Case study: Making business insurance fit for the 21st century

Time for some honesty. Business insurance can be pretty dull – full of blokes in suits clutching briefcases and speaking a different language. Not to mention the unintelligible policy documents. Most of them could be contenders for a Plain English Campaign ‘Golden Bull’ award.

But it needn’t be that way. It can also be sleek, transparent and customer-driven. Plus, it can be fully digital, giving businesses the chance to buy their professional insurance simply and quickly at the click of a button…with easily understood, no-nonsense policies delivered straight to their inbox.

That was helicopter pilot Iain Hatfield’s vision when he started PolicyBee’s predecessor, Blyth Valley, from a shed at the bottom of his Suffolk garden in 1998.

‘I knew insurance could be done better,’ he recalls. ‘And I’d spotted a niche in the market for a broker specialising in professional indemnity (PI) for consultants, freelancers and small agencies.

‘They’d been overlooked by other brokers. So the idea was to shake things up by combining the expertise and personal service you get from a traditional broker with the speed and convenience of the digital world.’

That notion blossomed into a collaboration with insurance giant Hiscox, based on shared values. And in 2004, Blyth Valley not only launched its own website, the first in the UK to offer PI online, but developed and began hosting the Hiscox UK Direct site too.

So far, so successful. In fact, so successful that with its book of business approaching the £7 million mark, Hiscox snapped up Blyth Valley just six years later.

Time to start again, then. And drawing on his already considerable experience of the fast-moving digital environment – plus with most brokers still rooted firmly in their traditional past – Iain launched PolicyBee.

Also an online broker, PolicyBee was founded on the core values of providing professional insurance that’s easy to understand and easy to buy ­– backed up by solid expertise and a friendly, open approach.

‘I wanted PolicyBee to really stand out from the crowd of traditional brokers,’ says Iain. ‘To be bold and colourful, and to go about its business in a welcoming and approachable but truly professional way.

‘That’s meant getting the blend of personnel just right. Of course, we’ve got a very talented team of web developers and e-commerce specialists who take care of the technical side of things.

‘But we also know our insurance inside-out. And although we’ve made sure our website covers pretty much every base possible, we’ve also got a highly knowledgeable team of people that customers can speak to direct if they’re looking for some extra advice.’

Since 2011, PolicyBee has grown steadily. And although other brokers have since jumped on the online business insurance bandwagon, Iain believes his company remains one step ahead of the chasing pack.

Still focussing on SMEs, freelancers, consultants and independent practitioners, PolicyBee has grown its product portfolio to include all types of business insurance for multiple professions, as well as offering a package for small charities.

‘I think the smaller guys sometimes get overlooked.’ Iain comments. ‘People like to chase the bigger fish and the bigger bits of business. But we’re an SME ourselves, so we know just what kind of insurance SMEs need.

‘Plus, we’ve simplified the buying process and taken out all the jargon. That way people can easily identify what they need and complete the purchase swiftly – without wasting time they’d rather devote to running their business.’

Still Suffolk-based near Ipswich, PolicyBee also has an American cousin, InsuranceBee, in Massachusetts. Delivering small business liability insurance to US customers, it’s ploughing a new furrow across the Pond by doing it all digitally in a very traditional marketplace.

So, what’s next? ‘We’ve seen cyber insurance come to the fore, with businesses realising how crucial it is to protect their digital assets and data,’ says Iain. ‘And with the way technology is developing, there’s infinite possibilities for how we can improve our customer experience in the future.’

Now … who was it that said business insurance is dull? And yes, Iain does still fly helicopters – sometimes right past the office windows.