We speak to Alex Koslowski, CEO Royal London Ireland
Wed Feb 27 2019
Royal London Ireland’s CEO, Alex Koslowski, in conversation with Diarmuid Kelly, CEO of Brokers Ireland.
In January 2019 Royal London reached a significant milestone, with the opening of Royal London Insurance DAC, their new subsidiary company in Ireland. Their share of the broker individual protection market has grown from less than 4% market share in 2012 to nearly 19% by November 2018, an all-time high for the firm. This is a great achievement in a market which has otherwise not experienced much growth.
Brokers Ireland met with Alex Koslowski, Royal London Ireland’s Chief Executive Officer, to talk about what it means to have subsidiary status and what differentiates Royal London from other providers. Alex discusses Royal London’s strategy to provide long term value to customers through Financial Brokers, the creation of new jobs and their plans for the future.
Q. Royal London expanded its business and transformed into a subsidiary in Ireland at the start of this year, can you tell us more about what this involved?
Our decision to transform from a branch of The Royal London Mutual Insurance Society Ltd. to a separate legal entity, now known as Royal London Insurance DAC was spurred on by the outcome of the 2016 UK Referendum to leave the EU. This was a decision faced by every other financial services company with a UK parent as in order to continue to offer products in Ireland it would need to invest in setting up a regulated subsidiary in an EU country. It meant we had to find a way to continue to best serve Irish Financial Brokers and customers. For us, it was an easy decision to establish an Irish subsidiary given our success to date and our firm commitment to the market here.
Since this plan was announced by Royal London Group CEO, Phil Loney, two years ago, it’s been a busy time for us as we established our new subsidiary business in Ireland. I can’t overstate the scale of this project. Contributions to complete this undertaking came from almost every area of the business both here and in the UK. We’ve also established a new governance structure and a Board of Directors to adhere to Central Bank of Ireland (CBI) governance codes. Overall, it has been a lengthy but worthwhile process and one which has required massive investment in terms of cost, time and energy. It was greatly satisfying to see the Irish subsidiary come to fruition on 07 January this year and its completion marks a new chapter in Royal London’s over 190 year history in Ireland.
Q. Now that Royal London is a subsidiary what does it mean for Financial Brokers and customers?
Our change in regulatory status means that Financial Brokers and customers will benefit from even stronger governance and full regulatory oversight by the CBI, rather than UK authorities. Before and after authorisation, there has and will continue to be absolutely no impact or changes to our day-to-day operations. Aside from brokers ensuring they use the updated documents available, which reflect our new regulatory status, it’s business as usual. I hope that the substantial financial investment in our new subsidiary business will clearly illustrate in the minds of brokers, and their clients, our long-term commitment to the Irish market.
For Royal London it has meant establishing a Board of Directors in Ireland. The appointment of two independent directors, Michael Cosgrove and Walter Beatty, and the recruitment of Chief Finance Officer, Viviana Pascoletti, and Chief Risk Officer, Vincent Kelly, has further strengthened the experience and expertise in Royal London Ireland. Being a subsidiary means we are well placed for future growth and it has also meant expanding our headcount and office locations. With the creation of 20 new jobs to facilitate the servicing of the Royal Liver Irish book of business, which is transferring over from the UK, we have had to procure a second premises also located in Dublin 2.
Q. What was last year like in terms of growth for Royal London?
Last year was a successful year for Royal London both in terms of exceeding business targets and progressing towards key strategic goals. Thanks to the support of Financial Brokers throughout the country our share of the broker protection market grew to an all-time high of nearly 19%. Last year our new business performance was very positive, as evidenced by the increase in revenue (25%) and new business volumes (12%),* compared to 2017. Achieving strong financial results like this year-on-year, in a relatively flat Irish protection market, is a clear demonstration of the ongoing and growing support we continue to receive from brokers. It’s also a testament to the value of the Royal London proposition and the award-winning service offered by our people.
Q.What has contributed to this growth?
Seeking out and taking on board broker feedback has always been at the heart of our product and service improvement strategy, which in recent times has paid greatly in dividends. Our much appreciated 1st place for Service Excellence win at the Brokers Ireland Excellence Awards last November, for the second year in a row, was a fantastic achievement. I’m particularly proud of winning this industry award because it is underpinned by a comprehensive survey of brokers from throughout the country. Thus it’s a highly accurate reflection of how Life and Pensions companies are providing their customers with value. Last year, Royal London was pleased to have also won Mortgage Protection Provider of the Year and Sales Support Team of the Year for Mortgage Protection at the 2018 Association of Expert Mortgage Advisors (AEMA) Awards.
Our aim is to meet Financial Brokers’ and their clients’ needs better than any of our competitors. That’s why a key focus for us has always been on building up our service. Our service transformation, led by Head of Operations Greg Dyer, has focused on elevating our servicing consistently in the knowledge that superior service is meaningful to brokers. It has included improving our underwriting and claims process experience, for brokers and customers alike, and continuing to update and improve our online systems and support services.
Another key strategic undertaking to help us grow in 2018 was to focus on improving our product lines while enhancing our service provision for brokers and customers. Our Sales Team, headed up by Daragh Feely, continued to build strong relationships with brokers while our Proposition Team, led by Joe Charles, brought numerous product enhancements to market. For example, offering Dual Life for the price of Joint Life on Mortgage Protection and doubling our Term price-matching sums assured limit. We confidently believe that our Term Assurance, Mortgage Protection and Specified Serious Illness cover are the best in the market. In addition to this, our Whole of Life cover with our innovative Life Changes Option continues to be popular with brokers and their clients. We are delighted that these efforts have not gone unnoticed by brokers and Royal London was voted 1st in ‘competitive value for customers’, ‘product features that are available to clients’ and ‘innovative product design’ at the 2018 Brokers Ireland Excellence Awards.
Q. Sounds like Royal London has experienced a lot of success of late, what is it about Royal London that differentiates it from other life companies?
A key difference is that we are only focused on the broker market in Ireland. This is a strategic choice we have made. We are one of the few providers who can say that we are truly committed to the broker market, and mean it, because we do not sell directly to customers. This allows us to be 100% focused on providing positive outcomes for customers through the independent advice they receive from brokers.
Being owned by a mutual company, as we are, means we can be fully committed to long term value for customers rather than the short term interest of shareholders. Thus we can focus solely on making decisions that deliver better value and higher levels of service. As we focus on the long term, Royal London is extremely well positioned to invest in the systems, processes and propositions that will deliver great customer outcomes well into the future.
Royal London’s commitment to positive customer outcomes is not just about providing financial support through the payment of claims, although I do believe this is a key moment of truth, and one we take very seriously. We also offer customers and their immediate family practical and emotional support in difficult times through our Helping Hand service. It offers one-to-one personalised support from a qualified nurse from Red Arc, which is an independent care advisory service. This service provides additional value to our customers by offering support when they are going through a hard time in their life, such as when a loved one dies or on the diagnosis of a serious illness. Helping Hand is available to all Royal London Ireland’s new policyholders at no additional cost to them.
Another key differentiator from other life companies is our very engaged, long-serving staff members. The culture of working at Royal London is one where collaboration and empowerment is championed. We regularly survey our staff for feedback and our employee engagement scores are very high in comparison to other financial services firms. Led by the example of the senior leadership team this spirit is very much embodied by the people here, which I believe to be instrumental to our success.
Q. Finally before we finish up, what is your future ambition for the business?
We are looking forward with excitement as to what’s to come in 2019 and beyond. Our strategy remains to offer high-quality products and service, while investing in our capabilities making it easier for brokers to do business with us. That said, we have been working on the exploration and investigation of new strategic options and market opportunities. Into the future you can expect us to further develop the overall broker supportive proposition we bring to the Irish market.
Our success is reliant on the support of Financial Brokers, which is why we are very thankful for their backing and the confidence they have in us. We hope to continue this ambitious growth towards our aim to make Royal London the protection provider of choice in Ireland.
Alex, it was a pleasure to meet you again, we wish you and all in Royal London continued success.