To launch our new In Profile series, where The Fintech Times sits down with an industry leader once a month. In this profile, Editor-in-Chief Gina Clarke chats to the CEO of Confused.com, Louise O’Shea.
Louise is the driving force behind a multitude of new products over the last few months, taking the business past a £1bn revenue milestone and doubling the company’s profit within two years of taking over as CEO.
She is also a founding board member of Fintech Wales, the home of Confused.com.
Tell me about becoming the CEO of Confused.com and what changes you’ve made
I became the CEO of Confused.com in September 2017, at the time the results were the worst they had been for a very long time. And it was very clear to me that not only did the financial performance need to improve but also as a team, the way we were structured, what we focused on as well as the culture. With that in mind from 2017 to where we are now, we’ve had significant growth. And I always think that growth really strongly correlates to financial performance so if people are happy, they love what they do, and if they’re engaged in what they’re doing, then the results of the company will reflect that. So, it’s been a very busy three years. And we’ve had a number of challenges. But obviously none so big as 2020.
Still, we’ve had a strong year. Naturally, during times of crisis and economic uncertainty people want to save money, and that’s exactly why Confused.com exists. It’s to empower people to make better decisions and better decisions means not just the right product but also the very best price. We have saved over 5 billion pounds for our customers over the last 10 years.
Since coronavirus, have you seen a particular sector or category that has gone through considerable change?
Absolutely, in the first lockdown we were off the road so more people weren’t driving. We all know that we’re also in our homes more, so we’ve seen lots of moving factors that we can attribute back to that initial period.
And if you think back to March, we were all looking for new travel insurances that included covid-19 cover and then we couldn’t travel. We all wanted life insurance, and then we couldn’t actually get life insurance because you had to go get a medical and it wasn’t easy to see a doctor. So there were these huge jumps. You couldn’t go and buy a car, which meant the part of our population who looked for car insurance just disappeared. But then, we had a big surge in van insurance. Everybody was suddenly a delivery driver.
From our side, it was really interesting to observe what was happening, in terms of customer behaviour and changing customer needs. However, we also we saw a huge increase in confusion, and so we created a coronavirus hub where we took all the questions from customers that we were getting on the phones or on email, and we collected those and gave the answers back out to say, “No, you don’t have to add your business cover to your home insurance just because you’re now working from home and it’s not your main place of work”. We tried to answer all those different questions for them because if people were uncertain, then they were scared and it wasn’t easy.
This was completely uncharted territory for a lot of people so the more we could help, the better – and not just our customers, the other side is that our partners such as insurance companies with huge call centres were suddenly faced with hundreds of staff working from home who couldn’t answer the phones anymore. As we’re a marketplace we had it from both sides, it was a big challenge for my team to do that while having their kids running around in the background.
Going back to March, what sort of position were you in when the first lockdown occurred, did your strategy change as a result?
We were very privileged because we’re obviously part of Penguin Portals, and one of their businesses is in Spain. And if you remember, Spain was a couple of weeks ahead of the UK, in terms of how the virus hit. This meant that we were probably about two weeks ahead in our thinking. We already had all of our staff working from home before they had to officially. Then I got my senior management team together to create a physical war room and actually have the conversation “what do we do next?”. The whole meeting room was covered in flip chart pages with our strategy. Our focus was really strongly linked to customers and their needs, which meant that actually, we haven’t had to change it too much since. I made the decision that the team should still carry on with any big projects as this wasn’t going to be over in a couple of months.
And actually, we saw it as an opportunity for us to work the way we’d always wanted to – with a more remote-led model. We had to be more flexible with hitting deadlines but our direction of travel was strong to begin with and although there was this initial phase where we spent a lot of time on extra content, it wasn’t a big strategic shift.
How did your systems cope with the move to work from home?
We’re a big tech and data company which accounts for 50% of our team, even our marketing is more technology and data-driven so it wasn’t new processes that we had to adopt, it was just different review processes and methodology that we had to respond to.
You’ve probably heard the words all before but we are very agile, nimble and very much data-driven so we’re on top of that on a day to day basis.
Absolutely. I think the biggest one as I already mentioned was just seeing the confusion that people were facing and recognising that there were headlines at the time, ‘My business insurance is not paying out – Am I covered?’. And so just really dialling up that in those situations, it’s less about finding the best price, more about certainty. The more that we could do to help customers in those situations, the better. Which is probably why the coronavirus hub was at one point getting 850% more traffic than a typical page.
Where do you think 2021 might lead us?
I think that most insurers will use data in order to optimise their prices and get better prices out there. Before, it was so hard to explain that you were on furlough for instance, the traditional models just didn’t cater for it.
Now we’re in a very privileged position where we can have those forward-thinking conversations to challenge the way that insurers are thinking about how they’re returning prices to customers. We want to make sure that customers aren’t penalised for a situation that is not of their making.
How do you find working with industry giants in insurance?
We have some great partnerships, but the customers are our focus. I’ve always said, wherever you are in Confused.com if you’ve spotted something that doesn’t feel right, and you wouldn’t be happy if somebody did that to your granny or your Mum, then put your hand up. And I think it’s been interesting over the years for our partners to say, “You’re the only one that’s asking us about this. You’re the only one that’s getting upset and forcing us to make a change”. And I’m proud of that. I think it’s a good badge of honour and no it doesn’t always commercially benefit but I think it’s important to sleep well at night.
Your parent group has just been acquired by RVU, part of the Zoopla family, how do you feel about that?
It’s really genuinely exciting. We recognise very much that our cultures and purpose are very aligned. We’re both all about empowering customers to make better decisions so there’s a lot of alignment on those kind of core points which I think is really important when you become part of a different group. And then, to me the other pieces are around complementary skills, and what can we learn from each other.
What would you say is your proudest achievement as CEO?
For me, when I look across the whole organisation I’m most proud that we continue to push harder on all fronts. Some of the things that we’re doing in the marketing space are just so incredible. The team is continuously testing and trying new things across the tech space.
The enthusiasm with which they’ve embraced making some big strategic fundamental changes to the architecture, which those who have done a re-arch know is not something to do lightly. And the design that we’ve been doing around a very customer-centric approach which will be rolled out in the next 12 months or so, as well as all the new products that we brought to market recently.
Our attitude that we have internally is that it’s not about paying to come to Confused.com, it’s about making sure we’re easy to access. For example, we power Quidco in their insurance comparison, but we’re also on Alexa and Facebook Messenger. And then the other one for me is about the fact that we are very strong on insurance – it means we’re completely boring at parties, but we know that our customers need financial products. And so we have just launched a remortgage product, because of the regulatory change we have been able to provide simple products such as a comparison tool.
But most of all I’m proud of our team. Our home is in Cardiff, Wales – although it’s a fantastic office that we haven’t see very much of recently. Still, I think we can continue to do great things no matter the circumstances.