I’ve had the benefit of starting our culture from scratch: our values, purpose and business DNA. Being a startup, we talk about things like resilience and transparency. Eric also sees transparency, respect for people and integrity as critical parts of financial services, so customers can trust us. Early on, I said to him, “A key part of my job is to embed our values into our culture.” Eric replied, “And it’s the board’s job to make sure you do that.”
It relates back to the six culture norms that [banking] Royal Commissioner Kenneth Hayne AC QC identified: obey the law, don’t mislead or deceive, act fairly, provide services that are fit for purpose, deliver services with care and skill, and when acting for someone else, act in their best interest. They’re brilliant in their simplicity. If every financial services company acted in alignment with those six culture norms, then we wouldn’t have needed a Royal Commission.
[CEO of the Australian Banking Association] Anna Bligh AC made the point 18 months ago: the power has gone from the institutions into the hands of the consumers, and it’s never going back. The industry needs to stop thinking like institutions and start thinking like customers — what do our customers want, rather than what are we prepared to give them?
We co-created our systems and services with advisors and did a pile of customer research to help take the pain points away. We’ve also built a great team. At one stage, Eric said my biggest achievement was bringing an outstanding team together — more than the systems and products, or getting the capital.
Getting the capital was hard, but I love this point — five of the executive team are women, all of whom were selected because they were the best people for the job — and it’s the best team I’ve ever been in. No politics, just people who want to make the business work. That’s what I think Eric was responding to. While Eric supported the move into our building on a wharf in Pyrmont, Sydney, he has had his doubts. But only a few weeks ago he said he now knows it’s the right place for our business — not in the centre of the city in a high-rise, but in a building that says we’re an insurer, but also a tech company. And we’re developing a culture that marries those two things together.
If every financial services company acted in alignment with those six culture norms, then we wouldn’t have needed a Royal Commission.” Integrity Life CEO Chris Powell FAICD
The last time I was part of a startup was as GM of Australian Bank in 1981. That was incredibly exciting, building something from absolute scratch. There’s a lot more work involved in being on the board of a small company than a big one.
I’m 67, and plan to do it for maybe another 10 years, because you’ve got to keep active, both physically and mentally. Having people with grey hair on a startup matters. We bring long years of experience and understanding of the industry, which adds an enormous amount to a startup. Also, I’ve always been prepared to take on risk and responsibilities, so I’ve enjoyed a very rewarding career.
People have said, “Life insurance needs to be sold, not bought,” but I’ve never believed that. There is a nice gap in the market to tailor products the customer really wants rather than telling them what’s best for them. We’re in a good position to take advantage of current customer concerns because we can introduce new software, new systems and products with none of the legacy issues. Chris has a great saying about this: “We’re one of the good things to come out of the banking Royal Commission.”
We’re setting a high bar for behaviour management because we’re conscious of living up to the promise in our name. It’s very important to us and potential shareholders that the board holds management to account for behaviour and culture.
”Having people with grey hair on a startup matters. We bring long years and understanding of the industry, which adds an enormous amount to a startup.” Integrity Life chair Eric Dodd FAICD
The board’s experience dealing with regulators was important because, while Chris and the management team are experienced in this regard, the amount of work that had to go into the licence application was enormous and required the board to go above and beyond in supporting the management team and guiding the relationship with the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission.
A bank wasn’t easy to start from scratch and certainly a life insurance company hasn’t been easy. The biggest hurdle was the raising of capital. The board is conscious of operating well within our capital limits and in attracting the right amount of capital. Chris was introduced by one of our shareholders when we were going through a difficult phase of capital raising. We were getting ready to pack it in because it was seemingly so difficult. He’s proven the ideal CEO in that he gets involved in detail and is strong on the technology side. One of the things we’ve got to do now and again is drag him back to his CEO role because he’s such a roll-your-sleeves-up type of CEO, but that’s exactly what was needed to get our organisation up and running.
Chris respects the board, understands our experience and knows when to call on it. He doesn’t sit in an ivory tower — he’s the exact opposite of the maverick CEOs we’ve too often seen around town. The team is living those values and that’s Chris — the board can’t take credit. Our role is to ensure he remains focused on these core values.