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Progress, not perfection, is key
Debbie Kennedy’s LifeSearch journey so far has been an intense diet of meetings, greetings and consultations with the players, partners and planners driving towards major growth targets.
As CEO, Debbie brings near 35 years in protection as an underwriter, strategist, risk-taker and leader. She’s someone who likes to ask why; who loves the words what if? Who sees tech and data as exciting new frontiers in an industry more synonymous with inertia than innovation.
Debbie’s career track record speaks to breaking barriers, launching cutting-edge products and setting new trends. There’s an aspiring fashion designer still in there somewhere.
In the late 80s, Debbie switched from studying fashion and landed a job as a trainee underwriter with Crusader in her native Livingston, a post-war new town on the Edinburgh side of the Scottish central belt.
At Crusader Debbie trained under a doctor and rapidly gained a forensic understanding of the industry, as well as the interplay of health and insurance. She counts herself lucky as one of the last generations to access intensive and high-quality on-the-job training.
After six years Debbie left Crusader for the bright lights of Edinburgh. Scotland’s capital might be more famous for castles and wynds, but it’s also the fourth largest finance economy in Europe and, fortuitously, at that time was Debbie’s favourite city.
A ‘change mindset’
An ambitious young female in a chief underwriter role, Debbie was a departure from the ‘grey suits’ that ran the show in Edinburgh. She brought a fresh perspective and wasn’t afraid to question processes and practices that seemed outdated or counterintuitive.
Debbie’s always had what she calls a change mindset: she mentally scrutinises everyday design processes to calculate their suitability and efficiency. “In airports I always obsess over the security queue,” she says. “I like to think how I can change it … make it better.”
Like her LifeSearch predecessor, Debbie too thought the industry in the 90s had its priorities askew: slow processes, bank domination, spurious salesmanship, half-cocked advice … she saw an industry bogged down in red tape and rigged to benefit providers over customers.
Like many underwriters, Debbie aspired to work in reinsurance. She wanted to join the risk-takers - the folks who make real change happen.
Debbie’s chance came in the mid-nineties with a move to Swiss Re. She spent four years taking risks and engineering change from the back office before being hand-picked to go to Australia and shape a burgeoning protection market down under.
Australia and Debbie were the perfect match. Oz knew its shortcomings and was keen to evolve. Debbie says she was blown away by her ‘can do’ colleagues in Melbourne. They allowed her freedom to take risks and mould a better market.
The people, the pace, the food - Melbourne had replaced Edinburgh as Debbie’s favourite city. One year in, she’d made great strides in rewiring processes, practice, and products to benefit customers and raise Australia’s game. She even found time for life as she and husband Graham welcomed twins Ellie and Michael into the world.
By 1999 Swiss Re sought to relocate from Melbourne to Sydney. With that and a young family in-tow, Debbie knew it was time to come home.
But the experience was priceless. Cutting her teeth as a leader and a visionary in Australia translated back at home: Chief Underwriter and Head of Business Change at AXA. An MD at Capita. Group Head of Strategy at Royal London. Protection Director at LV= …
‘Not failing? You’re probably not trying’
Debbie says that her high-pressure role at Capita was a time of particular innovation. Against the backdrop of the 2008 financial collapse, creativity, ideas and risk-taking were essential ingredients in recovery, growth, and success.
For Debbie, progress is rarely linear. Trial and error go together, but the key is to try. Debbie’s first to admit that execution and rollout of her flagship diabetes product at Royal London wasn’t perfect. But by introducing a paradigm shift to the industry, other players were forced to sit up and rethink how we treat chronic conditions.
The net result has been a game-changer for a once-excluded customer segment of nearly four million Brits. Today, more attention is paid to customers with serious illnesses, thus the customer experience has improved. The industry has improved.
Debbie’s someone who still sees gargantuan potential in protection. She still sees processes, products and practices that are ripe for evolution. She knows we’ve only scratched the surface in harnessing the power of data, AI and technology.
For Debbie, keeping pace in a world of divergent habits, emerging tools and changing expectations requires protection to bring itself to the edge of its comfort zone - and set up home there.
Her 2021 move to LifeSearch is a unique opportunity for Debbie Kennedy to infuse industry change via a powerful market player. The ingredients of growth and evolution have been bubbling away at LifeSearch, and there’s a new era of protection in-the-making. It’s one where the customer sits at the centre, progress is constant, and products speak to the times we live in as much as the families who need them.
Trained underwriter Debbie spent several decades defining new markets and protection products at home and abroad. She’s behind a string of industry innovations to ensure products and services meet customer needs in an evolving world and joined LifeSearch in late 2021 from LV=, where she was Protection Director.See all articles by Debbie Kennedy
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