A culture of encouraging ideas aligned with staff talking to each other and knowledged-based decision-making has transformed the performance of one of the UK’s leading price comparison firms, Confused.com, says its chief executive, Louise O’Shea.
Confused.com, which is part of Wales’ only FTSE 100 company in Admiral, created a world first when it launched a price comparison site initially allowing consumers to shop online for the best car insurance deals back in 2002. Now the business, which is better described as being a fintech venture, has a workforce of 250 and growing in the centre of Cardiff.
Ms O’Shea took up her role, having held a number of senior roles with Admiral, including head of investor relations, in 2017.
While unable to comment on the financial performance of
Confused.com last year ahead of Admiral publishing its 2019 financial figures to the City next month, she said when joining the standalone business it was in need of revival.
Addressing a meeting of Cardiff Breakfast Club, she said: “In 2017 Confused.com was facing one of its worst years of financial performance.
“I was the person being brought in to see things with a fresh pair of eyes. I had a two-year-old and an eight-week-old baby at the time, so describing me as having a fresh pair of eyes was completely ironic.
“But I definitely had a core of steel and an unbreakable determination that this wasn’t going to continue on my watch.
“So I thought of our beginnings. And we were founded by a lady called Kate Armstrong, and she had one of those lightbulb moments and working with her team they created Confused.com and a business model that fundamentally changed how the entire world shopped for car insurance. They made some very great decisions off the back of it and they did it by working together and talking to each other.
“So, in that story, I saw a few key ingredients to getting that right, which I employed and used to achieve where we are today.”
She said that any business can be successful if it comes up with good ideas, makes good decisions, but in order to do both it needs people talking to each other.
She added: “So good ideas, good decisions and great people talking to each other… it is that simple. However, a really good idea doesn’t come to you if you are sat in your office in isolation. You need to get out there and talk to people across your business, your suppliers, partners and customers and family and friends.”
She said that all staff at Confused.com were encouraged to suggest ideas.
The chief executive said: “I have a rule in that if you bring an idea to me, no matter how crazy I think it might be or no matter if I think we have had it before and it didn’t really work, I wouldn’t dismiss it as we need to give ideas space and room to grow and improve. And that is a rule I came to very early on as in the first few months I took myself off to Silicon Valley to see how they did it.”
But how do you make a good decision off the back of a good idea? She said: “Confused.com has so many opportunities and so many ways to grow and improve things, but we have to decide what we are going to do and what we are going to do first.
“So you cannot be overwhelmed with information, and you have to speak to people who really know their stuff and listen to them. And with their help you can choose the right path.
“So you absolutely need the best people around you and I knew when I got the job that I would need a brilliant team, people who were experts and people who I could trust and who were better than I was in their chosen field.
“Persuading top-class people to join a business whose profit was quite frankly the lowest it had ever been, well, it took time, thought and a lot of inspiration and vision. And it is an investment that if you do it, will pay off tenfold.
“I have by far the strongest management team that Confused.com has ever had, with a mix of new people and those who have been in the business from day one.”
Since launching 18 years ago, Ms O’Shea said: “We have saved billions of pounds for customers and we have also attracted a lot of competition in our own turf in Wales [Gocompare and Moneysupermarket.com] and beyond. And we have created a whole new industry, which means that Wales is world-leading and world-famous for online insurance shopping.
“We have expanded that model internationally and are the only comparison group that has been able to do so and most successfully.
“So, we have the market leader in Spain and in France and start-ups in Mexico, Turkey, the Middle East and all kinds of wonderful places.”
Having launched in 2002, she said the business was definitely considered “ancient” in the fintech world.
She added: “It’s a sector that we are extremely passionate about and I am a founding member of FinTech Wales, so we have joined forces with other fintechs and financial institutions, and as an organisation we are focusing on three key objectives of growing the skills that we need, growing the community that we need and raising awareness that fintech is here in Wales.”