I have recently interviewed several leading figureheads across the market to discuss their views on leadership through turbulent times.
Today’s interview is with Cathy Taylor, Business Transformation Director, UK & Ireland at Crawford & Company
Cathy Taylor has over 30 years of Commercial Insurance market experience and has worked for both major and niche insurers in a variety of roles including Underwriting and Claims; Business development; Operations; Organisational Strategy and Change Programmes. She is a Chartered Insurer, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute; holds an MBA and a further Masters (MSc) in Sustainability and Responsibility from Ashridge Business School.
As well as Senior Management roles at Ageas; Ecclesiastical and Aviva, Cathy has also worked closely with the hospice movement. Alongside her role at Ecclesiastical, she was interim CEO at a Cotswold hospice. She then took a sabbatical to undertake a full time CEO role at a large hospice in Bristol, where she worked closely with the Leadership team and helped recruit their permanent CEO.
After spending six years as Head of Commercial Underwriting and Operations for Ageas, Cathy joined Crawford & Co in November 2020, as Business Transformation Director, UK & Ireland.
What has been the greatest impact of COVID-19 on the Insurance industry?
For me, the most significant impact has been the way in which the industry has adapted at pace to unplanned and unforeseen circumstances. Most have done this incredibly well, others less so, but it’s forced most organisations to completely rethink what they believe they have to do to deliver essential financial services while also supporting their employees. The crisis has opened up many new challenges around remote management, but for many organisations it has also expanded their talent pool to include those who may otherwise have been overlooked purely because of geography.
With almost 12 months since the first lockdown, what lessons have been learned?
Whilst I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives, many lessons continue to be learned. Those who didn’t realise it before now see that most businesses can do very well even if their workforce is required to work from home. Some have realised that productivity and quality of work can actually improve when commuting and some of the other stresses of the traditional working day are removed. For many organisations, employee sickness/absence has reduced; employee work/life balance has improved; and many employees feel more empowered to make decisions and work autonomously, which increases self-esteem. A recent Crawford survey found the majority of our employees now have a good work/life balance.
However, many employees continue to struggle with limited human contact beyond their colleagues and in switching off when working from home, which of course takes a toll on mental health, so maintaining employee wellbeing remains a top priority for the business.
How have you had to adapt your management style with remote working?
I have managed teams of people in multiple locations, including home-based, for many years, so my approach has not changed hugely. However, there is clearly a heightened need to ensure employees have the right environment and equipment to work safely and comfortably from home and to regularly check in, reassure and support them.
Employee wellbeing is now an integral part in good management/leadership and has been a key focus for Crawford over the past year. We fully understand and support the challenges of being in lockdown, from home schooling children to pets in the background or Amazon at the door. It’s also important we engage with employees to hear their suggestions.
How do you see the balance of remote v office based working in the future?
In a battle for talent, flexible working policies attract a wider and more diverse demographic, and the winners will be those organisations that get this right. If we want the best out of our people, allowing them to choose where they can do their best work can only pay dividends for all stakeholders.
How have you maintained or changed the culture of the business through remote working?
Although I’ve only been with Crawford for five months, I have witnessed an extensive and caring outreach to support employees in any way we can. There is a huge focus on employee wellbeing at Crawford, with a host of practical offerings including online exercise classes, mental health support, thoughtful ‘care’ packages, quizzes, encouragement of breaks and holidays, and online learning and development. This culminated in a virtual event for employees called Wellbeing Week featuring many motivation speakers including Ollie Ollerton on International Men’s Day. Meanwhile, work around inclusion and diversity has continued throughout the pandemic. Lisa Bartlett, UK President, has been leading these efforts with support from the Diversity Council, Wellbeing Champions and our communications team.
With increasing demands and less opportunity for down time, how do you prevent burn out for yourself and your team?
This is where we have to lead by example. We know if we don’t take sufficient time for ourselves, quality of output will suffer. Taking regular and sufficient breaks, eating healthily and getting fresh air and exercise are all vital to wellbeing and will impact our ability to do our jobs as well as need to. I believe too people equate very long working hours with quality of output, but the two rarely correlate.
Have you seen a fundamental change in how business is conducted? If so, is that likely to change in the future?
The most fundamental change is the acceptance that business can continue to operate successfully and effectively remotely. Yes, there are some limitations to this, but it’s hard to argue with the reality – we continue to service clients to a high standard and all the other principles of business conduct remain as they were before.
What’s the biggest challenge facing the insurance market in 2021?
The pace of change is a major challenge. We’ve already had to rethink what are now the ‘old’ ways of working, and competition to drive greater efficiencies continues to gather pace. I suspect most organisations are reviewing their IT processes to bring them in line with new approaches to work. If they are not, they certainly need to consider doing so.
What’s the greatest opportunity for the market in 2021?
There are many opportunities for the market. Forward thinking and proactive organisations willing to embrace change should see costs reduce; customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty increase; employee happiness and wellbeing improve; and be able to attract wider pools of talent – all of which will lead to healthier and more profitable businesses with best-in-class levels of employee satisfaction and retention. And for those organisations with an authentic sustainability policy, the success will be even greater.
Right International have a proven track record of identifying and sourcing the top talent across various niches of the insurance market. If you are looking to add to your team now or in the near future, I would welcome the opportunity to help – please contact me.
If you have any ideas for future articles and would like to be involved, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback.
Please look out for more leadership blogs coming soon!
All the best,
Founder & MD
Right International Insurance Headhunters