Executive assistant: Rising to the top

Becky Bennett and Stephanie Ogden

In this first instalment of the new series, Insurance Age meets Becky Bennett, current executive assistant to Allianz chief underwriting officer Neil Clutterbuck, and Stephanie Ogden, former executive assistant to Allianz general manager Simon McGinn

“What it [the executive assistant (EA) role] does is to promote and encourage wider understanding of how insurers operate as a whole,” explains Allianz’s Becky Bennett. “It perhaps removes some of the siloed approach that can prevail sometimes.”

Her role includes preparing reports and presentations ahead of chief underwriting officer Neil Clutterbuck’s meetings, putting presentations together, conducting research into emerging trends and briefing him on future hot topics. 

“I’m sort of his eyes and ears on the ground,” she continues. “It’s about helping make sure that he understands what’s going on in order to pull his commentaries together.”

Bennett has been at Allianz for six years, after joining the provider’s grad scheme in 2011, and has previously worked at the Woking branch as a development underwriter and in head office account management.

She admits she “jumped” on the opportunity to be Clutterbuck’s EA.

Understanding

“My background to that point had been purely commercial,” she remembers.

“I wanted to get an understanding of the wider Allianz structure and how personal lines technical and underwriting operated, how the two could work together. The EA role was a fantastic opportunity to do it.”

Bennett mentions management and organisation among the most valuable skills she has learnt as an EA so far. She often relies on experts within the business to help produce information.

“It’s around getting the best from people in order to make sure that I can give my boss the information that he needs to make decisions,” she sums up. 

As Clutterbuck’s EA Bennett gets to take part in certain board meetings, but she highlights that there are other EAs reporting to other board members within the organisation and that each of them are responsible for different meetings.

Becky Bennett

Becky Bennett

Bennett joined Allianz six years ago and is the current executive assistant to Allianz chief underwriting officer Neil Clutterbuck. She started in the insurer’s summer apprenticeship scheme and went on to join its graduate scheme. 

When asked why she took on the EA role, Bennett comments: “For me it was around understanding how the organisation is structured and getting an understanding of the bigger picture.” 

On what she hopes for her future upon leaving her post as an EA, she adds: “I envision myself staying in the technical part of the family. I enjoy the fact that I can use my maths and analytics capability but apply that to real business examples and use those skills in order to make decisions and promote change.”

Best practice

Bennett recalls she was “thrilled” to get the job and notes that for Allianz the EAs offer an opportunity to spread best practice within the company.

“We are a large organisation,” she continues. “Putting people into EA roles and giving them the opportunity to share their skillset means they can bring what they’ve learned previously into new areas of the business.”

According to Bennett, sitting in on meetings has helped her to “understand how the pieces of the jigsaw fit together” as well as what the priorities are for the management board.

“Working in a commercial account team I knew lots about the nitty gritty. Applying that to the organisational structure as a whole, and understanding how they make the decisions and what factors they use, has been really interesting,” she adds.

Moving on

While Bennett is a current EA, Stephanie Ogden has moved on from the role to take up the position of branch manager in the provider’s Glasgow office. 

Ogden was general manager Simon McGinn’s EA three years ago and says that in her current job she has been able to use many of the skills she learned. 

She explains that in some ways her role was similar to Bennett’s. Her responsibilities also included sitting in on a lot of board meetings and co-ordinating events where McGinn would be the host. 

“I appreciated working for Simon when he was going through a transition stage from head of the regions into a general manager role,” she continues. “Building up a partnership with him to get the most out of that role was really important and it was good to be part of that whole new management board.”

Ogden adds: “It was really exciting, because we delivered and wrote a whole strategy paper together and to be able to do that absolutely helped me in my job now as I’m building – whilst on a much smaller scale – a local strategy.” 

Stephanie Ogden

Stephanie Ogden

Ogden came off Allianz’s graduate scheme and moved into its management graduate scheme in 2008. She then had a period of rotations around the business, including claims and underwriting, before she came to the London office, first as an underwriter and later in a team leader role.

“I always knew I wanted to be a senior leader within the business,” she says, adding that she went into an underwriting and account manager role after she had finished her stint as general manager Simon McGinn’s EA

Ogden was appointed branch manager in Allianz’s Glasgow office in 2016, a post she explains she had aimed for when she moved on from being an EA.

“The skillsets I had built up as part of my EA role, and as part of the underwriting account manager role, leant themselves quite nicely to the Scotland branch manager position,” she concludes.

Step up

According to Ogden, an EA role is something applicants will have had in mind for “quite a long time” in order to take the necessary steps before sending in an application.  

“I’d be surprised if someone just decided on a whim to apply for the role and then got it,” she says. “I personally hadn’t necessarily been working my career to get the role, but equally steps that I have taken leant themselves quite well to being successful in an application.”

Ogden details that the post helped build her contact book and taught her who to speak to and when to speak to them, which in turn has been useful in her current position. 

The Scottish business handles accounts written locally and works closely with the insurer’s SME team. She points out: “I built up a great knowledge of the SME business in my role as an EA. That makes it a lot easier now when I’m talking to customers and our brokers about different areas of our business.”

While Bennett does not come across brokers in her work with Clutterbuck, Ogden notes that she deals with them on a daily basis as branch manager. 

“They’re extremely professional up here in Scotland,” she concludes. “They’re very proud of the insurance industry in Scotland and how they manage business.”

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