The Role of a Leader – Chris Chatterton, handl Group
I’ve recently interviewed several Executives from a number of leading insurance organisations, discussing the role of a leader and other topical issues.
Today’s interview is with Chris Chatterton, Chief Commercial Officer at handl Group (companies include Coplus, Cobalt, Coporé, MLA and Speed Medical).
- Chris Chatterton joined the Group in 2010.
- Chris began his career at Tate and Lyle, joining a graduate training scheme within Marketing, and went on to successfully launch UK household name brands into the USA and Canada.
- Returning to the UK, he joined the RAC as Head of Corporate Marketing followed by a tenure at European software business, CCC International, as Chief Operating Officer, before taking up the role of Managing Director of Helphire.
- Chris served seven years as Commercial Director at Tier One MedCo medical reporting agency, Speed Medical, followed by his tenure as MD at MLA. His core focus on strategic acquisitions and developing partnerships has brought significant growth to handl Group in his current role of Chief Commercial Officer.
What was your journey into working in the insurance sector?
As is often the case, I didn’t set out specifically to work in this industry. After studying Science at University, I spent a year on an industry placement studying for a PhD and realised that science really wasn’t for me and fell out of love with it.
From there, I commenced a new route, undertaking a graduate training scheme with Tate & Lyle, which involved marketing and product launches. From here my passion for marketing and business development grew, and I moved on to the RAC, where I worked on its key B2B offerings to the motor insurance industry, giving me my first entry into the insurance space.
Later I joined Carter & Carter as Marketing Director to look after their insurer consulting and outsourcing programmes, with brands such as AXA, Eagle Star and RSA and then joined the US software giant CCC to set up their European subsidiaries in the UK, Spain and Germany. After CCC, I spent a year running a business angel investment fund looking to invest in early-stage businesses in the automotive space. That was a key learning experience and I came away with a deeper understanding that investing in and buying companies is much more than great ideas, products and services – it’s also about the team of people who work within that business, having a capable management function and understanding the dynamics in the market where they trade. I then spent 8 years with Helphire Group plc and held several senior sales and marketing roles and became MD of the UK operation.
Finally, from there I joined the handl Group board and have been with the Group for 10 years, focusing on strategic acquisitions and developing partnerships. Handl Group is a portfolio of brands providing services to the insurance, legal and healthcare markets, comprised of a mixture of start-ups and established market leaders.
Can you go into detail about your acquisition strategy? Has this grown organically or has that been a product of design?
In all honesty, I find that a successful acquisition strategy consists of both of those things. On one hand, we have an idea of what would work well, creating synergies with our existing brands and bringing more innovative products and services into the Group, and on the other hand, it’s also about being open to unexpected opportunities that arise and allowing a more organic approach. Being open to new opportunities gives you more ideas of how you can improve, and I think this approach continues to serve us well – strategic but also opportunistic.
One thing that is a product of design is our search for businesses that already operate in the insurance sector that offer complementary services, adding value to what we already do. Fundamentally, we’re trying to establish a ‘one-stop-shop’ for insurers to work with us so we can offer an end-to-end solution, or break that offering into parts to create a bespoke solution for their motor and personal injury work.
We look at businesses that potentially have some contracts with insurers that we think we can make better. We consider how we could add value to what they do: How could we enhance the services they provide and accelerate business growth? Our strategy is always striving to be cost-effective yet efficient, and we expect our acquisitions to be able to provide increased efficiencies and complement the wider Group.
What does a good acquisition look like to you?
A good acquisition takes into consideration several factors and involves honesty and transparency in all areas. We’re interested in partnering with businesses where we can gain a strong management team committed to growing the business with us, and where we can easily see how we can add value and deliver benefits to that business, established through due diligence.
For developing handl Group’s existing portfolio, we look at the claims space in its entirety – historically we almost exclusively focused on motor but now we are looking much broader since developing a deeper understanding that every type of claim is the same and follows the same process, and a good acquisition strategy takes each company upon its own merit.
A good acquisition truly considers the whole claims experience, from front end to back end, bearing in mind any disruptive new ideas within tech and innovation, and how the company works together to provide a seamless supply chain.
One of our companies (Claimspace) is a great example of taking a fresh view and changing the format – taking out litigation and turning to arbitration. Some of our other brands take calls, deploy services, provide services, all at the front of the claims.
When it comes to the back end of the claim – paying, sorting who pays final bills, sorting claims reserves, TP claims, defending those claims, ensuring the right people are paying the right people. With our wide repertoire, it means that when an insurer comes and says they want to outsource services, we can do more for them. That’s the piece of the puzzle we’re now interested in getting into further.
What about the people involved in those companies? What do you look for?
People are the key to success, which is why you need to invest in them and enable them to thrive and grow. We look for commitment and drive in the people involved, as it’s important in the scope of acquisition to identify subject matter experts as it’s integral to not lose that expertise.
Unfortunately, sometimes the owners are looking to leave after being acquired, so you need to ensure knowledge and customer relations are maintained or transferred to others in the business. One company we looked into is owned by a man who wants to sell it but doesn’t run it, and the two people who do the day to day managing of the company just aren’t strong enough. In these cases, often the partnership cannot work and we would perhaps not look to acquire if the key person intends to leave.
How has your role changed in recent years?
I‘ve taken a step back from the sales team and commercial targets, to turn to consultancy, tending to look at the overall direction of sales, products, and from a Group perspective, how the sales teams can work together and improve that. I spend more time now looking for opportunities and trends in the market-place, thinking about what things we should be doing next, with a much less operational direction.
With a constant rise in technology over recent years, my role has demanded more attention to the understanding of tech and how it can replace people-based services, how people regard human expertise, and how people can be enhanced by tech. A key example of this is FNOL and ENOL and getting the right mix. By using electronic methods of communication after an initial phone call, updates are then electronic, which our findings indicate is our users’ preferred method of correspondence.
Another example is complex claims, where there is lots of discussion over fault. They are currently provided by experienced claims teams but could potentially be handled by big data and machine learning. My role now involves adapting to and embracing changes and making consistent decisions for the good of all parties.
How has tech enhanced your business/acquisition strategy?
Often when we are in talks with new businesses, the proposition of AI and technology in services tends to get insurers’ attention, more so than supply chains and standard processes. Companies are always keen to talk about how tech can solve current problems they have.
In truth, we are more interested in investing in startups where tech is an emerging idea that would enhance services we already provide and we can reengineer to – backing development of tech rather than buying established tech.
The technology a business utilises doesn’t necessarily have to be its own, and I’ve come to realise our strategy can be enhanced just as successfully when we embrace and develop upon the best tech that is already available to the market, deploying it in a different way that makes what you do unique. Others can develop tech that you can use. In repair, we’re using best in class technology to improve the way we deploy and manage motor claims, through the use of our business Cobalt.
How do you approach problem-solving in the insurance sector?
Well, if we take the upcoming Civil Liability changes – generally speaking, we’ve got legislation changing the way claims are run, and insurers will have to cope with that and supply services in different ways. The major problem is that no one is absolutely clear as up to now the rules are fairly vague and there are different interpretations of what’s going to happen.
Some are trying to do everything themselves, some are keen to outsource specific things, and some are looking for help. Our approach is to act fast and be leaders within the new legislations, underpinning what they could need so we can engage with them about their issues and build services around that. Our aim is to have clear objectives within everything we do and adapt our supply services within good time to the changing rules.
What is the greatest opportunity for you and your portfolio of businesses?
We’ve built a diverse portfolio of businesses – some that are new, innovative and disruptive and others that have a strong heritage and experience who understand each market, the challenges within them and what needs to change. This has allowed us to create a group of businesses that collaborate, bringing together ideas, experience and technology to disrupt markets and help each business deliver on its true potential.
Utilising the synergies within the portfolio brands in securing major contracts with insurers, the greatest opportunity for us is how technology can revolutionise the industry. For example, a great opportunity for us with handl brand Cobalt is to sell Cobalt’s services and secure major outsourcing contracts in car repairs.
Personally, I think another major opportunity for us would be to disrupt the private medical space by securing EQL’s health tech solutions, such as Phio (initially providing an agile triage tool that signposts users to suitable MSK care pathways) with a major insurer – that may well not be in the motor sphere, it might be someone like AXA PPP – and provide access to tech piece but then also all the hands-on mental and physical therapies.
What are the key benefits to working in the area of acquisition?
There’s a lot of networking involved in business development and acquisition. This gets you introduced to peers, businesses who are thinking of selling, who’re building things, who’s going places, introducing new developments, and who are buying and not buying. Not only that, you learn of changing market opinions and demands, and gain an understanding of what’s working and what’s not.
It is always worth meeting with companies to find out where they’re going, as building those relationships naturally leads you to begin viewing people and potential opportunities differently.
We also find through our connections that we can make and receive recommendations, which can ultimately lead to an account win. Being known and respected in the industry as being consultative and supportive to others keeps us top of mind for businesses who are considering partnerships to enhance their services or potential acquisition.
What advice would you give to someone coming into that space?
For anyone entering the acquisition space, I’d advise that you need to find brands that can deliver unique solutions that make a genuine difference and leave a lasting impression on your customers. Whether it’s providing expert advice, supply chain management or providing innovative and effective solutions, the best companies are the ones who strive to tackle industry problems head on.
You need to understand things fully before you make decisions, as often it can be very easy to go with perceived wisdom and become ‘blinkered’. Then, when you have made a decision, you need to stick with it for a fair bit. You made a considered decision and it’s important to give things a chance, and not be dissuaded or knocked off track by the first challenge.
What has been the greatest learning curve over the last few years?
Ultimately, I’ve discovered that businesses need to change in order to meet the needs of their customers, and the only way to truly do this is to challenge the accepted ways of doing things. With us, we combine experience, people and technology to challenge the insurance, healthcare and legal spheres.
I have certainly learnt that in business it’s very important to get to the real source of the truth, as unfortunately, not everyone tells the truth, and there is a huge amount of misinformation. Just look at ‘fake news’ for example, it’s a content phenomenon that lives in all walks of life.
There can be more than one version of the truth, and often groups of people with numerous sets of opinions, therefore I’ve adapted to be diplomatic and think it’s important to see both sides in all situations.
Why is recruitment a challenge?
It can be very hard to find the right people, at exactly the right time. It can reign true that those who are looking for jobs aren’t necessarily the best people for the job, as the best people are often already happy and engaged in what they’re doing and don’t want to move.
Therefore, the key is to meet and understand good people who really want to do new and exciting things, and ensure that the new proposition will benefit both sides.
What do you look for in a good hire?
I look for someone who is intelligent and can think outside of the box, while understanding how products and services can be put together in new ways. A good hire is a person who is willing to collaborate, working together to learn new and innovative ways of working and delivering service excellence.
There needs to be a strong mix of the ability to get things done, but also the ability to talk about things in detail and tell a great story. I need specialists who are also generalists, who can turn their hand to something else and get things done.
What’s next for you professionally?
Going forward, we want to foster an environment where we can constantly evolve and shift, continually challenge the accepted ways of doing things, and create services and brands that are much more effective, people-driven and technologically minded.
In the last 12 months, we’ve acquired Harrison Associates, and most recently, Advanced Child Care Associates – I’d like to deliver another major acquisition that significantly broadens our services. We are extremely excited about what 2020 holds and professionally I adhere to accomplish bigger and better things within handl Group’s expanding portfolio.
Right International have a proven track record of identifying and sourcing the top talent across various niches of the insurance market. If you are looking to add to your team now or in the near future, I would welcome the opportunity to help – please contact me.
If you have any ideas for future articles and would like to be involved, please let me know and I would welcome any feedback.
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All the best,
Founder & MD
Right International Insurance Headhunters