Networks Profile – Mark Cobham
This month the focus is on Mark Cobham, Client Service Leader for Willis Towers Watson Networks.
I have quite a wide-ranging role within the Networks Team with responsibility for the Network Business School, Finance for the Network and also Legal and Compliance.
I’ve worked for Willis Towers Watson for 26 years and I have been involved with Networks pretty much from its launch in 1999. Initially I was involved in helping Network Members with the IT Platform we had at the time (CLEO) before moving across to the Network Team on a full-time basis in 2000. Before joining Willis Towers Watson I worked for a personal lines broker for a couple of years. Whilst at Willis Towers Watson I’ve had several roles, starting out as a claims handler before moving into broking in the Willis Preston office. I’ve had a number of roles in the Network including working as Systems Support Manager and then as a Business Partner looking after Network Members in the North of England, before taking on my current role 3 years ago.
I’m married to Christine, with 2 grown up children. My eldest Thomas has just completed a Music Performance degree at Huddersfield University and is about to begin studying for a Masters in Music Performance before potentially pursuing a career as an Army musician. My younger son, George, is just about to start studying Law with Politics at Liverpool University.
I have a number of interests including shooting, gardening and wine. In more recent years though these have taken a back seat (well the wine hasn’t) and most of my time outside of work is spent playing in a brass band and helping to run a Music Academy which teaches people to play brass instruments and percussion. Around 7 years ago having never played an instrument before and unable to read music, I started to learn to play the euphonium and whilst I’ll never be the greatest musician in the world, I’m living proof that it is never too late to try something new! The rest of the family play too and are far better musicians than I am but it is a great hobby to enjoy together. When we aren’t doing that, we are probably walking our 3 Labradors.
Like many people I didn’t set out looking for a career in insurance! I always wanted to do something science related and for a long time wanted to be a vet before deciding that was far too difficult and instead wanting to be a pharmacist. I was offered a place at Liverpool University to study pharmacy but I decided I didn’t want to go to university after all and turned it down. I applied for various jobs not really knowing what I wanted to do and the first opportunity was with a local personal lines broker dealing with motor insurance quotes. I took the job and whilst it was enjoyable it was clear there’d be limited progression where I was. After a couple of years an opportunity came up for a claims handler at Willis Preston which I applied for and haven’t looked back!
I’ve been in insurance for nearly 30 years and it has changed a lot. When I started there were more insurers, more brokers and all of those needed a lot more staff as everything was paper based and labour intensive. Most insurers had local branches and it was very much a people business. There wasn’t email, we communicated with clients by post or telephone. There was no internet and there was very little regulation! Brokers tended in the main to only have local clients that they could visit whereas now geography tends to feature much less, and brokers will deal with clients anywhere in the world.
Most things have changed for the better. Technology has transformed the industry and has made things much more efficient. The internet and availability of data has enabled underwriting and pricing risks to become very sophisticated whilst enabling instant decisions. Communicating with clients, colleagues and insurers has moved to emails, text and zoom meetings which can be great but can also set unrealistic expectations when we come to expect an instant response to everything.
When I look at my role I believe Networks is a success because we have such a broad proposition that delivers enormous value to our Network Members. Whether that is accessing markets and exclusive products for their clients, accessing expertise from a global broker, networking with fellow members and insurers, utilising our marketing support to grow their businesses or our Business School to train their staff there are so many strands to our proposition that benefit out Network Members and in turn our Partner Insurers.
My own personal triumph I would say is probably completing my ACII and becoming a Chartered Insurance Broker. This is the equivalent of a degree in insurance and took me several years to complete with I think 10 exams, with most of the work having to be done in my own time when we had a toddler. I contemplated giving up a number of times, but I’m glad I didn’t!
I often get asked what advice I’d give to someone starting out now and I’d probably aim my advice at 18-year old’s choosing which path to take. It seems strange saying it when my sons are both at university, but I’d say university isn’t the be all and end all. A lot of people feel pressured into going to university I know I did, but I stood my ground didn’t go and then worked hard to build my career in the industry I found myself in. So only go to university if it is right for you. There’s plenty of other options with lots of employers looking to invest in school and college leavers to put them on a career path that can lead to great things. Definitely consider a career in insurance – it is something everyone will always need and there are so many interesting and varied roles with lots of opportunity for progression.