Recently appointed Zurich UK CEO Tulsi Naidu talks to Luke Holloway about the need to keep the core purpose of insurance in mind while embracing the future.
To keep evolving it is vital to look forward, says Tulsi Naidu, but it is also important to remember where you have come from. "When you go back to the very beginning of insurance it was founded on very real needs. I would like to see the profession continue to modernise and professionalise, but not to get away from its roots, which is about how to take risk away and protect customers in a meaningful and purposeful way."
Appointed UK CEO of Zurich Insurance in November last year, Ms Naidu brings 20 years of financial services experience to the company, which announced earlier this year it had paid out UK claims totalling almost £2bn in 2016. "I think that is proof that we deliver on our promises. We are committed to protecting people and we are there for them when they need us.
"Zurich was the first major composite insurer to provide detail about both its general insurance and life claims, as we believe this transparency is key to tackling the misconception around the level of claims paid and to improving public trust in insurance."
As well as continuing to be more customer-centric and reinforcing the importance of individuals and businesses' needs, Ms Naidu feels talent is an issue the profession must focus on. "It is enormously important that we get the brightest and best minds working in insurance from all walks of life and from all backgrounds. As an industry we need to be careful, as there can tend to be an unconscious bias to recruit people in our own mould, so you end up with a workforce that is a reflection of the senior population. We now have some very interesting tools and techniques that help us create a more diverse recruiting process and we need to be thoughtful when placing talent."
The industry has certainly made huge strides in highlighting how a more diversified workforce will benefit the profession, but do young people from minority backgrounds still face extra difficulties and discrimination when trying to progress in insurance? Ms Naidu feels the issue of role models is a factor. "I don't know that if a young person of minority came into our industry they would get enough of a view of how someone from their background could progress to the top. We need to have a greater focus on helping them manage their careers successfully.
"At Zurich, we are very proud of the progress we are making. We have a very active Women's Innovation Network (WIN); it is a fantastic platform from a networking and development perspective. I am also impressed by the individual initiative and focus that goes into it making WIN a success."
Zurich champions several employee resource groups including GLEE (Gay, Lesbian, Everyone Else), CAN (Cultural Awareness Network) and DIG (Disability Inclusion Group). The company is resolute in recognising the advantages of diversity in business and ensuring it has the right mix of talent for the company and its employees to succeed.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Local community is also hugely important and Zurich actively encourages its employees to do their part through the Zurich Community Trust (ZCT). Since it was set up in 1973, the trust has donated £65m to local communities and last year supported more than 800 different charities across the UK and overseas to improve the lives of around 100,000 people.
"We are extremely proud of the work ZCT does and we have a very high level of volunteering across the business which supports ZCT's activities," says Ms Naidu. "In addition to these ZCT activities, we've been taking part in a careers advice pilot, funded by the Skills Funding Agency, which involves our employees going into schools in deprived areas, meeting children and telling them about the opportunities that exist within the industry."
So far, ambassadors from Zurich have met with about 450 young people, providing them with information about the industry, careers, soft skills to improve their motivation and confidence, as well as CV and interview support, helping to encourage the next generation of talent on a very practical and discernible level.
"I am very proud to be UK CEO of Zurich, it is a great and global brand which has a real culture of openness and customer-centricity," says Ms Naidu. "And I'm proud to be in a profession where we can help customers, usually at a time of distress, and you can make a real difference.
"I also feel that for an industry that has a great tradition, the rate and pace of modernisation is increasingly rapid. I feel we've been better at embracing change than we give ourselves credit for."
Honest principles, transparency and protecting customers are what make insurance a noble profession, and while working hard to embrace new methods and reach new horizons, that is not something Ms Naidu is going to forget.