Being Independent, Nimble and Niche: Keys to SSL Endeavour’s Aim to Put Clients First

By creating an innovative and nimble operating platform, SSL Endeavour, London-based Lloyd’s broker, aims to attract and retain the best entrepreneurial brokers who are freed up to create innovative client solutions, said Group Managing Director Karen Allen.

“Being a niche broker, being a nimble broker, and not being one of the big three [brokers], we have the agility where we can actually get close to the client,” said Allen in an interview with Insurance Journal.

With a flat management structure, brokers at SSL Endeavour don’t operate under the same sorts of constraints that exist at larger brokers, where “you end up filling out a form about a form, about something that you’ve forgotten you were trying to get approved,” she said with a laugh.

“Our product leaders are empowered and can run their own businesses within our company,” Allen said. “We’re interested in developing new products, which help clients plug gaps in their risk management plans. That’s how we can be innovative and attract new clients.”

She cited an actual example of a loan company – and client – who came to SSL Endeavour for help after trying and failing to get unique financial coverage solution from one of the big brokers. Allen explained the client was concerned it could be forced to assume liabilities from loans made to clients, which were beyond its comfort and control due to solvency regulations.

“We came to the table and initially spent time understanding exactly the concerns of the client,” she said.

“We then worked with various insurers to explore how different solutions could work. We are in the process of designing a specific new product, which we hope to launch shortly,” Allen added.

She expects the product to be of considerable interest to other clients operating in this space as it would plug a very real coverage gap for insureds in the sector.

“I’m absolutely delighted because this is exactly where we should be – innovating and adding some proper client value.”

Allen expressed excitement about the journey ahead for her company, which as “a nimble, independent broker” is not restrained by the bureaucracy that is common among bigger brokers.

Karen Allen

She speaks from experience, having spent her career of almost 20 years as a broker in the Lloyd’s market, specializing in international specialty casualty insurances. Her most recent role was as director for International at the Howden UK Group Ltd. Other broker roles included director of Specialty Casualty at Denis M. Clayton which became Tower Perrin and ultimately JLT Re. She also had been a senior broker at HW Wood and an account executive at Willis.

Allen joined SSL Endeavour as group managing director in October, just two months after Endeavour Insurance Services and marine broker SSL Insurance were both simultaneously acquired by JC Flowers with a view to merging the businesses into one platform. Allen said that great progress has been made to integrate the brokers, including a move to a single London location and plans for rebranding in its final stages.

Strategic Hires and Acquisitions

With strong expertise in marine and property and casualty, Allen affirmed that SSL Endeavour aims to provide a boutique of product services, adding to its expertise with strategic hires and acquisitions.

There are a huge number of specialty products the company wants to offer that are “natural complements to our existing business,” she said, pointing to the examples of professional indemnity, financial institutions, warranty and indemnity insurance as well as, political risk, and protection and indemnity (P&I) marine.

“We’re interested in niche products for unmanageable risks which fall in the specialty arena … and we’re getting a lot of interest from individuals and teams,” Allen said. “We’re seeking to hire market-leading brokers who have a loyal following both at Lloyd’s, but also with their client base.”

It’s all about providing the best operating platform to attract independent, entrepreneurial brokers and then allowing them to get on with what they do best, Allen continued.

She described one such differentiator as the company’s digital claims handling platform, called Advantage, which is offered free of charge to clients and allows U.S. and Canadian coverholders to process their London market claims using a single data entry platform, removing costly duplication and dramatically improving efficiency.

The Advantage system provides a single point of entry initiated by the coverholder or third party administrator, thus streamlining the existing method of handling claims, Allen said. The claims platform also satisfies the regulatory challenges facing clients, thereby removing that burden from them.

Allen confirmed that SSL Endeavour has much more extensive plans for technology investments in 2019, with work already underway to further build out the Advantage platform and systems capabilities, including new dashboard oversight and reporting functions to benefit all parties in the insurance chain.

Technology as Enabler

Allen describes technology as an enabler, rather than a disrupter, which will benefit SSL Endeavour as well as the London market.

She cited the example of the London market’s electronic Placing Platform Ltd. (PPL), which has received some resistance within the market, probably because of the fear of change. (PPL and electronic trading in general is a core component of the London market’s Target Operating Model, or TOM, which aims to make it easier to transact insurance in the London market. PPL’s target is for 100 percent of risks entering the market to be placed electronically through the platform by the end of this year).

“Can PPL solve all of the London market efficiency problems? I wish it could. PPL represents an important commitment to become more efficient through technology but, as we all know, there are significant further developments that need to take place to see electronic placing develop to what it could and should be able to achieve.”

Whatever form electronic placing eventually takes, Allen said, the London market needs enthusiastically to embrace any change that will improve its efficiency and reduce its cost base so it can compete with other global markets. “Whatever happens in the London market, it will always thrive as a big differentiator, by creating innovative solutions for clients across the globe.”

While the London market is moving from paper-based placements to electronic placements, Allen predicted that face-to-face discussion between brokers and underwriters to finalize insurance terms will continue to exist for clients who require more than standardized, off-the-shelf solutions. However, brokers will use iPads, “rather than the masses of slips and endorsements I used to cart around Lloyd’s!”

Diversity and Inclusion

Another welcome area of change for the market has been in the area of diversity.

Lloyd’s brokers have traditionally had a strong male dominance, said Allen. “Even today, their boardrooms are filled with men … and, unfortunately, I think it is still tough for women to break through to the board level.”

This is particularly the case in the broker space, she said, pointing to the fact that there are many more women holding UK Financial Conduct Authority-approved status at insurance companies than there are at brokers.

While she emphasized she is not a supporter of quotas, Allen believes that companies in the insurance industry can make a big difference by creating a culture that encourages more women to rise through the ranks, which is principally about nurturing an environment where all staff – not just women – can increase their confidence and professional exposure.

As a result, one of Allen’s stated aims is to find ways to encourage women, “so hopefully one of the younger women coming through the ranks now will have my job one day.”

While younger men appear to have greater confidence, some women are afraid to step up, particularly when they’re young, “although they may have huge talent with huge capabilities,” she explained.

As one small example of her effort to increase the exposure and confidence of her brokers, Allen said she invites a young female or male staff member to join her when she attends the Insurance Supper Club, a London market insurance group that meets monthly, which was formed by Inga Beale, the former CEO of Lloyd’s.

“I think it’s hugely important for all of our young brokers to be able to interact with senior market leaders. It’s about bringing our young people together in order to develop our brokers into the most rounded, professional, and confident people they can be.”

While the market has much work to do in the area of diversity, she acknowledged, it’s come a very long way since she started in the business 20 years ago. At that time, she said she could not have imagined that she would be able to have the role she has now.

“It felt entirely out of scope and out of reach, but if I am honest that was less about the fact I was a woman and more because I arrived in London from the North East of England at 19 [as a student]. I had no contacts and little support initially in my chosen career and hence it felt improbable I would succeed in an industry which then was full of clubs and cliques.”

However, over the years, there have been a lot of women paving the way, including Inga Beale at Lloyd’s.

Diversity is valuable to companies because it brings unique perspectives to decision making, she affirmed. “I know from my own experience that a board that is diverse – in terms of gender, race, and culture – is far more enabled to take decisions that are reflective of the world we live in.”

Career Path

How did Allen get into insurance? Just like many people in the market, it was completely by accident, she recalled, laughing.

“In my case, I turned up at the wrong job interview because I was given the wrong address, which just so happened to be an employment agency supplying staff to Benfield Grieg, the reinsurance broker.” (Benfield Grieg was the predecessor of Aon Benfield.)

“I was still in university at the time and I was doing my best to try and pay my way. I ended up three days later taking a temp role with this insurance broker during my university holiday. My career literally just led on from there,” she said.

She had no family connections in the industry and didn’t know anything about Lloyd’s of London. “It was a real eye-opener. What an amazing stroke of luck to be able to get into this sector; it was such a random thing. I can really say it’s been the best career decision I could have accidentally made.”

Twenty years later, Allen said she hopes to bring the lessons of this experience to a vision for SSL Endeavor, building on what “I’ve seen work really well in brokers, and frankly, what I’ve seen that hasn’t worked as well.”

One of those lessons is to carefully handle integration of two companies, building one vision, one strategy and one culture, which needs to start on day one of an acquisition, she added.

Wise Advice

When asked what is the best piece of advice she’s received, Allen answers quickly: “Stay true to your values and your principles. Behave with integrity and treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. If you stay true to your values and principles, it’s such a compelling and strong grounding, you’ll find it’s easier to rise to the challenges, to find different ways of doing things, and have the conviction that you’re doing things for the right reason.”

Allen said another piece of advice she received from a “very wise person,” was to question the process. “There may not be a good reason why something’s been done in the same way for the last five years or two decades.”

That’s why Allen encourages all SSL Endeavour employees to look “at how we’re doing things, look at our processes, and suggest way to improve efficiencies.”

After all, through such empowerment, SSL Endeavour is creating value for its customers, its employees and ultimately for the London market.