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Toby Clegg on his career for Insurance Careers Month

Toby Clegg, Clegg Gifford’s Chief Executive Officer and self-described “jack of all trades”, tells us about company sustainability, motivation and what it really takes to see the opportunity for growth. He begins by describing his start at CG.

I mishandled the filing in our Ilford office, our first office when I was a child.  So it was child labour.  Later, I gained experience filing away documents and working during the summer holidays.  I went into the Royal Navy for a bit and then came back to CG in 2007, so I started almost 16 years ago now.

What else were you doing before joining CG?

My early years were very Navy-centric, I was a university cadet, and then I bounced around doing a few little odd jobs here and there.  Did some electrician work and helped run a boat school down in Gibraltar, both roles for a few months, which was an unforgettable experience.  It was a very small ramshackle boat and the provisions were always a bit off, so it wasn’t the most elegant sailing experience we provided, but it was fun.

What does your day usually look like?

There’s an inordinate number of phone calls that I have to make and just a tidal wave of emails that comes in every day that I have to look at.

I’ve come to appreciate that being a CEO is a troubleshooting job because there’s never a week that goes by without an issue or something that requires immediate attention and that can be from any part of our operations. I have to at least understand a good part of every component of the business and make an informed decision. But equally, part of that is asking for advice and trying to seek some sense in everything as well.  I always try to find the solution that’s going to get us over the line.

You are very involved in everything that CG does, what part of running the company do you like most?

I still like Underwriting.  I like the work that goes into securing risks and talking to clients because it’s quite an exciting prospect to know that at the end of it, you might secure the deal.  It’s thrilling when all the hard work pays off.

What makes Clegg Gifford different from other insurance brokers?

At the core of what we do is sustainability, which sometimes leads us down the hard and slow road, but certainly a more sensible one. We’ve seen too many operators lose their capacity overnight or over history and find themselves with a book that is unsustainable or that they’re going to find difficulty placing elsewhere, which is bad for clients, stakeholders and employees alike.  Sustainability is crucial – when we do things, we do it for the long run.

I’d also say that in a world of mergers, acquisitions and financing work, we’ve always grown organically. We like to say we eat our own dinner and ultimately it’s the only way you can be sure that you’ve got control over what you’re doing.  You need to grow from the ground up as opposed to buying into a potentially great business, but also great problems.

Clegg Gifford maintains the ethos of the family company.  There are huge opportunities for people to do the CII exams which we pay for in full.  It was something that CG’s founder Roy Clegg did and was the youngest person to get his ACII, which is the top qualification you can get in the insurance industry and then he went on to get his Fellowship.  I followed the same path but not as quickly as him I hasten to add.  It helps to demonstrate from the very top that we have a commitment to professionalism.

If you had to start your career all over again, what would you do differently?

From a career perspective, we should have looked at the opportunities in Gibraltar.  There were obvious tax and solvency benefits to being down there that helped a lot of companies in our space such as Haven, Markerstudy and others grew quite substantially.  Whereas we were restricted due to the more conservative nature of the regulatory arrangements in the UK.  The flip side of that is we’re very proud to operate through British insurers and to have such a close association with them.

I think I would also spend more time looking at the opportunities through Lloyd’s as opposed to just purely growing the motor book.  With Lloyd’s being the oldest and most sophisticated insurance market in the world, the more time you spend there the more you realise there are huge opportunities to do things in the UK SME space. More so, probably, than the highly competitive and increasingly commoditised motor market.

Can you tell us about someone who inspired you to do your job differently and how it helped you?

Michael Meacock used to run a syndicate of Lloyd’s that grew conservatively and was very sustainable in terms of what they wrote. They focused on the renewal clients every year as opposed to just seeking out new business for the sake of it.

That goes against the grain of the industry and capitalism itself, where people say you need to grow, grow, grow all the time. But actually, if you’re running something well and it’s known as a Gold Star service, then you don’t need to stretch yourself too far.  You can allow yourself to continue doing what you are good at, because you won’t earn any more money by simply growing. If anything, you could imperil the good business you already have.

I learned a lot about running CG through the sustainable conservative mindset that comes as a result of people like Michael that have run phenomenal syndicates at Lloyd’s for decades and was known as probably the most steady and conservative player there, and one of the most successful too.

What have you done to improve the company that you’re particularly proud of?

Probably our biggest turnaround situation was when we inherited a Claims team that was not very motivated or productive and still had a paper-based system.  They were also not very well organised and there was definite leakage for insurance companies that sat behind them.

So we tackled that, we uprooted the team, led it through a very granular oversight of everything we do. We went right back to the nuts and bolts, stripped it back, and built some fantastic wrap-around technology.  It transformed the nature of the way we handle claims. It also strengthened the relationships we have with reinsurers because, as they rightly say, ours is a phenomenal service that we provide, especially on a very tricky element of the UK motor trade market.

That is why we were so proud when we collected the 2022 award for the Claims Team of the Year.  It was deserved recognition of what we’ve been through, that big journey to transform what was probably one of the worst Claims teams in the UK to the best in the industry.  That was the moment for everyone to pat themselves on the back and really feel like what we do matters.

And frankly, claims in the UK broking space especially, are much overlooked. It’s not something that brokers traditionally want to get their hands dirty on, but you need a really strong delegated authority and strong partnerships to be able to handle it. But if you do it right, then it’s a key part of your client proposition and your overall performance.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Oh, I have this argument with the Sales team all the time.  It’s a concept called “Bonus Booster” and it’s a great product, but they will tell you they can’t convince anyone to take it up.  It’s a bonus acceleration: you do six months and then you get effectively a year bonus, but you have to be exceptionally good in those six months.  My opinion? We just haven’t narrowed down the onboarding process but the Sales teams remain totally unconvinced even if they sell the occasional one.

CG has seen significant growth in the past year, how did you decide that scaling up is the right step to take for the company?

The failure of Tradewise, one of our big competitors represented a massive opportunity for us both from a Retail and Wholesale point of view and a lot of additional growth that we hadn’t expected came from there.   Actually, the growth was projected to be relatively conservative, albeit with hardening premiums. If you add that to a high renewal retention, it already means you’re growing without having to add significant volume because people are paying more per existing policy.

That’s not to say that we did nothing, we’ve made a lot of tweaks to systems and the productivity of our Sales teams.  The growth was planned and showed a conservative pattern, but even we can’t predict the future.  One single moment can change everything, a big competitor goes down and suddenly you’re there to step in and acquire their renewal book.

We worked hard and won the award for 2022 Customer Champion of the Year based on this.  We were seeing real-world problems where clients couldn’t get cover and didn’t have alternatives and by stepping in we helped the brokers secure their books, but also the Retail customers as well to offer them a soft landing on a like-for-like policy.  We had to work quickly and efficiently to secure those accounts and I think it’s a real testament to the team that they did it not to mention renewing those clients a year later which is great news.  So, it’s proven quite a boon for the performance and also for the book in general.

With personal development and constant learning being one of the tenants of CG, how do you think the Apprenticeship Programme helped us grow?

The principal Programme grew out of the pandemic. There were a lot of young people leaving school and questioning the value of a degree in a remote setting.  They couldn’t go to the University Campus or gain university experience and a lot of them suddenly saw this huge mountain of debt that they were going to rack up, but not necessarily the payoff at the end of it, so we gave them this opportunity.

Vocational training is coming back into fashion and apprentices have been a key part of that.  Because, at a time when resources are scarce and we are dealing with a great number of resignations and all the other HR issues that stem from the pandemic, apprentices created a ready body of recruits who were a bit raw admittedly, but have learned incredibly quickly and are tremendously bright.  They’ve even been racing through their insurance exams at a real clip.

Now experience will come with time and, we deploy them into different parts of the business so they get a good amount of expertise. But also we put all the wrap-around support services with dedicated staff whose only goal is getting them to be not only useful team members but also the best they can be with the best qualifications at their young age.  We are creating the next generation of talent in the insurance industry that’s the whole purpose of it.  They will go onto other greater things potentially and it’s a good circular way of giving back to the industry at the same time.

It has been an enormously busy period, especially emerging from the pandemic.  Ultimately, we are on the right track and investing heavily in our future with new branches, additional software and personal development for everyone, because for Clegg Gifford, sustainability is the key.

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