How to Identify and Build a Non-Executive Director (NED) portfolio: Rob Smale

The Claims sector continues to evolve and adapt in the ever-changing Insurance landscape.


I have recently interviewed Rob Smale on: How to Identify and Build a Non-Executive Director (NED) portfolio.

Rob Smale is currently Non-Executive Director at three companies – Claims Consortium Group, e2e Total Loss Vehicle Management & Halo ARC.

Rob was, until this year, the Transformation Director at Ageas UK.  Prior to that Rob was Claims Director at Ageas for 13 years. Originally a mining engineer Rob joined Aviva in 1996 and became Director of Claims for its direct arm.  In 2003 he moved to Ageas where he helped lead its rapid growth including the establishment of an entirely new claims function for Tesco Underwriting.  He was responsible for disrupting the motor and home supply chains with the Solution Centre and Solution Network concepts respectively.  Whilst at Ageas Rob’s team won over 30 industry awards and gained a reputation for innovation which included one of the first applications of artificial intelligence in the claims space.  In his time at Ageas Rob was on the Supervisory Board of the Insurance Fraud Bureau and a founder ambassador of I Love Claims.



What was your motivation to consider building a NED portfolio?

I had the opportunity to leave corporate life and wanted to build a different sort of work life balance for myself and my family. In my career I have held leadership positions in insurance and engineering companies and have been fortunate enough to study an MBA and attend courses in places like Wharton, London Business School and INSEAD. I hope that some of the experience and knowledge can be of use to companies in the claims supply chain and claim tech fields. So, motivation – Keep occupied, contribute and have fun!


How do you identify companies that suit your experience and outlook on the market?

That’s a great question. In my role as Claims Director I took a special interest in the motor and home claims supply chains. They are the people who ultimately deliver to the customer. It’s my feeling that my skills were best offered in this arena. My last corporate role was as a Transformation Director. In this role I worked with businesses in the fields of RPA and AI and grew to understand how these technologies could be applied within an insurance business. Thus, am also talking to technology or digital businesses as well.


What do you see as the role of a NED?

When in doubt consult the Institute of Directors for an answer to this. Summarising the IOD says:-

“Non-executive directors are expected to focus on board matters and not stray into ‘executive direction’, thus providing an independent view of the company that is removed from the day-to-day running. NEDs, then, are appointed to the board to bring:

  • Independence
  • Impartiality
  • wide experience
  • special knowledge
  • personal qualities”


Does that vary with different organisations you work with?

Definitely, yes. Businesses will be in different stages of development and maturity and be seeking different nuances to the above definition. It’s important during the “courtship” period between a NED and a company that there is a transparent and frank dialogue about expectations and capability.


Where do you feel a NED can add most value?

It’s important to do an assessment of the needs of the company and agree with the other directors how best to exercise the role of NED. NEDs have experience and knowledge and can help the company “remember the future”. That can be to bring challenge at both strategic and tactical levels. It can also be to bring rigour to the risk and compliance aspects of being a claims supplier or technology provider.


Typically how much time do you commit to each company?

Contractually a typical engagement can be as few as 4 days attending quarterly board meeting to a day a month on a broader remit. In reality, double those numbers especially if you are having fun. You can’t resist I find.


Are there common traits across the businesses you work with?

In that they serve the insurance customer on behalf of insurers, definitely. In addition, the “business of business” is pretty universal. Things like :-

  • Winning and then servicing customers effectively and efficiently
  • Building a sustainable business that can withstand the rapid changes in the claims field and beyond
  • Recruiting and retaining skilled people
  • Keeping abreast of technological advances
  • Running a tight ship
  • Dealing with suppliers, consumers, regulators etc
  • And of course, looking after cashflow are common traits of all businesses regardless of size or activity.


How do you prevent a conflict of interest?

 I decided that I would only work with one business in a particular field at a time. In addition, I am transparent with my portfolio as additions are being discussed.


What advice what you give to someone looking to build a NED portfolio?

 Remember to have fun and that you don’t know everything. You will learn as much if not more than you impart.


Claims Market:

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the claims sector?

Perennially the purpose of claims teams is to contain cost whilst providing fair and reasonable settlement of legitimate claims. Challenges to that purpose come in many forms but can be grouped into claims cost inflation, internal expense inflation, customer expectation, fraud, technological change and regulatory change. There is a pretty long list of things keeping claims directors up at night as there always will be. For me the top 10 would be: personal injury costs, home and motor repair costs, growing complexity of assets insured, weather impacts, pressure to digitise, fraud, data analysis and protection, climate awareness and recycling, customer trust and regulation. Claims directors will also see large parts of their operations digitized. This could see chunks of the claims value chain managed outside the claims leadership group.


What do you see as the greatest opportunity?

 The companies that can seamlessly integrate digital technology and human effort have a great opportunity to reshape how insurance subsequent claims are done. To achieve this many old habits and assumptions will need to be discarded. We will see companies tinker at the edge and do things like try and operate fantastic FNOL and ENOL systems with a back office held together with string and sticky tape. We will also see companies who maintain the traditional products, company structures, silos and ways of doing things that were created to manage complex businesses with human brain power alone. To do the same old thing with the range of new technology coming on stream would be such a waste. For me the key to winning in what is very likely to be a highly digitally enabled market will lie in having the right skilled people being led by the right skilled and imaginative leaders within corporate structures that match the 21st century and which are not copied from the pages of 19th and 20th century management books. In short, a huge cultural and mindset change for the C suite and senior leaders to face into.


Any other topical issues – Brexit, etc.

For me, Brexit and the “Greta Thunberg Effect” will be major influences over the next decade. I can’t even imagine what post Brexit looks like and it’s so divisive an issue I am not even going to risk commenting. The second influence is concern for the planet. We have seen a teenage girl mobilise opinion and shape the debate. She has even influenced people’s behaviours. Insurers and their claims teams will be under unrelenting pressure to act in a way that contributes to efforts to reduce the harm we do to the planet. They will need to examine how they settle claims. For example, consider reuse of repaired materials rather than replacing with new materials or parts. In motor that would be reducing the number of total loss vehicles and reusing the parts from those whose fate is the reclamation yard. In home, considering the methods of repair with an eye to impacts beyond the claim in front of them. Great people augmented by technology will be the key to sustainable success in future. I fear however that the value of people will be lost in a rush to cut costs.


Right International are specialist Headhunters to the Claims Management/Insurance market and have extensive experience of supporting Claims Management companies and Insurers, recruiting key individuals as part of the initial senior management team. We also have a successful track record of sourcing the top talent for market leading Insurance companies. If you are looking to fill a key role, please contact me to discuss how RI can help.


If you have any ideas for future articles and would like to be involved, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback.


Please look out for more leadership blogs coming soon!


All the best,

Gary Pike

Founder & MD

Right International Insurance Headhunters

At Right International our specialty is sourcing the top achievers for the Insurance Market. Get in touch.


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