By Stuart Reid
A couple of months ago, Insurance Times approached me to ask whether I would be interested in penning a regular column, with the idea being that I am free to comment on the issues of the day from a different perspective and challenge what appears to be the status quo.
I have had a wonderful career in insurance, with bumps along the way, but if I can in some small way stimulate debate over issues that need serious consideration then I am happy to try.
I can also comment without fear or favour – an enviable position compared to the strictures many of the senior executives out there must abide by.
How many speeches or pieces do we read from those at the top that actually say very little?
That said, it is very important to note that this column – and any future iterations – are very much my own opinion. I sit on numerous boards and provide advice to other companies, but anything I write here may differ from the choices those businesses have made.
That is fine and as it should be – my role with them being in part to challenge and support, which I hope these articles may also do.
Back to basics
Having undertaken a significant number of purchases in our sector and having run businesses large and small, I have learnt there are some eternal truths – one of the biggest being that change is inevitable and can be difficult.
Current examples of this change are the ongoing implications of Covid, Brexit and regulation, where further significant change is on the horizon.
One of the most important changes we are still grappling with is where we work – a subject that has acute relevance in our sector but has not, to my mind, been the subject of enough public debate.
My position is simple – if you can get into the office then you must, as often as you can.
I appreciate and understand that this will fly in the face of what some may want. The excessive cost of childcare, the pain and expense of commuting and the appeal of a more flexible working environment are among the serious and valid counterpoints here.
And, to be frank, there are positives that employers can derive from any change, such as increased productivity – many who work from home now work their old commute – and the huge savings to be made on real estate portfolios as the size and makeup of offices shrink.
However, to my mind, there is an issue that has been overlooked – insurance is a people business.
It is a people business with clients, with insurers and with so many others, but most importantly it is a people business in our dealings with each other.
A people business
Working as a chief executive and chairman for 30 odd years I have promoted countless colleagues.
I did so because they were known to me – not just by the work they had done but, as much as possible, by grasping who they were at work, outside of work, how they interacted with their colleagues, how they worked under pressure and how they dealt with success or failure when up close and personal.
This thinking should also start at the top with senior executives who have homes abroad and spend too much time working from them.
However, it should also apply to those who have just started out on their careers who have yet to meet their boss or line manager in person, or to those that simply want to get back to an office and miss interaction with their colleagues.
I get it. Times are changing and we can do business online, via an app or learn new methods of working that, of course, should be embraced – but my point is that without personal interaction and the insight that it brings, our industry will be poorer.
The abiding benefit of this personal interaction is that you build a community from a wide pool of people that you trust and that support you, inside and outside of the business.
That community personally benefits you and your business and has been, for me, one of the joys that has come from all the years I have spent in the industry.
If possible, this community should be an option for you too.
There will always be exceptions to any rule, but the debate around working from home or the office is important and should be had so that everyone has a voice and a balance is struck.