Amanda Blanc talks to Luke Holloway about leading Aviva and why diversity and flood risk must be priorities for the insurance profession
Anyone beginning a new role in the last 12 months will know that getting to grips with a new company, colleagues and customers in a world of purely remote working takes renewed focus. Things were no different for Amanda Blanc, past president of the CII and, since July 2020, CEO of Aviva.
“Leadership for me is about communication and connecting with people,” she tells us. “In the past that has been a very physical thing, visiting shareholders and customers, so we have had to adapt, be innovative and flexible, and I feel the insurance profession as a whole has done an outstanding job of that.
“We launched the new Aviva UK strategy last autumn completely virtually. It was a fantastic event and actually allowed me to speak to more people, more directly. While you don’t have quite the same feeling as when you walk into a venue in say, Norwich or York, you are still able to communicate your message effectively.”
That message was to announce three clear strategic priorities for Aviva: focus the portfolio, transform performance and maintain financial strength.
“We are always putting the customer at the heart of what we do. As insurers, it is about what we deliver to customers, whether that is motor, home, wealth, or life cover, and we have a duty to do that, which aligns strongly with the ethos of the CII and maintaining professional standards,” she says.
From Ms Blanc’s first day as a graduate trainee at Commercial Union, she remembers being encouraged to study for CII exams as a pathway to progressing in the profession.
“The CII has always been part of my career,” she says. “I won awards for my exam results through the Luton Institute and to be invited to the award ceremony as a 21-year-old was amazing – it instilled the importance of professionalism in me from a very early age.
“I have always been passionate about the need for us to be a profession rather than an industry. But it is not just about messaging; standards and good practice are vital in building trust, if we are to be viewed as a valued profession, similar to lawyers and accountants.
“The CII is a special organisation and plays a hugely important part in the insurance profession.”
Ms Blanc was appointed HM Treasury’s Women in Finance Champion in March and is an active supporter of the CII’s Insuring Women’s Futures (IWF) campaign, with Aviva being the latest insurer to pledge to take action to improve female financial resilience.
The ‘Financial Flexible Working’ pledge commits firms to help colleagues manage the long-term financial implications of flexible working; while the ‘Inclusive Customer Financial Lives’ pledge encourages businesses to adopt an inclusive ‘whole customer’ approach.
Leadership for me is about communication and connecting with people
“When you see the difference in the amount of money women have in their pension pot compared to men because of career breaks, often to bring up children or care for elderly parents, it is very concerning,” Ms Blanc says.
“Aviva insures one in seven of the pensioners in the UK, so it is our duty to put our name behind the IWF campaign to help ensure women are financially resilient and have the opportunity to plan for retirement.
“Another thing we have seen in the last 12 months is people are able to work flexibly and do an excellent job in a full-time position, so we have to recognise that having to be in the office to be part of a team is a myth. We must now make sure that women returning to roles do so at the level
“There is still a huge issue around women and their progression, and the time has come to call that out as it
“I have a voice, I am in a privileged position and I will use my words wisely while encouraging others to do the same,” says Ms Blanc.
Fight against flooding
Turning to another significant issue for insurers, Ms Blanc comments on the independent review she led during 2020 of more than 760 households and businesses that flooded in Doncaster.
“Those in the lower socioeconomic areas can least afford these events but they are the ones who are affected. They are often in poor areas where people have little knowledge of what flood risk is, but even if they do, they have personal choices to make around insurance or food. For me, listening to these stories was heart-wrenching.
“It is the view of the report that people should not be sold insurance without flood cover when either the insurer or broker know they live in an at-risk area. Many properties in Doncaster were right next to the River Don, yet people had policies that excluded flood – that is unacceptable.
“There are also issues around tenants, contents cover, temporary accommodation, pricing and communication. At Aviva we have put the recommendations into action, but it is now up to the government to implement them more widely.”
Ms Blanc continues to be proud of the insurance profession and is adamant that socially and economically, it is a force for good.
“Most of all, I am proud that we keep the world going. Without insurance, schools don’t open, buses don’t run, planes don’t fly, business cannot thrive, people cannot enjoy life or retire happily. We sometimes get bad press but we do a really great job for our customers and I am proud to be part of that. We will always have a vital role to play.”
Luke Holloway is editor of The Journal