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Shielding the small end of town: Damien Coates

Simple, straightforward advice can sometimes go a long way. So it was for Damien Coates as he finished school, when his father steered him in a direct line to his present situation. As a result, the CEO of DUAL Asia Pacific is exactly where he always wanted to be, guiding his own company on a course with genuine expectations.

Damien Coates, CEO of DUAL Asia Pacific

“I come from a family with a sales background, and when I finished high school, my father said, ‘You’ve got to study accountancy because you’ll only get so far in business having the gift of the gab. You need to understand the numbers and, if you’re going to end up as CEO, you’ve got to understand the balance sheet.’ I’m so thankful I have that accountancy background because it has been critical to build and drive a business.”

Damien started work in the insurance industry, then headed to London, where he spent five years with AIG. There he met people from Hyperion Insurance Group – a meeting that led to his return to Australia with a plan.

“My first son was about to be born, and I’m a surfer so I was missing the waves but, most importantly, I wanted to have a crack at setting up a business. So in 2004 I moved back with a blank piece of paper and had to find an office, hire staff and go about everything involved in setting up a business from scratch. Here we are 15 years later, with A$200 million of premium, seven offices in four countries, and loving every day working with great people and being inspired that we can do more,” he says with a broad grin.

Looking after the little guy

DUAL Asia Pacific specialises in insurance for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME). Insurance is usually not top of mind for SMEs, so many are not covered for what could be disastrous business events. It’s a ready market, in his view, for quality insurance coverage.

“We’re looking to grow the overall market, rather than just our market share. Our real point of difference is that we’ve taken complex types of insurance built for large corporates, and tailored them so they become relevant and easy to understand for SMEs. Our focus is 100% on SMEs, helping them to deal with their uninsured exposure,” he explains.

“There was a clear focus and passion when we set up Dual – that our people are at the centre of everything we stand for.”

Large companies know what types of insurance they require, says Damien, but convincing SMEs that they need Cyber Liability and Management Liability insurance is another matter altogether.

“There are 2.1 million registered SMEs in Australia, and five years ago, less than 1% of them were purchasing Management Liability insurance, which protects them against crime, employment, and occupational health and safety issues. It’s now up to 15% of companies. If you look at cyber crime, two years ago, less than 1% of companies bought cyber insurance; it’s now probably closer to 4% – we’ve got a long way to go.”

Damien attributes the blame for those low initial figures to the inadequacy of insurance companies in delivering relevant, understandable insurance products to SMEs. Insurance products are far too complicated, he says, so the industry has to change its approach.

Damien Coates, CEO of DUAL Asia Pacific

“The way the insurance market delivered policies was too complex. No-one’s going to fill out a 20-page form on something they’ve never purchased. We had to find a way to offer that insurance with the information that the broker already knew about the client: the industry they’re in, their turnover, the number of employees, and reduce the number of questions from 40 to four.

“Education is also a priority; if an SME has an employee theft and they don’t have Management Liability insurance, if they get caught up in an occupational health and safety investigation or their systems are hacked, they could go bust. You can’t operate a business without having these insurances – there are still only 15% of companies purchasing it, so there’s a huge opportunity ahead.”

DUAL’s parent company, The DUAL Group, is the specialist underwriting arm of the Hyperion Insurance Group. DUAL is the world’s largest independent underwriting agency, employing more than 600 people in North and South America, Europe and Asia–Pacific.

DUAL Asia Pacific reaches clients through brokers to offer business critical insurance products such as professional indemnity, management liability and cyber to cover against economic loss.

Steadfast Group, Insurance Advisernet and PSC Insurance Group are three of DUAL’s major brokerage firms. Damien says the relationships with those companies are built on mutual respect and a true understanding of their roles.

“They are two of the largest SME-focused insurance broking groups that have a commitment to SME clients in remote geographic areas. Locals want to deal with locals, and they provide that service – they want to service the full needs of SME clients.

“We built our relationship with them by showing that we can help them explain these products to their clients, and help them grow their business. It’s really about getting people to feel comfortable talking insurance.

“We want to grow the overall insurance market. Yes, it’s a bold statement, but it’s an honest statement.”

“We’ve provided an online platform, called WebRater, which enables brokers to obtain a quote and bind a policy in minutes. We focus on educating our brokers so they can point out to their clients that a cyber hack could happen to anyone – if you’ve got a website, then you’re exposed. We’ve paid over 15,000 claims for SMEs, so it could happen to anyone,” Damien points out.

Online communication is now the primary engagement with both brokers and clients. Gone are the days of travelling the country and beating the pavement to meet brokers to explain why their clients need these types of insurance policies, says Damien.

“The future is about digital marketing and providing content to people when they want it,” he explains. “We’re heavily invested in webinars and online education, rather than seeing someone in their office five times a year. In fact, that person doesn’t want you wasting their time – what they want is content that is informative, when it suits them. We’ve produced over 15,000 hours this year of professional development in the form of webinars for brokers to access whenever they want. That’s probably our greatest success – we’ve engaged and built relationships with 12,500 clients.”

“The only constant is change.”

The View ahead

The insurance industry has always been very labour intensive, says Damien, with “lots of paper, lots of ping pong”, but the inevitable evolution of online platforms will be a critical focus in the future.

“Engaging with clients through digital platforms has been a significant step forward in the insurance industry. The only constant is change. We want to grow the overall insurance market. Yes, it’s a bold statement, but it’s an honest statement, and people know we’re very much a performance driven company.

“There was a clear focus and passion when we set up DUAL Asia Pacific – that our people are at the centre of everything we stand for, and when we ask someone to join DUAL, we’re very open about that.”

Proudly supported by:

Damien Coates, CEO of DUAL Asia Pacific
Insurance Advisernet Australia

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