Sam White, CEO of Stella Insurance, is regarded as an industry pioneer in the UK and Australia. White was keynote speaker at Sydney’s recent InsurtechLIVE 23 conference where she was introduced as an industry “rock star” and “unapologetic advocate for increasing the presence of women.” With Insurance Business TV, White talked about the importance of “feminine energy” and her bid to remove gender bias from the insurance industry.
Daniel: [00:00:08] Hello and welcome back to Insurance Business TV. I'm Danny Wood, news editor of Insurance Business Australia. Today we're joined by Sam White. She's based in Cheshire and well known in the insurance industry in the UK as the founder of Pukka Insure and chair of Freedom Services Group. She also has operations in Australia. She's CEO of stella Insurance, which launched a few years ago and provides car insurance designed for women. Welcome, Sam.
Sam: [00:00:34] Thanks for having me on.
Daniel: [00:00:36] It's a pleasure. Now, you were the keynote speaker at the Insurtech live event in Sydney. What did you talk about there?
Sam: [00:00:44] Wow. So it's an interesting one. It was my first keynote and I wanted to talk about something that's close to my heart. So I talked about why I believe financial services needs a lot more feminine energy in it.
Daniel: [00:00:59] And why do you think that?
Sam: [00:01:02] My personal observation, and I've been in insurance for 20 odd years and obviously I am female, so I'm going to have a biased perspective on this. But I look at the financial services industry and I see a lot of what I would call left brain thinking. So if you think about masculine and feminine energy as opposed to men and women, because there's plenty of men have lots of feminine energy and there's plenty of women that have lots of masculine energy. If you attribute it to the brain, you go, Well, left brain is analytical, process driven, very KPI focused, right brain is more creative, collaborative, empathic, much more the sort of human side, as I would say. And I think we suffer in the financial services industry and particularly in insurance, that we have really focused our product design, our thinking, our engagement with customers on all of those left brain attributes.
Daniel: [00:02:06] So I guess that begs the question, your your insurance products cater specifically for women, at least some of them do. What is there are there a couple of things there that are really different because you're using the side of the brain that men often don't use?
Sam: [00:02:22] Yeah. So I mean, the products themselves are for everybody. What we say is that we've designed it from a female perspective. And again, if you go back to that sort of right brain feminine side, you know, your numbers have to be right in insurance. That's a given. So we do make sure that we are building products that provide good loss ratios and tick all the boxes from an industry viewpoint. But the more important thing from our perspective is how do we engage with customers? How do we connect with them? And stella is a community platform at its heart. So if you if you go on to stella, you'll get a feel for something that's very different than an insurance business. We partner with people like Women and Girls Emergency Center, and we give $5 from every policy to that cause. And I think we've been doing that for a number of months now. We're kind of as soon as we got up and running, we said that was the goal to get to this kind of giveback position. And we've given probably over 70,000 now. But we're we're also partnering with people like we are One Roof who are a female founders platform. And we went and did a conference in Sydney alongside them to help support female entrepreneurs launch their businesses. The products themselves have some nuances in where we've changed underwriting factors that we think are particularly prohibitive to women, and there's a lot more product development that is going into that at the moment in terms of understanding where a clause may not drive equality. And also the way that we communicate the policy terms. I met a woman recently at an event and she said, I'm going to say something really offensive. So which I always think is a great start to a conversation by the way, you know, I think that's the northern English in me. But she said, I feel when I engage with insurers that I don't have a clue what they're talking about. And she said, maybe that's the female in me, but it just doesn't make any sense. And I said, No. To be fair, lots of people don't feel that insurance makes any sense to them. And again, we go to that policy wording that's been written from an analytical, statistical legal perspective that doesn't actually connect with the human being at all. So we're we're sort of saying, okay, let's let's let's let's come on to this other side of the brain. Let's look at everything that we're doing from marketing to product design to, you know, what we build for who and how and see if we can we can bring in a bit more humanity into the process.
Daniel: [00:05:16] Hmm. In ,I guess the roughly 20 years you've been in the industry, you must have seen a lot of changes. I imagine the industry now is much more in that direction than it was when you started. Is that fair to say?
Sam: [00:05:29] Uh, I wish it was more so, to be honest with you. I don't feel that we have made enough change. So I think we've got a lot more women in senior positions and in the insurance industry and in the wider financial services industry. But my personal belief is we are still holding high these masculine attributes or these traditionally masculine attributes, which I personally don't think works for anybody. And when I'm having conversations with people in these corporate backgrounds and they're having off the record conversations with me, they are saying, absolutely, we are. We're missing the big point here culturally and from a product design viewpoint. So I still think there's there's lots to be done.
Daniel: [00:06:21] Can you give an example of I guess, a situation where this is clearly an issue? What have you found in your, I guess, encounters with colleagues and customers where this has come up? And it's like, is it a good example of what you're talking about.
Sam: [00:06:37] I think, you know, if you look at how we tend to manage the customer engagement, insurance companies tend to look at people as policies, not as people. So you will have your home policy, you'll have your car policy, you'll have. And actually a lot of the time that's in different departments within the insurance business. A lot of the time. And, you know, people are trying to solve for this from a technology viewpoint so that people don't have to phone through and just get, you know, have to give new information every time they want to deal with a different policy. So they're trying to they're trying to solve some of the technology challenges and the engagement challenges. But I think just in the fact that we are looking at them through that lens shows you that we're not seeing them as people. We're seeing them as policies. But, you know, I read a stat this week even which shocked me that said 80% of LGBTQ founders, when going for investment, hide their sexuality from investors. And, you know, that was this week. So there clearly has to be some work done. I mean, I've never hidden who I am. I don't even know how that's possible. And to be fair, you know, I find when I show up, as I am with the the confidence that I have, I don't perceive it as being an issue for me. But then I've really struggled to get funding over the years. So maybe they knew something that I, I didn't.
Daniel: [00:08:21] Well, let's talk about that for a minute, because I know that you've said in the past that since you started the business at age 24, getting financing was your biggest challenge. Is that still the case? It sounds like you've turned the corner.
Sam: [00:08:34] Well, I bootstrapped my businesses so my business is in the UK. Turnover in excess of 20 million and they're very profitable. So I am in the very privileged position of being able to back myself and invest in myself. And so I put a lot of my own money into stella to get it to the point that it's at now, which is, you know, an unbelievable success story. And we launched in the UK in November and it's far exceeding all of the the targets that we set for it. I am on a raise at the moment and so it's probably too early to tell if things have changed significantly from my own perspective. Certainly the early signs seem to be that we're getting a lot of interest in the brand. The only thing I would say is that we have proven the point at this point. You know, you can't argue with where we're at in terms of growth market share, engagement and everything else. So it's slightly easier to get investment regardless once you've done the heavy lifting. What bothers me is that something like I mean, I think the last stat that came out was even more heartbreaking. I've always used the stat of 2% of funding goes to female founded businesses. Somebody said to me last week that that's 0.8%, which is, you know, ludicrous to me when you look at how successful female founded businesses are. So there's obviously a lot of cognitive bias. And my question is, is the bias sat in this kind of left brain right brain dynamic that I see so much of in financial services that when people are assessing the business plans and and women tend to come in from a more emotional human perspective, the people at the other side of the table are just not getting it. And if that's the case, then my question to them is, do you really believe that businesses are successful because of the numbers? Because I don't I believe businesses are successful because consumers connect with some sense of purpose behind that business. And that's what really drives massive growth.
Daniel: [00:10:58] Hmm. Sounds like you should find some industry research there. That's a.
Sam: [00:11:02] Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
Daniel: [00:11:04] Let's talk about other challenges, because apart from the challenges we've been talking about, transferring your business model from Australia sorry, from England to Australia, the logistics, the regulations, just the mentality towards insurance here is different. How did you find those challenges early on? And I mean, what struck you was different about Australia when you were setting up stella here?
Sam: [00:11:28] Yeah, I mean there's a couple of specific differences. Australia doesn't have the gender directive rules, so that was a positive for me. I am allowed to ensure women are a cheaper price than men in Australia, whereas in in the UK you're under the European Directive. That doesn't allow that to happen and you have a much bigger direct market. Probably only 16% of the population are buying their insurance via price comparison sites. That's 80% in the UK. So obviously that's a that's a different that's a different environment to operate in. But my view on all business comes back to you have to get the right people and you have to trust and empower them. So logistically that wasn't an issue. I found a fantastic general manager early doors interviewed her over the telephone. She came over to the UK, she spent a week with me and my family and we kind of really got to the bottom of what our shared sense of values were and what we wanted to do with the business and where we wanted to take it. And she's grown the Australian brand in an absolutely incredible way. So I think when you try and micromanage people from a different country, you probably hit a lot of issues and problems. But if you empower people that are in the space and that have access to all of the resources locally, then you are going to get a completely different output.
Daniel: [00:13:13] For someone in the insurance industry, you're refreshingly upfront with your opinions. And often when I talk to insurance people there, they have this sort of risk averse attitude to an interview like this. I mean, you've also expressed opinions on politics in England. And I mean, why why are you different, do you think?
Sam: [00:13:34] I just think so. My my honest view is one is that you only live once. So there is absolutely no benefit to me to being anything other than my authentic self. That doesn't get me what I want. It doesn't make me happy. It doesn't bring me any joy from a second basis in terms of the politics. I live in this world and I care about this world. And I have children that are in this world. And as a business owner, I think I have the opportunity to influence the the world that we live in, but possibly more than than the average person. Because you're employing people, you're hopefully generating wealth, You're hopefully giving back. And what concerns me with politicians is the I can see quite clearly decisions that are being made that are having a negative impact on the world that I live in. And I think it's okay for me to have an opinion about that and voice that opinion. Whether that opinion is correct or not, I, I can't possibly say, but I want to have a conversation about it. And that's my view with all things even, you know, even this argument about are we too left brain in the financial services industry? I have no issue at all being challenged and having a conversation about that with people that have wildly different viewpoints. To me, I think we have a real issue at the moment in society that we're getting more and more polarized and it's because we're not having enough open conversations because people are either being extremely guarded for fear of being judged or they're having really radical opinions on stuff and not being prepared to be challenged on them and have conversations about them. So, you know, it comes back to what kind of world do I want to live in and what kind of world do I want to leave for my kids? And it's not the one that we're currently living in, it's not. And so then I think we all have an obligation to try and change that.
Daniel: [00:15:45] Talking about the world we want to live in and where it intersects with the world of insurance. I mean, we have big challenges at the moment with affordability and availability of insurance here in Australia and no doubt in the UK too. All these climate challenges, thousands of claims rolling into insurers for flood and fire. What are your thoughts on that? Is there a solution to these problems?
Sam: [00:16:07] I mean, you know, I'm not suggesting for a second we can wave a magic wand and fix a lot of this stuff and the ramifications of some of the previous decisions that we've made and decisions that we're continuing to make. But not I'm really laboring the point here, but I go back to right brain creativity. We can't keep designing the products that we designed last year, ten years ago, 50 years ago. We live in a completely different world and we need to work out what we can do to have a positive impact. So if you look at, as an example, the issues around uninsurable areas because of climate change. My question is if I can't solve for the whole problem, so if I can't give you a policy that's going to make it right and put you exactly back in the position that you were in before, what can I do? Can we do a parametric insurance policy that gives you something that helps in some way and therefore people don't have to suffer with complete lack of insurance. And it's this lack of collaboration that we suffer from that I think could be solved by getting people in a room and saying, okay, you know, from different parts of the industry, let's let's whiteboard this, let's get it out there. Let's say, okay, what are the big problems that we're trying to solve for from a societal viewpoint? And what could we do that would help ease that not, you know, not going into this product that we had in the past. And does it work from an underwriting viewpoint and can we get all the maths around that? But what, what are we trying to solve for? So stella. We're really passionate about empowering and supporting women and we do that obviously by supporting things like Women and Girls Emergency Centre in the UK. The Fly anyway Foundation is the partnership that we've chosen and they help survivors of domestic abuse actually launched their own businesses. So every time we sell a policy, £5 goes into that pot. And then the idea is that sustainability that these women can find their power, come out of abuse, build a business and hopefully be a kind of beacon of hope for others. But we kind of said, okay, how could insurance fit in with that? And we have started to design a domestic abuse insurance. So can we put a parametric insurance in our motor policy that would give women access to funds in that situation and allow them to get out of the immediate crisis? And that, for me, is is an example of the kind of thing that we can do if we just think about the problem in a different way and we think about what we're actually here for. I mean, insurance at its heart has a very simple principle behind it. It says a group of people can all put in. In case one of them gets into difficulty and then we're all going to help them out. That's it, really, You know, which is which is a very human concept. It's, you know, it's the core of who we are from a human perspective. So I guess I say, okay, well, what other products could we create with that concept that we need today? Not that we needed ten years ago, 20 years ago.
Daniel: [00:19:34] Sam White, CEO of stella Insurance. Keep up the good work. Thanks for your time on Insurance Business TV.
Sam: [00:19:40] Thanks for having me on.