priority is to focus both on the broker and the end customer, which for me is around: how do we ensure that we are relevant in what we do and how we do it, both for the broker that we partner with and ultimately the end customer that we serve through our products, services, and risk management capabilities?
My second priority is the people of this organisation. The one thing that stands out in this industry is that it is a people business. As brilliant as technology is, and the advancements that we’ve seen and continue to see, business is done through people, through strong relationships, and my focus from an internal point of view is to enable people to develop and harness those fantastic relationships.
My third priority is looking at what can we do differently in the marketplace, to not just stand out but to offer greater value to those people we interact with and to be a true leader in our key market segments be it for small- to medium-sized businesses or larger businesses.
When it comes to SMEs, what have been the biggest challenges for you?
The business environment for SMEs is quite interesting at the moment. For somebody who runs their own business, there are a number of headwinds – from political uncertainties to difficulties in accessing funding. When I talk to start-ups or existing businesses that are looking to advance further, getting access to that funding is becoming more difficult and not signposted as clearly as it perhaps once was.
We are seeing a lot of businesses open in the gig economy; that is a very different profile from traditional businesses. No less insurable but different. For example, Uber or Airbnb are different business models and they represent a new set of challenges for insurers as more businesses spin off to accommodate such models.
However, this is an industry that has always adapted. As how business is conducted evolves, we too will adapt to ensure the right insurance proposition can sit alongside it.
Where would you be if not in insurance?
I am hugely passionate about customer-centric businesses. Consumer-led distribution has been a life passion. I come from a family business, involved in retail. If I wasn’t in insurance, I’d probably go back to that as my heartland; that allows me to be as close as possible to the customer, providing them with a set of products that meets their daily needs.
Name one thing your peers probably don’t know about you.
In my youth, I with a team of people helped set up an Asian community radio station in the North East, which is still operating now, but as a fully-fledged commercial radio station.