by Elizabeth Harrin (London)
Amanda Blanc chose insurance from the start. After leaving university in 1989 she joined the Commercial Union graduate training scheme. Since then she’s become Chief Executive of Towergate Retail Division at Towergate Partnership Limited, Europe’s largest independently owned insurance intermediary.
She might be at the top of her game now, but she knows what it is like on the shop floor. After the graduate training scheme she took a management role at the Commercial Union branch in Leeds and then became the youngest-ever and first female branch manager, managing the Leicester branch. While she was at Commercial Union she was encouraged to complete a Master of Business Administration degree, and has become an advocate of advanced business education for her team.
And her team has grown over the years. From leading a Commercial Union branch, she took responsibility for managing a regional team of 470 staff at AXA. Now she’s responsible for 3000 people in 60 locations. This is the role all that leg work was leading up to: she was appointed as CEO of Towergate’s UK Broking Division in 2006 while she was 3 months pregnant with her second child. Since she took the job, gross earnings at Towergate have grown by 64% and she has introduced ground-breaking new programmes for applying consistent standards and for revitalising customer interaction.
These have been huge change programs, and it takes a lot of effort to keep initiatives like that on track. The key, says Amanda, is in ensuring that what you are trying to do stacks up. “Everyone you have working on it must believe in it passionately,” she says.
During her career Amanda has noticed changes regarding the number of women in insurance management. “There are definitely more, but not enough!” she says. Insurance has suffered from a poor reputation – both for women and men – with the industry being seen as dull and grey-suited. However, the public perception of insurance broking may not have changed much but inside the organisations there is a definite shift. “At Groupama, my whole team was female,” Amanda says, “and the dynamic produced a very different feeling about the place!” While the numbers of women in the sector are growing they are often found in call centers or in administrative back office functions, and broking hasn’t had the influx of women that other areas of insurance have benefited from, which makes Amanda’s achievements even more notable.
Amanda plays a very active role in ensuring that talented women in insurance get the promotion and recognition they deserve and, as the only female board member in one of the leading insurance groups in UK insurance, she uses her high profile to put over this message as strongly as possible. “Just be as good as you can be and the rest will follow,” she says, adding, “I have never encountered discrimination.”
Amanda is also active in the Chartered Insurance Institute, the world’s leading professional organisation for those working in the insurance and financial services industry with over 90,000 members. She also sits on the Insurance Broking Faculty Board. Being involved with a professional organisation is a good way to get exposure to other people in your industry, network and get known.
Amanda recently won the insurance category Women in the City award, endorsed by The-Women’s-Insurance-Net-Work. “Winning the insurance category is a real honour,” Amanda says. “I hope it sends out a signal to all the women working in this largely male-dominated world that good female managers can make a difference to the culture and that we’re going to see more and more women graduates joining us and rising to the top jobs.”