“Always look for opportunities and remember sometimes these can come from a crisis or downturn” – CEO Q&A: Ciaran Mulligan, co-founder and MD, Blue Insurance

Business, CEO Q&A | Wed 9 Oct | Author – Business & Finance
Pictured: Ian Kennedy, Head of Marketing and Ciaran Mulligan, MD, Blue Insurance

In this week’s CEO Q&A, Ciaran Mulligan, MD of Blue Insurance, tells Business and Finance about the challenge of managing 14 brands trading across multiple countries, the importance of innovation and new trends impacting the industry.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

My role as Managing Director of Blue Insurance is to manage the business and ensure the company continues to grow, innovate and run smoothly in all areas of the business. My role also involves growth development of my senior management team and helping them achieve their targets and goals and enhancing their leadership capabilities. I’m very much a hands on Managing Director so I’m regularly in meetings with my team collaborating on different ideas and addressing the needs of the business on a daily and weekly basis.

As I sold the business in 2018 to my role has expanded to assist our new owners CoverMore in their future developments and plans within Europe.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Brexit still continues to be one of those challenges that doesn’t seem to want to go away. Although we are well prepared for Brexit especially given we have a UK Branch office in Cardiff,  until there is a final outcome to Brexit, we are constantly reviewing procedures, currency and regulatory requirements.

Another big challenge is staff recruitment and staff retention. In the current economic climate there are increasing salary demands from software engineers and other staff. Full employment means all staff are demanding greater salary increases however I believe we have been fair with the salary increases applied over the past number of years.

Increased regulation is always a challenge. With over 14 brands and trading in a number of countries, trying to stay on top of all the latest regulatory requirements in each country demands resources in product development while you focus on complying with new requirements.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

I think the culture in the business is very good and we care about staff.  I also think it helps setting targets and goals to help the staff stay motivated as everyone wants to achieve the best results. The majority of our senior team have come through the ranks of the business so it highlights to staff,  if you work hard, you will succeed and grow with the business.

I think we are very lucky in that the majority of  the team are very supportive of the business and want the company to be very successful.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry?

Future Technology is always a big challenge especially for an industry that moves very slowly.  As we see more automation, driverless cars etc in the coming years I think some insurers might be replaced with manufacturers who will self-insure those vehicles, eg this week Tesla who are looking to eventually insure all their vehicles.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Fintech Companies like Trov and Lemonade are disrupting the insurance industry and leading the way forward with instant and short term insurance period.

I also expect wearables such as the iWatch and FitBit etc to have a big impact in the industry over the coming years. You can already see it emerging in the health industry but soon I would expect these wearables to have an  impact in a range of insurance products in the industry.

Health and wellbeing is going to be the next big trend in the industry and could be part of the corporates’ retention policy. I expect to see new products emerge in the insurance industry involving improving the mental health and well being of employees as we all experience more stress in our working and personal lives.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

Brexit has effected mostly due to the dramatic fall in sterling especially given approx. 35% of our turnover comes from the UK Market.

The effects have already been felt as there are a reduced number of UK holidaymakers travelling abroad due to the weakness in sterling. Time, effort and money spent on preparing for Brexit is another effect which could become pointless if there is a customs union or the UK doesn’t leave the EU in the end.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

Like most companies, we are constantly struggling to fill software engineers positions while trying to keep salary levels at a reasonable level. Apart from that we are managing to fill positions however salary demands are increasing each year.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

Our strategy was a little different from everyone else. We decided to continue to market our products during the crisis but negotiate better deals on media spend and also get more for our bucks with additional air time, run time etc. We knew our products were competitively priced so we knew consumers would still continue to buy them, eg our www.Multitrip.com product was offering annual travel insurance for €21.99 during the crisis. We knew people would probably reduce the number of holidays they would take during the year but because it so competitively priced we knew they would still take the annual policy which they did. Multitrip.com became Ireland’s favourite Travel Insurance provider.

Another example was we knew the younger generation would emigrate during the crisis so we created a new brand www.backpackertravelisnurance.ie (which offered one and two year travel insurance cover) which was a major success with the amount of the younger generation emigrating looking for work abroad. This brand is still a major success today.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

Success to me is consumers buying our product and being happy with the services they receive. We have been financially successful from the beginning by the fact that we made profit and continued to grow every year since opening in 2003.

We are also very proud to have won Best Travel Insurance Provider award every year since opening, which reflects the quality of the product and service we offer consumers. Blue Insurance has also been a Deloitte Best managed company for the past 6 years.  Both myself and my former Partner Rowan were finalists of the EY Entrepreneur of the year in 2011 and we both won Travel Industry Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

Selling the business to CoverMore in October 2018 was a major highlight over the past year and the company continued to grow in double digits in 2018.  I was super proud to have won Chambers Ireland Business Man of the year in 2018.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

The best advice I would give to a business is be innovative as possible. Always look for opportunities and remember sometimes these can come from a crisis or downturn. Your team are your best asset so look after them as much as possible. Re-invest profits in the business in the early years to help ensure delivery of growth.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

Ideally we would like to see the brand Blue Insurance/CoverMore enter the European Travel Insurance Market followed by some of our Niche Insurance products such as gadget, pet and car hire excess.

We would also like to see our Multitrip.com brand retain the coveted position of Ireland’s Favourite Travel Insurance.

Q. What’s next for the company?

Continued growth hopefully, European expansion and a new leader in 2020.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

The Insurance sector in general continues to face challenges – high cost of motor claims, high cost of liability insurance for businesses in Ireland and lack of competition in the market.

I’d like to see availability of funding for growth, encouragement of new entrants into the sector and increase in local and national programmes to help new businesses achieve success.