Hiscox USA CEO on “a massive market opportunity”
“I remember going out once a year to a restaurant, I never went on vacation, and when I follow through my childhood, I never went to university because we couldn’t afford it,” Kerridge, who grew up in the UK, said.
“I guess I dropped into insurance because that was the opportunity I had at the time.”
Kerridge got his insurance break when he landed a job with bank Barclays at age 18 and has not looked back since. He has now been with Hiscox for 26 years and has been CEO of Hiscox USA since May 2021. He’s also been on the board of the American Property Casualty Insurance Association since 2022.
The leader has, at different times, been responsible for driving the insurer’s digital commercial insurance push in both the UK and the US.
Removing the insurance “stigma”
Kerridge, who said there is a “really hard-edged commercial benefit” to bringing in diverse perspectives, believes that his background helped him build values that have set him up for success.
“I came from that background where we weren’t well off, and I think that’s a good thing, actually, because it moulds you as an adult not to take things for granted, to have values, and all that stuff – hard work and effort,” Kerridge said.
While the butcher and housewife’s son may have to some extent fallen into insurance, historically seen by some as banking’s less attractive cousin, he told Insurance Business that he believes that the industry has become a more attractive destination for talent looking to “purposefully” develop a career there.
“At the time [around 30 years ago], insurance always had a bit of a stigma, it’s a place you went into if you didn’t get into proper banking,” Kerridge said.
“I often reflect how it’s very different now; it’s almost turned on its head and insurance is an exciting place to be now with the advent of the use of data and technology, and it’s a really good place to build a career.”
Diversity of thought may be something that Kerridge is “passionate” about, but it’s diversity of experience in the earlier days of his career that has helped him become a more versatile and successful leader. Kerridge has worked across marketing, operations, underwriting, and broker-facing business development, and hailed “spiderwebbing” – or trying a hand at different roles – as key to building versatility.
Rise of the internet
It was the growth of the internet that spurred Kerridge to new heights at Hiscox in the late 1990s.
“The internet was coming, people started to use it, and we had dial up modems – looking back it [dial up] was really painful actually – but that’s when it started,” Kerridge said.
Kerridge was pulled into a meeting with then Hiscox group managing director Bronek Masojada and asked to put a proposition together for how the business could make the most of the internet.
What followed three months later was a lunch – Kerridge said he still vividly remembers the meeting – at which he was given the immediate green light to move forward with a direct-to-consumer internet proposition.
“He [Masojada] had two questions for me … number one was, ‘do you want to do it, get it running and going?’ and the second question was, ‘how much seed capital do you need?’
“And over lunch, literally, we agreed that I’d do it and he had given me a million pounds in seed capital to get it going.”
And thus, Hiscox’s digital UK push was born, with the business – which Kerridge described as “really insurtech before insurtech was even a word” – launching in 1999.
Hiscox takes on the USA
Ten years later, at another lunch with Masojada, who was by then CEO, the plans would be put in motion for the launch of Hiscox USA. Given the UK’s position as a relatively small territory and its maturity at the time from a digital e-commerce perspective, the big question was where Hiscox could take its formula next.
The result was a two-week US trip that, for Kerridge, who was with the insurer’s UK digital business at the time, delivered some surprising results. Two things struck him, with the US market at the time appearing to be about “seven years” behind the UK.
“The first was nobody was doing online in small commercial,” Kerridge said. “I mean, I just couldn’t believe it, I was trying to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.”
The second was the regulatory environment in the admitted market, which was “very heavy 13 years ago compared to the UK”.
Building a 600,000 policy digital business
When Hiscox USA launched in 2010, it was the first small commercial insurer with a digital proposition for small businesses, according to Kerridge.
“I still pinch myself today that this unknown, international company came in and built a domestic powerhouse in digital,” he said.
“We’re sitting here today with over 600,000 policies in force on that digital platform, which when other carriers hear that, they’re like ‘holy cow, that’s an incredible amount of scale in a relatively short amount of time’.”
While the digital business is – perhaps unsurprisingly – close to Kerridge’s heart, global insurer Hiscox has also been building out its US offering in areas like kidnap & ransom, terrorism, media, entertainment, and some of the “more traditional lines that we’re known for globally”, Kerridge said.
So, what’s next for Hiscox USA and Kerridge?
With 32 million small businesses in the US, and Hiscox USA covering around 600,000 of them, there is still plenty of opportunity to grow.
“I’d like to think that my legacy when I eventually retire, and it’s a long way off, is that I leave a business which has got a very strong reputation in the market, because that’s important to us, but a business which is multiple times the scale it is today, so several billion dollars rather than a billion, but also incredibly profitable,” Kerridge said.
Hiscox USA CEO Kevin Kerridge on:
Building a distinctly American business…
“We’re just a normal American business, we don’t think of ourselves as a global business, what we do here has a very domestic focus. We’re here to build America’s leading small business insurer, that’s what we want to do.”
His biggest achievement…
“I really love my time here at Hiscox, whether I was in the CEO role or before. I still spring out of bed at 4am every morning, looking forward to coming to work, so I think lots of small things. The exciting thing for me is I honestly feel that my biggest achievement is still to come. You know, [we’ve built] a billion dollar business in the US today, with over 600,000 policyholders. It still feels like we’re at the beginning.”
Feeling the “energy back” in the broker business…
“We made some decisions around our appetite, coming out of some of the bigger risks, above $100 million of revenue, and – apart from a couple of the specialist areas like kidnap and ransom and terrorism, which are global franchises – really focusing the rump of that broker business on smaller insureds. It’s very profitable, we feel we’ve got it right to win there. And we’ve spent 18 months repositioning the business for that. That finished in May last year.
“Since May, our underwriting teams in the regions… have been out there on the front foot reengaging, and rebuilding with brokers, and getting back to that profitable growth agenda. That’s going well, you can feel the energy back in the business.”
Learnings from Robert Hiscox [former Hiscox chair]…
“I had the good fortune to report to Robert Hiscox for a couple of years when I was in London and there were two things that he always used to say to me. One was, ‘I’ll forgive you for losing the money occasionally but never ever put me in a position where you lose me my reputation’. That’s always stuck with me. The other one was ‘volume is vanity, profit is sanity’.”
Offering an “arm around the shoulder”…
“I remember the time where when I joined Hiscox, I looked to others for hope and reassurance, and sometimes an arm around the shoulder. And it’s suddenly happened, and I don’t know when, but you look back and say: ‘Blimey, I’m that person now. I’m the person that other people look to for reassurance and a bit of hope when things are tough, and a bit of coaching.’
“[I was recently asked by someone] what piece of advice I would give them that has worked for me, and what I said to them is that there are two things I always look for in people who work in the business.
“One is just coming to work every day with a great attitude. The other one is coming to work and making a difference. If you do those two things, you get noticed and doors open, because who wouldn’t want a person in the business on their team that’s got those two traits?”
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