Dame Inga Beale led a five-year technology transformation process within Lloyd's of London that resulted in 40% of its business being processed digitally. But she encountered plenty of resistance to modernisation plans
Dame Inga Beale sat at the helm of the Lloyd’s of London insurance market as it underwent a radical transformation from paper to digital between 2013 and 2018, but faced many issues as CEO. She told her story during a keynote speech at the Infosecurity Europe conference in London, with Peter Littlejohns in attendance
Inside the industry, the Lloyd’s of London insurance market is often regarded as a bit of a dinosaur.
While is it steeped in charming traditions such as placing “waiters” in tailcoats to greet visitors outside its building in the City – as they did when Lloyd’s was a 17th century coffee shop – it remains a mostly paper-based organisation.
So when Dame Inga Beale was charged with bringing new technology into the marketplace after joining as CEO in 2013, she wasn’t prepared for the weight of the task she had taken on.
“I had a huge wall of resistance to my vision of modernisation and introducing technology.
“I also had decades of failed attempts by my predecessors, some of who had lost their jobs because of spending billions and not succeeding in introducing technology,” she says.
“This didn’t put me off. I thought ‘I’ve got to do this and I’m going to do this’, and so I made it my mission.
“But there were some things I knew I needed to do regardless of the technology introduction to reduce the complexity within Lloyd’s.
“I thought, ‘if we operate in the existing hierarchy, I’m never going to get this moving because I’m never going to go past all of the decision points that we’ve built up over centuries’.”
Now retired from the position, and replaced at the end of last year by current CEO John Neal, Dame Inga acts as a board member across several organisations and serves as board director for London First – a business campaign group fighting to revoke Article 50 and avoid a “cliff-edge Brexit”.
Dame Inga Beale’s appointment as CEO was a ‘culture shock’ to employees
When Dame Inga recalls how it wasn’t just the practices within the firm that were outdated when she arrived in 2013, but the culture of the workplace too.
One key aspect that stood in the way of her plan to modernise was its traditional hierarchical employee structure.
She says: “I somehow didn’t realise that moving into Lloyd’s could be so different to all the other insurers I’d worked with over the previous 37 years.
“When I arrived and I moved into the CEO’s office, what was interesting to me is that the only windows in this office were located on the outside.
“So I had a beautiful view of St Paul’s Cathedral, but not one employee had a view of me, because the other walls and the door were solid.”
As well as the architecture playing a role in the hierarchy at Lloyd’s, Dame Inga says her predecessor’s staff would only attend meetings when they were summoned, rather than adhering to the times they were set.
“In my first few days, I sat there in my office, with the door open, waiting for the first meeting – but the guy didn’t show up,” she adds.
“After ten minutes or so I started to get irritated. I was the new CEO, after all.
“So I went to find him and tell him I was ready, and he acted surprised – but we had our meeting.
“After this happened several more times with the other members of my executive committee, I got even more irritated, so when the next one arrived, I asked ‘why do you never turn up to meetings on time? Why am I having to drag you into it every time?’
“For them, this was a complete culture shock, because my predecessor had sat there, with the door closed, and the only time they came to the meeting was because his PA phoned them up and said ‘now he’s ready to see you’.
“I managed to knock down the hierarchy and get the entire executive committee to sit out with all of the other employees in an open-plan office – this is how we started to change the culture.”
Dame Inga Beale quickly found out what not to change
Being at the helm of Lloyd’s means bearing responsibility for the smooth operation of the world-famous underwriting space the organisation refers to as “the room”.
About 4,000 people enter the room every day, £100m in premiums are logged there and it facilitates more than £50m in claims pay-outs.
But despite the enormity of this responsibility, Dame Beale says getting employees behind her vision of modernising Lloyd’s wasn’t as easy as relying on her seniority as CEO – so she took a different approach to challenging the status quo.
“However senior you are in your organisation, it’s never as easy as thinking it’ll happen just because you said so,” she says.
“I started a blog that I wrote every week about my first 100 days, and this is about the limit I thought I could blog every week – but I ended up doing it for the whole time I was there because it became so popular and people wanted to know what I was thinking.
“But the reason I started it was to challenge, in a safe way, all of the people working there to say ‘come up with your ideas, come up with what you think needs to be changed’.
“First of all, I found out all the things that shouldn’t be changed. The main thing I was told was ‘you can’t get rid of the waiters’, so we kept them.”
Dame Inga Beale included employees in the transformation to take away the fear of change
Implementing technology in any business can lead to huge gains in efficiency, but it can also spark fear among employees that they’ll soon be replaced by machines.
Dame Inga found this was one of the biggest obstacles in her modernising mission at Lloyd’s.
She says: “I realised there was so much nervousness around the place and this real fear, instead of the excitement I was feeling about using technology and fundamentally changing the way the market worked.
“We consulted with thousands of people, and at the beginning, my board got a little bit frustrated, thinking I was taking too long.
“But I said ‘no, I need to engage thousands of people’, because I could see how worried they were about what the new technology was going to do to their jobs and their futures.
One of her biggest surprises was the reluctance some of the younger employees displayed when she engaged them..
“A key learning came when I consulted the under-30s because some of them were even more scared than perhaps those a bit further on in their careers, because they had just started out and felt that if they weren’t tech-savvy, they wouldn’t survive,” she adds.
The modernising process followed a pragmatic approach, starting with 16 work streams that were met with confusion from employees.
It was then cut down to just four after Dame Inga consulted an advisory board of market CEOs.
She says: “At the time, I wanted to resist it, but it was the right thing to do because we got true focus, and after starting to build little modules of technology, the first one went live within budget and faster than anticipated.
“As soon as we’d had some quick wins like that, we started to get people really engaged, but our mantra was ‘step by step’.
Although Lloyd’s hasn’t yet got rid of paper entirely, by the end of last year it had 40% of insurance contracts within the market placed electronically.
Dame Inga’s successor Mr Neal hopes to take the modernisation even further, by reaching 80% by the end of this year.
Dame Inga Beale found that modernisation can only go so far
Dame Inga had renewed zeal in her mission after experiencing the initial success of introducing the first few elements of new technology, and decided to tackle the culture of the institution – starting with the dress code.
In Lloyd’s, men have to wear a suit and tie, and they aren’t allowed to take their jackets off.
Dame Inga recalls: “I’d seen a seven-year-old boy come in when we started to allow people to bring their kids to work, and he asked ‘why is everybody wearing a school uniform?’”
Seeing this as a wake-up call to make Lloyd’s an environment that attracted a new type of modern and dynamic employee, she tried to remedy this.
“That was a step too far, and the barrage of resistance to relaxing the dress code hit me straight away,” she adds.
“I also learned this with the banning of drinking alcohol at lunch time, which got more media attention in countries around the world than anything else I did, as well as a complete backlash inside the company.”
Despite the backlash, her drinking ban only covered about 800 employees.
In the wake of recent claims that sexual harassment and a culture of sexism are prevalent within the institution, Mr Neal has upped the ante by banning anybody found “under the influence” from the building.
The new CEO has also continued the fight to relax the dress code, with staff and visitors now allowed to forego a tie with their suits.
But as the oldest insurance market marches toward its next digitisation target, the waiters still greet them at the door.