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18th Sep

How 250 years on Captain James Cook Can Still Shape Tomorrow’s Insurance

Posted in General Interest

My boyhood, and manhood, hero is Captain James Cook – explorer, pioneer, adventurer, leader and role model. How brave He and his crew must have been to head off into unknown places to see unknown things, with a limited prospect of coming back to see loved ones again.

With no postal system at sea, no internet or satellite TV to know what’s going on anywhere, no supermarkets to buy favourite foods as needed, and no Google Translate to help communicate with new found tribes, they lived an isolated, exciting and no doubt fearful existence.

Just 250 years ago Captain Cook was risking his life discovering and charting new parts of the world. In 1769 he was off the tip of South America far from what then would have been called civilisation, no doubt regularly going through ye olde worlde version of risk management planning to keep his crew safe and his Exploring Project on track.

Meantime, back in Civilisation’s hub in London, other experts in managing risk formed a “new” Lloyds, taking over from Edwards Lloyds Coffee Houses which had dated back to 1688. That “new” Lloyds is accepted as the formation of “modern” insurance we know now.  How surprised those experts would be now to see plenty of their policy wordings still in play to this day!

I have been thinking about our “modern” insurance that started way back when,  at the same time as Captain Cook’s exploits, and how little insurance has evolved in comparison to so much else in the world. The insurance industry has badly missed out on its own great pioneers. From Louis Le Prince making the first films in 1886, through to modern day Mark Zuckerberg creating Facebook in 2004 (yes just 15 years ago), and the Apple iPad being launched in 2010 (not even 10 years ago and now with 350 million sales worldwide). Truly remarkable things have been happening around us!

Meantime in insurance the admirable Peter Wood’s creation of Direct Line in 1985, with the less remarkable use of a telephone rather than paper to transact insurance, remains the most commonly recalled insurance innovation in modern times. Hmmmm .

Meantime in insurance the admirable Peter Wood’s creation of Direct Line in 1985, with the less remarkable use of a telephone rather than paper to transact insurance, remains the most commonly recalled insurance innovation in modern times. Hmmmm . . . . as a life-long insurance guy that leaves me feeling somewhat ….underwhelmed!

So as I am now in that magical nirvana where I really do live the dream of choosing who I want to work with, doing what I want to do, when I want to do it and making a decent enough crust to keep the wolves from the door, (incidentally, the last wolf in England was killed in 1680, the same decade as Edward Lloyd set up his Lloyds Coffee Houses, but I’m a life-long insurance guy so I am not resting easy just yet!), I’ve been working on how we can bring Captain Cook’s lasting spirit into the Insurance Industry and kick ourselves forward at some pace to catch up with the rest of civilisation’s rapid progress.

After all we do have lots of pioneers and entrepreneurial adventurers out there trying to help the insurance world already. “Pioneer” has a few defined meanings, one of which is “someone trying to develop or apply a new method of area of knowledge or activity”.  

There’s lots of Insurtech and other innovations that certainly fit that definition, and so many of these can genuinely help us go faster, be better, and save insurers and customers money – but only if as an industry we truly want to explore and embrace the pursuits of those modern day pioneering adventurers and do something about it. Alas much of the evidence shows our industry is too busy fighting the fires of today to genuinely explore a new world for tomorrow.

And it’s not like we don’t have great leaders and role models in our industry to show us the way forward either. We have loads. It’s easy to create a top 50 list of “really impressive people” in insurance who can make a significant difference to the industry and its’ future.

On top of that, most of those “really impressive people” have been very bullish indeed about innovation in insurance. Exciting announcements have been made to shareholders, brokers and staff, and vast sums of money have been injected. Armies of people have descended on countless conferences and start up accelerator groups . . . so what’s happened? Why aren’t we firing out transformational new game changing approaches every year that push the insurance industries boundaries and trust ratings up from relegation zone contenders to at least mid table mediocrity?

Somehow all of the “top brass” bravado gets lost in the morass of corporate treacle that for hosts of reasons becomes the protector of the status quo, and all-too-often makes UK insurance pioneers feel like Captain Cook approaching a new hostile territory whilst being put through a simultaneous resilience and tenacity test.

Sadly in some notable cases the insurance pioneers strategically de-select the UK as a target market because other parts of the world are more open to change . . . and to be fair, the Insurtechs doing this have generally been proven to be good judges reaping good rewards.

I recently came across this excellent article by Torben Rick and make no apologies for sharing it again a few years after its publication. Originally written to help people overcome objections to change, it reads as the common check list thrown out by the “insurance treacle” as reasons for retaining the status quo and de-railing the aspirations of “the really impressive leaders” and insurance Pioneers. 

Think hard . . . and be honest . . . how many of these have you used in the last 12 months as a justification for inaction?

And how many of these did those magnificent early explorers encounter do you think?

So here’s the rub – if Captain Cook could overcome these 12 things 250 years ago, how come it’s so hard for us to do just that in our “modern” world today?

As I reach the twilight of my insurance career (where I find that perversely my wisdom and experience is undoubtedly at its peak) I’ve come to recognise that there are (controversially), three insurance tribes for “Cookesque” insurance pioneers to master;  “really impressive leaders”; “corporate treacle”; and, “phenomenally good front line people held back by corporate treacle”. Each face different challenges and have roles to play in radically accelerating the pace of change within the insurance sector.

The “really impressive leaders” of our industry’s challenge is to sail Captain Cooks aptly named ships of “Resolution”, “Adventure”, “Discovery” and “Endeavour” into the sea of corporate treacle to start making things truly accelerate innovation wise. Making those bold innovation statements become real, rather than hollow words deflected by over-burdened middle men, is what will truly mark these big personalities out as great leaders with lasting legacies.

To those who are the corporate treacle themselves, and no doubt hundreds of people reading this will be in denial about their role being inclusive in that category, the challenge is to man up, make things happen, be noticed, and be a bold pioneer inside their own organisations.

The opportunity to deliver something new which makes a real difference to customers, efficiency and cost is there to be grasped, if they are bold enough to go for it and stand out from the crowd. It is such moments of career defining success that builds a strong future cv as the prize that awaits. I know this, I once was corporate treacle myself and waded through the sea to the idyllic shores and promised land beyond!

The “phenomenally good front line people held back by corporate treacle”, have a part to play too. Now, more than at any other time in our modern social history, has the momentum from the masses, especially latter millennials and Generation Z groups, had the ability to create monumental change around us! That will on the grandest stage hopefully bring our planet back from the brink.

More locally though increasingly their voices are heard by employers and retailers alike, and if not heard then its easy for the masses to vote with their feet and move on to forward thinking companies.

If this all seems a distant dream in the slow-moving insurance world, well . . .  it took Captain Cook less than 2 years to leave Plymouth and discover Australia, (after a sun stop in Tahiti and a mountain break in New Zealand en route). That’s less time than the duration of countless mid-complexity projects in modern day insurance corporates! Crikey!!!

In more modern times a 5p charge on plastic bags saw an 86% reduction in UK plastic bag use almost overnight. Wow!!!

Great things really can be achieved in short time frames – especially if we use the lessons of history well. Maybe the Insurance Industry can make a substantial shift forward too – if there is a real, cumulative will to advance and shed its lethargy from yester year.

All too often we see the Insurance sector caught in Albert Einstein’s insightful text “insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results”. To break out we can be guided by Captain James Cook’s brave thoughts: “The man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd”, which seems to have worked well for our most recent pioneer hero, Peter Wood.

Either way, whether you’re inspired to go pioneering or just want to re-think your role in being part of the corporate treacle, good luck recalibrating your own change propensity and in being, or supporting, a more adventurous explorer tomorrow.

Footnote: If you are a “really impressive” senior insurance figure, or aiming to be one sometime soon, and want to find out about becoming faster, better, cheaper and more then feel free to get in touch!