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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Neil Wright

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Welcome to Jazz Shapers, it’s where the Shapers of Business join the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues; I know you know that but I’d like to tell you here anyway. My guest today is Neil Wright, Founder and Managing Director of Worldwide Internet Insurance Services, online travel insurance operating through four different brands, you are going to be hearing all about that business. In 1976, Neil attended the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst; a former member of the Queen’s Regiment, he’s understood to have taken the no-nonsense, practical approach he learned in the Army to his businesses. We’ll find out what that looks like specifically in a moment. After travelling with the Army to hotspots all over the world, Neil moved into the property business and then into travel insurance. He founded the Worldwide Internet Insurance Services business in 2001, Cover For You, their flagship brand has attracted £4.5 million policy holders since launch and averages 600,000 sign ups a year, it’s one of those businesses you haven’t heard of yet but you will by the end of the show. Other brands include a family and high risk medical specialist and travel insurance tailored for backpackers too. We’ll be talking to Neil in a few minutes about all of this and his customer perspective approach to business. We’ve also got brilliant music from, amongst others, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Lauryn Hill, that’s today’s Jazz Shapers. Here’s George Benson and Take Five.

That was George Benson with Take Five. As I said just shortly before, my Business Shaper is Neil Wright, he’s sitting here right in front of me, Founder and Managing Director of Worldwide Internet Insurance Services. It’s a pleasure to have you here, thank you for coming.

Neil Wright
Wonderful to be here.

Elliot Moss
Whenever I meet people who have been in the Army, it always intrigues me about how people move from that world into the business world, but you are going to tell me, actually, that’s a pretty logical step.

Neil Wright
Actually, getting into the Army was the most illogical step I had. I didn’t particularly want to be a soldier; I had a disastrous time at school as a terrible rebel. I ended up trying to square my life away but actually, I had this opportunity to go on this three day interview to see if I could get into Sandhurst. Nobody was more surprised than me, maybe my parents were more surprised, than I to actually be accepted so, I suddenly ended up by having to be a soldier which, thank goodness, I did because it completely changed my life, my whole ethos, the way I think, the way I treat people, it absolutely saved me.

Elliot Moss
How old were you when you were ejected, it sounds like, from school? I want to come back to the rebel part as well.

Neil Wright
I was eighteen.

Elliot Moss
Okay.

Neil Wright
I was eighteen and I went to Sandhurst in the same year, so I was a very young officer cadet then was commissioned at eighteen and at nineteen, I was in Belfast commanding soldiers which is the most amazing privilege you can ever have.

Elliot Moss
Now what did it, you talked about it changing your life in the way your perspective on people and it sounds like discipline as well and just even the way you think. Just give me a little insight about the kind of young man you were at eighteen; that rebel that entered Sandhurst. What happened?

Neil Wright
I am still a rebel. I still try and push against things, change things, look at things differently and I think that’s an important thing to do especially in business. You’ve constantly got to be re-evaluating what you do and looking at things in a very different perspective. But I was fairly angry, a huge rebel, I did everything from brewing beer at school, selling it to juniors – which I got caught for – which ended up with a three week unscheduled holiday back at home with my parents who were not very amused by that. My elder brother was killed in a motorcycle accident when I was a teenager and that made me even more angry, I couldn’t understand why the world didn’t stop – it did stop for me – so, I was then even more sort of angry and rebellious and I got away with absolute murder, I did no work, played rugby, sport, until eventually my parents and the school agreed it would probably be better if I actually didn’t return.

Elliot Moss
You go to the Army and in those first few months what happened for you?

Neil Wright
It was a heck of a shock. I hadn’t actually, it was not a career choice that I had necessarily wanted and I loved it, there are amazing people, amazing leaders, inspirational people and you are lucky enough at Sandhurst that actually you are trained by some of the best senior NCOs in the British Army, the officers are also handpicked in order to mentor and bring people on and it was, for me, an amazing experience, I absolutely loved it.

Elliot Moss
How long did you stay in the Army for before you then?

Neil Wright
Almost ten years.

Elliot Moss
Okay. And now tell me about the business today and then I want to go back into how you started it. Just give me in a snapshot in your own words, what the business is all about because it is one of those business that, I’ll be honest, I hadn’t actually come across and then I hear about what you do and the reach you have, and it’s extraordinary because it sounds like you power lots of other businesses that do similar things.

Neil Wright
Well we, the whole thing is it’s about people. In the Army, especially the infantry, your raw material is people so you want to get the best out of your people, constantly. You want to inspire them, you want to lead them, you want them to be the best that they can be. You also need to think about your customers as well who are also people. What do they want out of it? And this is exactly the same as military thinking, putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and what we do is we put ourselves in other people’s shoes; our customers, our suppliers, our insurers, what are they looking to gain out of this? And then we then supply it and it’s really making the two meet.

Elliot Moss
And just give me a quick snapshot of the four different parts of the business, or four different brands rather because there is another part of the business as well.

Neil Wright
Yes, there is. We have Cover For You which is our flagship brand and then we have Cedar Tree which is for those people who want travel insurance policy that has more on it, not everyone is prepared to pay for that, so therefore that is aimed at a different market. We have Outbacker which is deliberately designed for people going on gap years and that sort of thing, it covers all sorts of crazy adventures that kids want to do when they are going off and seeing the world. And then we also have Insure & Escape which is for those people who have, and for families, who have pre-existing medical conditions which need to be covered so that they are safe and secure when they go away and they don’t end up with a disaster that can ruin them. We have a number of cases each year where the medical bills are so high, if they weren’t insured it would be a case of sell the house.

Elliot Moss
And how many people work in the business now?

Neil Wright
We have twenty three but we are mostly an IT business so we rely on very few people, very good people, and everything else is done by systems.

Elliot Moss
And, in terms of turnover, we are talking about an almost £20 million business. I’m going to go back to 2001 now and this is the moment when the business is created – what possessed you to do this at that point in your life?

Neil Wright
Well, IT was becoming a bigger and bigger thing and because travel insurance has to be a volume business, the only way you can do it efficiently and therefore get into the market, is to utilise IT. I had been involved, a long time ago, pre-internet, with a travel insurance business that was all done by phone with banks of people and it was terribly inefficient, sending out policies by mail, huge print bills all the rest of that sort of thing, all this now, it’s all gone, it’s in the past, everything is IT driven. And the IT was becoming available to actually make this happen.

Elliot Moss
And, specifically the idea for the business and then actually starting it. Where did that? You’d obviously worked as you said in insurance before, but at that particular moment, just talk me through the first, ‘I’m going to do this’, thought.

Neil Wright
I’d sold out my shareholding in another company in the UK and wanted to base myself full-time in Gibraltar so it was a question of actually taking what I knew and trying to find a new way of doing it that would resonate with the public so that we could actually do this thing efficiently in a completely new way. So we built our systems with underwriters in mind, we are not just the sales platform, we analyse all the claims, we analyse all the data, we provide insights to underwriters, we also provide insights to ourselves in terms of actually what our customers looking for.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to find out much from Neil about this business that he has successfully been running for a number of years and I’m going to ask him also about the learnings in the Army and how those first few months and years panned out as he built this thing up. First though at this moment we are going to here from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya, some words of advice for your business.

There are absolutely loads of ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers, and indeed to hear this very programme again as well. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and there you can hear many of the recent programmes or just pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform and you can enjoy the full archive there too. But back to today, it’s Neil Wright, he’s Founder and Managing Director of Worldwide Internet Insurance Services, they are an online travel insurer operating through four brands and, as you heard earlier, it’s basically a tech business, it’s been a technology business before it was even called technology, it was IT wasn’t it Neil, back in the day in 2001. In those early months and years when you set the business up, what kind of learnings did you take from your previous businesses and from that experience, those ten years in the Army, what did you apply because we talked about you being a rebel and also dispelling the myth that people in the Army think in a certain way, you are basically not like that and it sounds like at senior level in the Army, no-one is really like that, was it about being unconventional? Was it about seeing how to achieve objectives and then getting on with it?

Neil Wright
It’s not a question of being unconventional for unconvention’s sake, it’s about actually looking at a problem and trying to come at it with a different solution so we came at it with the fact that IT could be used. You get people, you explain the idea, you lead them, you tell them what the eventual objective is and say ‘How can we go about doing this?’ and let them come to you with the ideas, of ‘We can do this, we can do that, we can do the other’, so obviously we can deliver policy wordings, by PDFs, we are completely online unlike in Amazon which started off by actually having to deliver books, we can actually send our product out on the internet.

Elliot Moss
And did you do that right in the beginning?

Neil Wright
Yes, we did. So, it was okay technology has now become available to completely re-do this type of business and that’s what we set out to do. We’ve taken it further so that we actually think, well, okay people don’t want to take a huge policy booklet on holiday. It’s a pain in the neck so we developed an app, so on the app you have all your policy wording, your certificate of insurance. What else you need? If things go bad on holiday it’s normally a medical emergency, you need to know where the nearest hospital is, so we build that into the app. Wherever you are, it geolocates you, tells you where the nearest hospital is, how to get there. Brits are not great at languages – and I’m not either – so we need a medical translator, you need to be able to tell somebody in a foreign country what’s wrong with you, that again, into the app. So, all these things are actually taking people’s problems and finding an IT solution to actually solve their problem.

Elliot Moss
Which is what you said at the beginning about putting yourself in other people’s shoes. Essentially that’s what you are doing every day.

Neil Wright
Exactly.

Elliot Moss
And it struck me as an unusual thing to say about your experience in the Army, and maybe that’s just because I haven’t been in the Army and most people listening probably haven’t been in the Army, that strikes me as a counterintuitive point. What does that mean in the context of being in the Army?

Neil Wright
Well, if you are walking down a street and you think there may be a sniper there, you actually say, if I was a sniper, where would I position myself? How would I go about this? If I was defending this position, how would I go about defending this position? So you are constantly, to actually come up with a solution, you have constantly got to see both sides of the problem.

Elliot Moss
And is that the way you navigated through the last eighteen years in this business? Essentially looking at gaming the competition and gaming your own customers in a good way, I mean in the sense of thinking well, what, as you said, what will they need?

Neil Wright
Yes, exactly. So, you know, there’s no point you coming up with a great concept if actually it’s got no need at the other end. So, what are customers looking for? Again, it’s all about people and insurance is a people business because it’s either the people who are using it, the people who are affecting it, my team who are really amazing or it’s actually underwriters as well who we have to bring along as well part of the equation. It’s all people. People think that insurance is the driest thing going. Churchill was a great fan of it, he says that actually it does stop the average person from facing disaster, and that is true, we see it constantly in terms of saving people who are abroad, bringing them home without them facing disaster, financial disaster that is.

Elliot Moss
You’ve mentioned a few things about people and I want to talk about the team that you have established, and twenty three people for a business of a turnover of almost £20 million is a really interesting and unusual balance. Tell me about what you expect from people and tell me about how you get the best out of them.

Neil Wright
I think the first thing is you’ve got to treat everybody as an adult and you have to give them responsibility and allow them to live up to that responsibility. If someone is in a position where they are not coping, that is not their fault, that is my fault. It’s my fault because I have either not trained them well enough, given them the tools or actually I have promoted them to a position where they are uncomfortable and therefore I have to do something about that. It’s not a question of getting rid of them, it’s a question of actually changing the job that they do. People are the most important, I am a passionate believer that an IT business is about people. Everyone says well, no, it’s just the system; it’s not at all. Our human face is the most important. You can have the greatest sales system in the world but if you cannot pick up the phone and talk to a human being who knows what they are talking about, who is prepared to engage with you, not give the bums rush and move you on, that is really important and that is what makes us very special. I think some of the people that we have are utterly brilliant, they will spend time with people, they do not sell, they just advise, you’ve got a question, you’ve got a query, they’re there for you and they will be with you for as long as it takes, on the phone, with emails, with all the rest of the communication that there is. You have to have that human face. If you don’t, I don’t believe you succeed as an IT business.

Elliot Moss
And in terms of your own leadership style? Obviously you had lots of years to practice as you said you were commanding a smaller group of people back when you were nineteen years old, but it wasn’t that small at all, I am assuming it was a, what size was your regiment?

Neil Wright
A platoon of thirty.

Elliot Moss
Thirty people at the age nineteen so, you’ve had lots of years of experience and practice. What are the two or three characteristics would you say if someone was to describe your leadership approach?

Neil Wright
Lead from the front. Lead by example. Do not remove yourself and make yourself remote. Constantly be in there, encouraging. Leading, mentoring, picking up ideas from people who are the coalface – I learnt that very early on, we had a complex operation to deliver, I was extremely tired, we had very few resources, not enough resources to do the job, I came up with this enormously convoluted plan, briefed the guys and said we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that, we’re going to do the other, you know, it all sounded great, any questions? And, this Lance Corporal turned round and said ‘Boss, why don’t we do this?’ One, two, three. Oh, God. Blindingly obvious. How stupid. So, you know, don’t get hooked up on your own ideas, pick them up from other people. So, I said okay, everyone out, re-brief in ten minutes, you stay. Okay, what was your plan? And we did his plan, and it was much better than mine. You have to give people the responsibility and they rise to it. People love rising up, you know everybody wants to be the best that they can be.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for my final chat with Neil, plus we will be playing a track from Lauryn Hill. That’s all coming up in just a moment here on Jazz FM.

That was Lauryn Hill with Nothing Even Matters. I am with Neil Wright, my Business Shaper, just for a few more minutes. Neil, when you started talking, you talked about your anger and naturally when unthinkable things happen, especially in family and stuff and life throws you curve balls, I understand that completely. It sounds to me, many years later, that you totally channelled your anger into something incredibly positive, you strike me as a very positive and clear thinking person. Is that true? Are you, are we now looking at someone who has kind of moved into a different place and has managed to control… Control is the wrong word, but to focus it?

Neil Wright
Well, I am no longer angry, time is a great healer. I think that it has led me on a path that I never predicted, in fact I quite often meet old friends and say, can you ever imagine us when we were younger, doing what we are now doing, and so life has been a journey and you learn to cope with things, you learn to overcome them and that’s all part of what makes you who you are today. That’s the wonderful thing about life. Who knows what’s around the next corner? What’s the next challenge? What’s the next thing to take on? Love it.

Elliot Moss
In the whole conversation, we haven’t talked about money at all and yet your business is successful, we haven’t talked about profit margin or anything like that and that’s fine, I am sure you are a profitable business, living a lovely life and all that. It strikes me, don’t care is the wrong thing but it isn’t one of the things that drives you at all and isn’t important therefore in your life.

Neil Wright
Money is nice to have, I would rather be building something, something that is useful. I get much more of a buzz out of that. It’s nice to see money, it’s nice to see the bottom line grow because that’s part of what you are building but in itself, just making money, doesn’t seem to be much point.

Elliot Moss
And the legacy thing you talked about. When you, I mean, at some point you’ll stop or are you one of those people that says ‘Elliot, what are you talking about, one never stops, I mean it’s part of me, I built this thing’.

Neil Wright
Well, I think, well, you know, whether I stop doing this, I have conversations with friends and say, you know, if you retire you’ve got to retire to do something, you can’t just retire and go to the, you know, the waiting room of life until it ends, you’ve got to retire to do something and I constantly have projects on the go, whether it’s actually climbing or travelling or anything like that is a great way of constantly having another project so, if this project disappears or we sell it or someone else takes over and runs it, I will be doing another project until I drop. Whether that’s helping other people, raising money, doesn’t matter, you’ve got to have something, you can’t just sit.

Elliot Moss
Enjoy those projects, whatever they are. It strikes me that that you will be doing them on the side anyway and carrying on with this as long as you said until they probably wheel you out. It’s been lovely talking to you, a real pleasure actually, and good luck with everything, not that you need much luck by the looks of things either Neil. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Neil Wright
Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’. When I met my wife in Gibraltar, we used to go to this little bar and at the end they used to play this, I used to get all sort of maudlin over my last drink trying to eventually persuade her to marry me. The great thing about this bar was at the end of the evening you could, with the owner, you could spoof for the bill – always gave you the hope that you might get a free night. I never won.

Elliot Moss
Well, here it is, just for you.

That was Fats Waller with Ain’t Misbehavin, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Neil Wright, a self-confessed rebel, someone who understood the importance of putting himself in other people’s shoes, something he learned from the Army. Someone who also understood that if you treat people like adults, they will be the best version of themselves and the best that they can be, and for him that was really, really important.

You can hear our conversation with Neil all over again whenever you would like to, as a podcast, just search Jazz Shapers or ask your smart speaker to play Jazz Shapers or if you are up nice and early on Monday morning you can catch this programme again just before the Business Breakfast at 5.00am. We are back next Saturday from 9.00 with our next Business Shaper, Misha Nonoo, Founder and Credit Director at Misha Nonoo. Up next, after the news at 10.00, it’s our friend Nigel Williams with great music, interviews and a live session or two as well. That’s it from Jazz Shapers, have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

As Founder and Managing Director of World Wide Internet Insurance Services (WWIIS), the parent company of Cover For You, Cedar Tree, Insurance & Escape and Outbacker, Neil Wright is not your average insurance type.

Following a 10-year military career that began at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, Neil served in The Queen’s regiment all over the world before he moved into property in 1985, setting up Property Marketing Services Ltd. 

With his no-nonsense, practical approach, Neil’s career and has gone from strength to strength, as he founded WIIS in 2001, going on to launch CoverForYou in 2011 and Cedar Tree in 2015. Since its inception, Cover For You has attracted 4.5 million policy holders (and counting), with an average of 600,000 signs ups per year.

Neil’s business ethos – transparency, rewarding customers for their loyalty and going the extra mile – is shaking up the industry, winning awards and setting his brands apart from competitors who are under fire for their pricing practices. 

I had the opportunity to become a soldier, and thank goodness I did because it changed my life.

I’m still a rebel. I always try and push against things, change things and look at things differently.

You constantly have to be re-evaluating what you do and how you look at things.

Your raw material is people and you want to get the best out of them.

We provide insights to ourselves in terms of what our customers are looking for.

You’ve got to treat everybody like an adult – you have to allow people to live up to that responsibility. 

Everybody wants to be the best they can be.

Time is a great healer.

You never know what’s around the corner, and that’s the wonderful thing about life.

Money is nice to have, but I’d rather be building something that’s useful.

People naturally love stepping up to the plate.

You can’t just retire and go to the waiting room of life until it ends.

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