HR & Management

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“The company was founded on a genuine desire to help animal charities”

8 Mins

Name:

Elaine Fairfax

Role and company:

Managing director and founder, Animal Friends Insurance Services Limited.

Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric): 

2012 £9.012m and the EBITDA is £1.299m.

Employee numbers:

100

Growth forecast for the next three years:

In July 2008 we had around 13,000 policies insured with us and we wrote some £2m GWP (Gross Written Premium). In June 2013 we have over 300,000 policies and write around £40m GWP. We forecast £55m GWP at end 2014 with circa 480,000 polices and £60m GWP with circa 600,000 policies at end 2015.

In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:

The company was founded on a genuine desire to help animal charities; £1.25m donated by May 2013. Our policyholders know that, even if they don’t make a claim, part of their premiums will still help less fortunate animals. So policyholders not only stay with us but vigorously recommend us…

What’s the big vision for your business?

To continue our rapid growth to become the market leader for pet insurance in the UK. As a result we hope to also help educate people in pet care and the wider issues that affect animals and their environment across the world. And, of course, to generate increasing sums of money to donate to worthy animal welfare projects to make a real difference to individuals and species alike.

Current level of international business, and future aspirations: 

None. We are only authorised to sell policies in the UK. We have no plans to insure pets abroad. Every country is different and you simply can’t apply what you do in one country to another. Also, there is more than enough to do in the UK to keep me busy!

Biggest career setback and what you learned from it: 

Luckily, there have been no major setbacks as such. Anyone in business will agree that running a business can be testing at times. I have had a couple of occasions where things have gone wrong and they have been a big deal for me at the time. But we got over it and when we looked back it actually worked out for the best. You have to learn from any mistakes you make and move on. I am always learning.

What makes you mad in business today?

I get really frustrated when companies don’t try to get business. Recently, both my husband and I wanted to purchase new Range Rovers. You wouldn’t believe how many sales people are in meetings or aren’t available. No one rings you back either. We are in a recession and all businesses need to be hungry for business, otherwise they simply won’t survive.

What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?

I don’t see any significant changes ahead, rather a development of what we have already seen, particularly the continuing rise of social media. I think we have already seen the major changes by more people taking out policies over the internet and, in particular, through the aggregators and comparison sites. I can see they are here to stay. You have to keep ahead with technology so our marketing team are quite young and are well placed to keep up with new trends. For example, we have the most “likes” on Facebook of any insurance business of any kind in the UK, which is quite an achievement.

Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?

Luckily, we don’t have any debts now but I do know how hard it is for business to grow without finance. Sadly, without the banks stepping forward it is an impossible task. I saw it in the last recession where the banks lent money without too much fuss and then, when things go bad, they won’t lend anything. Most companies need financing in the early days. It’s the perennial Catch 22 – if you don’t need it, banks pester you to take money from them but if you need it the doors are firmly slammed in your face. As the big banks are effectively nationalised at present, the only thing to get this moving is more effective legislation.

How would others describe your leadership style?

I try and engage all my staff in what we do. You can’t get the most out of your staff unless they feel involved and I want my staff to feel part of the Animal Friends team. I know all my staff by name and I feel really proud of the wonderful team that I have. I would say that I am firm but very fair. We have a lot of fun too! My husband and I did a dressage test for Red Nose Day in front of the staff dressed up in inflatable horses!

Your biggest personal extravagance?

A 1942 Spitfire aeroplane! Her name is Mabel and she will be fully restored and flying in the Spring of 2015. I have two passions: animals and remembering the brave men and women who served our country in World War 2. By having a Spitfire I hope we can teach young people what sacrifices were made by so many people. It always amazes me how many people feel so passionate about World War 2 and long may it continue. It’s a huge part of our history, after all.

You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:

To make taxes fairer for businesses and entrepreneurs and give more support to business by way of financial assistance. The only way to reduce unemployment is to help businesses grow. It’s all basic stuff but somewhere we have lost sight of this with all the red tape and politicians looking to the next election rather than setting things straight now.

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