Hollard chief on fixing general insurance

  • By Andrew Starke

Richard Enthoven, CEO of Hollard Insurance, blames a boarding school upbringing for his distrust of authority and argues he is probably not the best CEO for the insurer now that it has grown beyond challenger status.

In a candid address as part of the AB+F Randstad Leaders Lecture series in Sydney on Thursday night, Enthoven (pictured) happily tackled the big issues facing the general insurance industry: rapidly-changing regulatory and community expectations and the rise of disruptors.

“We are facing many pressures from the community that we deal with and that we are a part of, from our formal and informal regulators, from our customers and from potential fintech competitors,” he said.

“And these pressures, while valid in their own right, are often pulling us in different directions and, frankly, they are impossible to reconcile. Collectively, we as a community will need to prioritise which of these pressures or agendas are most important.

“My thesis is that while the industry has the capacity to face any of the challenges we face, it’s going to really struggle to face them all simultaneously.”

Mixed messages

According to Enthoven, this leaves the insurance industry needing to thoughtfully articulate the trade-offs to the wider community to consolidate a common vision. He conceded that the insurance industry globally has done a “very poor” job of explaining its social purpose.

“All the actual hard evidence (in Australia) suggests that we are delivering a very good outcome,” he said.

“But that is not the community’s perception. Fixing these things take time and they are not assisted by the litany of reviews and inquiries and commissions that we have been subject to and are subject to at the moment.

“There is no doubt that the facts and the perception are different and getting that message across should be the first order of business.”

Enthoven is an enthusiastic proponent of self-regulation as one would expect from an executive who was in March this year named deputy president of the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) after being appointed to the ICA board late last year.

Best candidate?

Disruption is also in his blood to the extent that the Hollard Insurance CEO has no qualms about walking away from the top job at the company he brought to Australia in 1999 if - as he suspects - he is no longer the best candidate to take the company forward.

“Personally, I am probably temperamentally and emotionally better suited to being a challenger. I went to boarding school as a seven-year old so I have a deep distrust of authority and rules!” he said.

“I take great pleasure in saying ‘no’ and doing what you’re not supposed to do. So it goes to who is the best CEO for our business in an environment where by definition we are too big to be a challenger and it is probably no longer I.

"That is something that I will need to address and our board will need to address in due course.”

For full coverage of Enthoven’s address as part of the AB+F Randstad Leader's Lecture series, see the October issue of AB+F Magazine.