Adrian Saunders and Paul Holland podcast episode 9 still
17 min

Customers And Community: When The Greater Good Is Good For Business

Posted by Picture of Paul Holland Paul Holland

For episode 9 of our Sense of Identity podcast, I spoke to Adrian Saunders from Ecclesiastical Insurance about how customers and community are key to sustaining a reputable business.

You can subscribe to our podcast series on your podcasting platform of choice by using the links on our Spotify page or by searching for "Paul Holland / Sense Of Identity".

For over 135 years, from Ecclesiastical Insurance has provided insurance for some of the UK's most iconic heritage buildings.

The team behind the company has a best-in-class reputation for providing specialist expertise, guidance and support.

For episode 9 of our Sense of Identity podcast, I spoke to Adrian Saunders from Ecclesiastical about their charity work, the history behind the business, and his thoughts on hybrid working.



Paul: Welcome, Adrian Saunders, commercial director of Ecclesiastical Insurance. Very grateful for you joining our podcast today. So thanks. Thanks for coming along.

Adrian: Hi Paul you're very welcome. It's great to be here.

Paul: As I mentioned when we chatted before this is all meant to be generally quite informal and the title around is a sense of identity. So from my perspective what I'm keen to try and capture is one, a bit really about you. We've known each other for some time and you've got a really interesting background in general, personally and through work et cetera and also about the business because when we started chatting last time some of the things you started telling me were extraordinary.

Actually, in fact I've done a lot of digging because I just couldn't, I couldn't believe one- Ecclesiastical just to sort of set the scene a little bit and then we'll just, we'll chat yeah. I hadn't appreciated one it was founded back was 1887 I think originally by the Church of England, which is, which is just amazing. Two, just the scope of what it does.

I mean in particular you mentioned something which I thought was amazing, which is that I think Ecclesiastical was part of the Benefact Group well family of businesses and as a group, that group is one of the top three corporate givers in the country in terms of charitable giving, which is, which is amazing isn't it, one. And I feel a bit of an ignoramus personally because I hadn't appreciated that.

So I think it's nice for people to understand that. But the other bit- and I thought this was an interesting connection really where you and I are in the risk business in one context or another, I guess, really. And I think given the weekend, we're just heading into, the coronation weekend there's a really interesting connection because when I started looking up the, some of the old interviews and we'll come back some of that stuff, the connection there with Ecclesiastical, Westminster Abbey, you know, that's part I believe of the connection with Ecclesiastical and that so I'll continue in that monarchy connection.

Blenheim Palace, you know Warwick Castle those historic places. Canterbury Cathedral, York Minster, it's unbelievable. I was just, is it the Victoria and Albert Museum? So I wonder if you could give us a bit more flower around that because I probably just me, but I think it'd be really useful to understand, for people to understand Ecclesiastical the scale and just what it's all about. It's amazing.

Adrian: Yeah, look well we are incredibly lucky to insure and therefore be involved with so many amazing and iconic heritage buildings up and down the country. And you're absolutely right you know, heritage business started out to basically insure the Anglican Church and therefore we insure all the cathedrals across England a huge amount of the Anglican Church and real iconic, some of the real iconic buildings like Westminster, like St Paul's and especially, you know, leading into a coronation, you know, some of these buildings that are going to be front and centre of what we're going to see kind of unfold and you know, it is it is amazing.

And I think for our underwriters and for our risk control colleagues and for our claims colleagues, they get to work with some pretty incredible buildings and customers. You know, you're absolutely right. I think you went- you mentioned Benefact and telling that story is something that I think we're getting better at. But we've got to get a lot better. We've got to get better. We've got to find more ways and more avenues for telling that story. So Ecclesiastical's part of the Benefact group and Benefact group or the trust within benefit group.

But our objective is to be a very different kind of business. And we are the third largest corporate giver, but probably with such a low brand awareness or profile about that.

Paul: Listen it's, I've got to say, although although it feels, there's something quite almost humbling and nice about the fact that it's just happened it's not just now because it's happened for years hasn't it and yet and yet it's not stuck under people's noses, I can't help but quite admire the fact that hasn't been that hasn't been the reason, do you know what I mean because most people that do this greenwashing, you know, and and connected sort of it just feels such a nice, modest way of doing it, albeit, you know, it sort of feels you want to get the word out a bit more. But I do understand. It's amazing.

Adrian: And we, and we do. But I think you're spot on. You know, there's a balance to be had with it. You know, there's a balance to be had with how we do go about doing that, where we do it and recognising that actually whilst it's great and it's and it really is great, it's not going to resonate with everybody, if you like.

If you go back to that reference to Westminster and we were incredibly fortunate last summer to celebrate achieving 100 million to charity with a service of Thanksgiving in Westminster and we had over 2000 people attended the then Prince Charles and now obviously King was there as well along with, you know, all sorts of other celebrities got to give a call out for for Jay Blades who was there because I'm a bit of a repair shop fan.

I thought that was brilliant but the serious part of that was that not only will we celebrate and give the 100 million to charity which is a pretty amazing figure but I found myself sat there just thinking about all the amazing events and things that the fabric of that building had seen and experienced. And if you replicate that across all the things that we insure, all the treasure houses, that we ensure all of that that sort of faith and religious type property, all of the, you know, the amazing independent schools who in turn have got, you know, incredible buildings, you know, that same sense applies to them all they've all got fabrics of buildings that have experienced incredible events.

Paul: And it's the fabric, well it's the fabric of the country isn't it almost - you think about the history- the sort of thread the road that leads you back in what is an amazing history that you feel really proud of in a lot of ways and know there's lots of talk about things that are connected with that but fundamentally, the fabric of the UK and and the buildings that represent the history that leads you through the path of the UK, you're connected with so much of it's just amazing.

Adrian: Yeah. Oh, I think I guess like my, my wife and my kids definitely get a bit tired of me going, oh guess what? We insure that, oh we insure that and especially, you know, you see stuff on the TV and you see like period dramas and the chances are we probably ensure the location that it's being filmed in. But yeah, it is.

Yeah, that bit is amazing. But I think, I think what the- it's what that so well, first and foremost, we are a commercial business, right? So we only get to do good stuff by being a commercial and successful business but because, you know, because fortunately we are successful then the good stuff that enables us to do does have a direct impact, I think on the culture of the business, the collaboration.

I've never worked anywhere where there is such a kind of open and collaborative culture within the organisation and a sense of connection to this charitable giving. It doesn't make us a charity, absolutely doesn't make us a charity. But that connection that lots and lots of us have to that, to that sort of side of charity.

Paul: And also, I think when we chatted before, I thought was an interesting take like you do have on this stuff, which is that I mean, as a you know, ultimately deal with customers.

I know you're broker driven business, but there are customers at the end. It was something you mentioned in one of the interviews at Insurance Age which I thought that was really, really important not to forget, you know, something I know you and I have chatted about over a coffee a lot, but the idea that people that are with you in that context and the brokers, you know, there is an element of the business that's being written that is actually benefiting in all these other ways.

You know, that's quite nice and that's not just the other one when I looked it up. And again, after we chatted, I looked more because there was a you referenced a beach clean up charity, I think. And the reason it resonated was we've got a mutual friend, Graham Hooper, I think actually introduced us quite a long time ago.

Graham's now the chairman of I don't know if you know, the Wave project. And anybody who listens to this, please also have a look at the Wave project. It's just the most extraordinary charity. But is it little picker or something, you know, it's the fact that you've got to reach into areas of the world and things like that, beach area that element, which is very localised. Although you're such a huge business, I think that's great.

Adrian: The way that I mean the way Paul that particular example has come about is now you're absolutely right, I'm responsible for our for our intermediary business in the UK. And, and one of the things that we introduced quite a few years ago now was a way to try and connect some of our e-broker trading partners to our charitable cause.

And we introduced a program called Closer to You with the objective that, you know, we would we would give grants through closer to you for your broker partners for things that was sort of close, close to them. But that's kind of how it works. And, you know, the beach cleanup is something that's particularly close to one of our broker partners in Devon and we will we regularly annually provide them with that grant to help their involvement with that.

And I think the amazing thing is the diversity of charities that we've actually provided grants to. And if anybody was interested and I'd say I kind of recommend people to have a look because it is amazing if you go onto the Benefact website, you can find it quite easily. But there's a map of the UK on there and it's basically covered with little dots.

And the little dots are all the charities that have benefited from a grant of some description from Benefact. Yeah. And there's not, you know, that the UK is really well covered yeah.

Paul: Yeah, that is quite amazing. It is quite amazing. Sort of, slightly moving into the more business aspects of this so the common theme, I guess for both of us is risk. Yeah. You know, fundamentally, you know, you're involved in that as we are, you know, in slightly different areas, but there's all sorts of emerging areas. I watched an interview that one of your colleagues actually did in on insurance age.

With you a little while back or not watched, read through the article and it talked about the things that you'd seen change because of the pandemic and change in habits and you know, and the fact that Ecclesiastical were trying to embrace some of those changes and things. Well, what do you think are the most marked changes that would, you know, stay with us because, you know, just this for me is, you know, this has become what was an alien habit.

You know, being online with someone and chatting, it has become absolutely the norm. You know, you know, a bit like mobile phones. You know, this is just absolutely accepted now. It's nothing like meeting up for a pint or a coffee. But nonetheless, it's really valuable and has a place. How do you think, how have you found things have changed for you and the brokers you support on that side of things? From a technology or, you know, post-pandemic perspective?

Adrian: I think it is that massive acceleration that it gave to looking at different ways of communicating. So you know, we went in, we went into that pandemic, we'd all had Skype. And I'd guarantee that our usage of Skype was tiny. You know, I just never got used. And we started using that obviously almost from day one, probably realised it wasn't necessarily the best platform and switched to teams quite quickly.

But I think I think now in the environment we're in now when talking about it's less about it feels to me as though we should stop thinking about new ways of working and more start thinking about just how we just continue to develop the way of working that we've now adopted. So, you know, I think this hybrid working model works for us as a business.

It works for our colleagues. It gives a good work-life balance for our colleagues but has no and has no business detriment to us in terms of, you know, productivity and customer service, you know our customer service, our customer service metrics are just as strong, or stronger in some areas than they were pre-pandemic. So I think we now have a rhythm and our rhythm is this hybrid model.

And for the things that people say, yeah, but do you know what it's nothing like people being together or people coming into the business really miss out I get it. Absolutely get it. And I agree. But there are ways to address that. There are ways that we can overcome that. And in some ways, actually, this kind of technology and this kind of communication never going to be a substitute. But it does make us all more accessible. So, it does yes, it speeds things up.

Paul: I mean, it's it is interesting. It's the blend isn't it? Because I mean, the other thing in that interview you talked about, which absolutely resonated for me was that for all the brokers you deal with, ultimately at the end of every broker relationship is a customer is a person and you're a people business, you know, I like.

You know, I absolutely am passionate about the fact that, you know, when people ring us, they speak to us that, you know, they speak to our UK support team and all that stuff because we're in the insurance world and even in our world, although we provide a technical solution, we ultimately deal with people. And if you forget that at any point you'd had it.

So it was interesting because you also talked about the regulations and the fact that I think your stance on it, which again was interesting, was that they're really about improving customer outcomes and even consumer duty in the world you know so is it do you think this type of interaction is in sync with that those sort of principles?

Adrian: I think it is. Yeah, I think it is. I, I don't see that it undermines that in any way. I think putting it in arguably it's an improvement I think from a accessibility point of view from the, from the ability to probably if I, if I flip it round and think about it from our brokers' perspective, thinking that there is always a customer at the end of it, then actually they can communicate, they can have more, far more regular contact with their customer.

They can build a far better, stronger relationship rather than, rather than possibly relying more upon that annual renewal cycle. You know, we, we trade in a market where you know, everything has a 12 month cycle and it rolls around for renewal every 12 months. And there's a there is a temptation or risk that you get sucked into your customer contact strategy is based around that renewal cycle, well building stronger, better, longer lasting relationships has always been about trying to break that, and find reasons to have more contact.

Well a barrier that has inevitably been time travel and getting face to face so lots of those barriers have actually been removed. So I think customer experience wise used in the right way, not used as 100% substitute, but used in the right way. It's actually beneficial.

Yeah. No I agree. No, I do agree with that. And as I say, I think this, I just think when you forget that people contact piece and the more brokers I've spoken to that have taken this as an opportunity during the pandemic to interact albeit remotely as a filler not to replace face to face because I still personally that there's a lot of value in that even from an interaction point of view and the spark you get but nonetheless, this has been a like you say it's accelerated the need for everyone to think about this tech. So it's probably been quite a positive thing.

Paul: Yeah. I think there's more positives than there are negatives. And for the negatives, it's about, okay, well, how can we overcome those? Yeah, no I agree. So getting a bit more to the personal Adrian, so the other thing is that you're, you're a bit of a harlequins nutter from what I can gather. And obviously that's as a club, that's been an extraordinary sort of feeder for England. I was actually, funnily enough, looking up and I'd forgotten that Will Carling came out of yeah, Harlequins, I've got a signed rugby shirt up there from sometime back but Jason Leonard and you know, Mike Brown and others, etc. But tell us a bit about that because are you involved at a broader level in the rugby world. Or is it as a fan?

Adrian: Well as a fan these days, very much as a fan these days. But yeah, Harlequins is my kind of happy place. I think being in the stoop. So yeah, I do enjoy, I do enjoy trying to get as many home games and a few away games. Maybe not coming off our best season, but hey can't have everything.

But yeah, it's still a, it's still a great game. It's a great club and yeah, thoroughly, thoroughly enjoy it. I thought, I've always you know I've always been a bit of a rugby fan from my yeah, much younger years playing and that continues and yeah, being, following the Quins is a good outlet but.

Paul: You know I get that, I get that and the one question as well that I I always like to ask at the end of these things if it's okay because we could chat a lot more but if you had to give yourself your younger self one piece of advice with all day experience you've now got locked up in that big old brain can you think of what it might be.

Adrian: There's got to be something about yeah but just to don't be limited by- don't be limited by the horizon that you can see look beyond there because there's a massive world out there and there's a massive world of opportunity. And I think, you know, whether that's, whether that's like very broad or even if I was thinking about that in the context of like insurance, you know, don't be limited by your horizon because there are so many opportunities in the market segment.

So many great opportunities. So yeah, don't be limited. I would think is what I'd say. And I guess by posing that question like that, my reflection is probably for a few years, I probably when I reflect back I probably allowed I probably allowed that horizon I could see to limit me, but not for too long and I'm glad I stepped over it.

Paul: Yeah. Fantastic, fantastic. Listen, Adrian, thanks so much for your time. Really appreciate it. I hope people have got more of an insight into Adrian Saunders and Ecclesiastical.

Adrian: Paul thank you. I really enjoyed it. Thanks very much.


Originally posted on 30 06 23
Last updated on September 6, 2023

Posted by: Paul Holland

CEO and Founder of Beyond Encryption, Paul is an expert on digital identity, fintech, cyber security, and business. As a key driver behind the development of Webline, one of the UK’s most well-known comparison engines, Paul has vast experience in developing digital technologies and bringing them to market. Through Beyond Encryption’s Mailock, nigel and AssureScore solutions, he aims to make a positive impact by helping regulated businesses engage with customers while keeping their data secure.

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