5 Minutes with Benjamin Briscoe

Our very own 2021 YIPs & Barry.Nilsson. Next Gen Insurance Leader Award Winner!

Could you tell us a little bit about your current role.

Since initially joining GT Insurance on secondment then going permanent about three months ago in the Technical team as the National Underwriting & Portfolio Manager, the focus has been on the commercial packages business which is something that we want to grow. This has included working on our new online quoting solutions for brokers with a greater focus on digital, and making it easier for customers to place insurance with GT.

Working in a smaller business versus working in a large corporate has its differences. It’s a lot more hands on deck, and there’s a lot more opportunities to do things you might not typically do in larger business where roles can be more specific or specialised. I think one of the things that’s really exciting about it is that you have the space to think a little bit more laterally and broader in terms of answering “how do I solve this,” rather than relying on superior resources to solve a problem.

What drew you to insurance and specifically motor insurance?

Two things to like about commercial motor: it’s a good blend between case underwriting and a data & portfolio approach, and you have more claims compared to other products. Both aspects require you to be efficient in your approach, and make sure your admin tasks are very much systemized. Other lines tend to be more intensively case underwritten, but with motor there’s a greater focus on getting the systems and processes right to support your people so that they can deliver for customers. Also, it may sound funny but having a higher frequency product like motor means you get to demonstrate why you are a good choice as an insurer and demonstrate the value that you bring sooner in the relationship compared to other insurance products.

What’s been more valuable in your career, your experience, or formal education? What has built the skill set that you utilise today?

Further studies have been a big part of my career: undergraduate studies in Banking & Finance, followed by postgraduate studies in Insurance and a Master of Commerce. It has provided a good foundation of learning, but what turbocharges it is taking advantage of the opportunities that are out there. Last year, for example, engaging in things like the Next Gen Award (read Ben’s winning submission), which is co-sponsored by YIPs and Barry.Nilsson. Also making sure you take advantage of the opportunities that come up at work, things like secondments.

A big one for me was an international placement in Germany.

There’s no one silver bullet in terms of development; it really needs to be a holistic approach of working across lots of different things and getting that blend of education, experience, and exposure.

And can you tell us more about your time in Germany?

In 2018 I was approached by Allianz Global P&C in Germany about a three-month secondment working on global strategy topics and Technical Excellence. Naturally, you tend to do everything so you can say yes. Thanks to a good sponsor who supported the secondment it became one of my career highlights so far. The opportunity was fantastic, it meant working on engaging topics with lots of different countries, both remotely and by travelling to places in Europe and South America. The best part was getting to experience true workplace diversity; working in the Allianz Global P&C team there were around 20 nationalities in the team with diversity of age, gender, nationality, and educational backgrounds. It went beyond the diversity we typically experience in an Australian workplace, and it shined through in some of the great work produced. It was a really valuable experience all round.

How has the insurance industry changed since you started? Is there anything you’ve noticed really move on in that time?

The focus on digitalization has really stepped up. It was quite surprising on the first day in an underwriting role to see there were still paper files. Becoming more digital is one of the areas that insurance has done a lot of work on because it’s recognised that this is something we can do to better support our customers.  Taking the burden out of lodging claims, getting a quote, and other processes so our customers can get what they need quickly and easily.

The other thing, particularly in the last three to four years, is a much greater focus on diversity, and looking to grow next generation talent. There’s recognition that there’s potential gaps in the workforce with highly experienced people who are towards the latter end of their career, new entrants, and some gaps in that middle bracket that needs some nurturing to grow. Reflecting on the experience in Germany, having diversity of experience and skills helps drive better decisions that lead to better products & services.

Were there any mistakes you made early on in your career that on reflection you’ve learnt a lot from? Is there anything that you would encourage other people to avoid if they have the chance?

Of course, there’s more than I can count. One of the early mistakes is about managing to temper the balance between being engaged and enthusiastic, but not overbearing and painful. It’s also about not allowing stereotypes to play out – you’re young, so you must be good with Excel – otherwise your time gets filled with spreadsheets.

One of the things that I found early on, is the value of just sitting back more and listening. Particularly as a graduate, you’re told that you’re a future leader so you can easily fall into the trap of talking too much.  A big part of leadership is active listening. If you do more of that listening early on, that’s how you identify key opportunities.
Also, each year I pick a word to help frame it; this year it is “deliberate.” Early on you do say yes a lot, and that’s okay, it’s good. The hard part is working out when to get off that wheel and say yes more selectively and be more deliberate in what you do.

What are some previous words of the year you’ve had?

Three years ago, the word was “tempered.” Having come back from Germany, I  had this three-month period, which was a really broad, expansive experience of learning so much and coming back with lots of ideas. Returning in January 2019 to take on a new, more senior role, I realised I had to be tempered. Whilst all the ideas were great in theory, it wouldn’t be helpful to implement them all together at once, because it could turn into a slushy, weird mix and confuse everyone. Instead, it was about being selective, pick the right time to change something and plan out how to implement properly so it didn’t cause issues.

Looking forward, where do you see the industry going in the future? What’s driving the change?

The industry will continue down the digital path out of necessity. To use a medieval example, the moat for most insurers is the capital requirements and their size. It requires a lot of money from a regulatory point of view to enter the game and that’s always been a big challenge for potential entrants. That’s why you see underwriting agencies needing financial backing. As we become more digital, those costs of entry become lower, particularly in classes like motor where the capital requirements are lower. To stay ahead insurers need to keep adapting and becoming more lightweight otherwise they could get run over.  It’s also not just for our own benefit: being smarter in how we operate translates into being able to offer better pricing for our customers so it’s a win/win.

The other aspect, maybe a little bit more controversial, is that insurance is built on understanding and pooling clients’ risks, and from there to make a profit whilst delivering good service to those who need it. As we get closer to precisely identifying risks, for example through predictive maintenance monitor when car tyres need replacement and thereby avoiding an accident, a lot of these things start to take the risk out of the picture. Done well, uncertainty reduces and there’s less need for insurance. To ensure insurers continue to stay relevant and provide meaningful services to customers they will need to go beyond simply replacing lost or broken things and start to step into those adjacent services, like risk prevention and mitigation.

What advice do you have for someone new to the industry?

Listen lots. Say yes often, but not all the time. And be selective as well. One of the activities I’d recommend, and this isn’t just for insurance, is make sure that you create time and space for “pirate time,” that is time you spend to work and experiment on ideas that, while not an immediate priority for the business, could add value or unlock new opportunities like new products. By spending some of your time, if you can, on the what’s next, what’s coming down the road or an idea you’d like to experiment with that may benefit your work who knows what you could come up with? It’s easy to get stuck in a ‘here and now’ mindset. For people who are coming into the industry fresh, you’ve got a unique opportunity to bring different perspectives. Of course, remember responsibilities come first.

It’s a little bit like playing chess. I’m a terrible chess player, just for the record, but it’s the idea of trying to be able to look two or three moves ahead. When you look at the chessboard mid game, there’s two people that have a good picture of how this is going to unfold because they’re engaged. The winner though is the one who can pay closer attention to all the moves on the board, not just the ones you make, and adapt effectively.

Ben Briscoe