Start up support
British SME: Could you start by giving me an overview of Axa’s offering to SMEs
Darrell Sansom: Axa has been providing solutions to small businesses for a number of years. What we see, particularly in the micro sector – up to nine employees – and particularly trades and professionals is a month on month increase in searches through Google for business insurance policies. And combined with the feedback we were getting led us to believe there was a very strong appetite for an online experience.
There remained issues over the flexibility of the product and confidence in buying online. If you take home insurance, for example, there’s a belief that one policy is very much like another, therefore people feel competent enough to buy it. That’s different when it comes to commercial insurance. It’s about what do I need, how much do I need, when do I need it. And there’s less understanding of what different products do. So there was a belief that buying business insurance is complex.
So we’ve tried to remove those inhibitors to allow our customers to fulfil their requirements, and that’s what we’ve done with the investment in our new website.
BSME: What’s your involvement with StartUp Britain?
Sansom: The current economic climate means there are fewer options available for people. So people coming out of school or university are finding there are fewer jobs available, so starting a business becomes a real option. Then the larger companies are contracting, so you have people who come out with a bit of a redundancy payment and are looking for other options. So what we’re seeing is a community looking for a solution and we’re trying to support them in starting up a business and making it successful.
These people are experts in what they do, but they are not experts in being a business – a builder may be a great builder but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be great at running a builder’s business. You may not have the first idea of the need for employers’ liability insurance because you’ve never had to worry about it. And if you can get a new business through their first year, there’s a significant chance they will continue to flourish. We’re the insurance experts within this field but the role is wider than that – it’s about how we can support small firms get up and running.
BSME: From the research you’ve done, are there particular areas where start ups are failing?
Sansom: The biggest issue is cashflow – it can stop a business functioning. The business may be successful but if you can’t get the money in, money out stream correct, the business will grind to a halt. In terms of what people worry about, insurance actually comes quite far down the list – you’ve got regulation, employment law, tax – all the usual issues if you’re running a business.
BSME: And because the focus of a business is running that business, responsibilities like doing the accounts and so on tend to be done outside office hours – which makes having the option of buying products online more important
Sansom: From our point of view, we have all this online education, but if people still want to talk to us they can pick up the phone. So we have an advice team based in Glasgow who if at any part during the journey can be contacted by clients.
BSME: When it comes to the online offering, you have a very difficult balance to strike – the requirements of, say, a plumber, will be very different from those of someone who offers secretarial services?
Sansom: For the last 20 years or so, we’ve allowed businesses to pick from menu of the type of business that fits closest to what they do. So if you’re a plumber, you pick plumber. But our customers have been calling and saying, well I am a plumber, but my business also does a bit of this, and I don’t have any dealings in that. And that makes it more difficult to put people in a box. So to give people a better experience, we now allow people to describe their business much more fully, they can explain what they offer, whether they have assets, employees, where they work and so on. And that means your policy is a much better fit for you.
BSME: Do you feel that people broadly understand what they need before they come to you?
Sansom: Our online journey means we now have a significant amount of people who are confident about buying online. Those that do pick up the phone are usually looking for some comfort that they’ve got it right. There is a spectrum but what we have seen is that significantly more people are comfortable buying online.
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