Interview: Sara Mitchell, Chubb

Sara Mitchell

Sara Mitchell has recently taken on the role of divisional president for the UK and Ireland retail business at Chubb. She talked to Stephanie Denton about her faith in the UK market, the importance of understanding the risks insurers are writing and not being afraid of changing the way things are done

Speaking to Post only days after the English cricket team bought home the World Cup and in the month when England’s women made it the football World Cup semi-finals for only the second time, Sara Mitchell, head of corporate division for UK and Ireland at Chubb, feels strongly that the UK insurance market is also a winner.

She explains: “The UK market is still really exciting. We talk around Asia Pacific and Latin America as the up and coming growth engines of businesses globally, but it is important not to forget what a stable business we have in the UK, in spite of economic and political changes. Actually, this is still the home of insurance, and we’ve got the people, the talent, and the products to be able to continue to drive that.”

Learning roles

Like most others Mitchell didn’t choose to work in the sector but after doing a medicinal chemistry degree got a place on an Allianz graduate scheme. Mitchell spent time there in various departments before she moved on to what she calls ‘proper jobs’. Then she took a role in RSA, working in the property and casualty space on global accounts and then moved to do the chief of staff role under [former group CEO] Simon Lee.

“That was a great role to learn and get some profile but also to really understand the inner workings of an insurance company,” she explains. Her first profit and loss role was looking after delegated commercial schemes business for RSA and then she moved to what was then Ace in 2011.

“I joined to work in our specialty personal lines business, focusing on the mobile insurance with mobile networks. My role was about growing that business and creating an infrastructure. I did that for five years across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. It was a great business, I worked with some fantastic people and this was  a great way of understanding the organisation.”

Mitchell jokes that a small acquisition then took place – Ace bought Chubb for $28.3bn (£18.1bn) - and she moved to head the corporate division for the UK and Ireland, leading Chubb’s middle market segment. This year Mitchell was then promoted to the role of divisional president for the UK and Ireland retail business

“Again it was a great opportunity to learn some new areas. We have a team which collaborates very effectively and is really driven and focused on what they do, and that makes every person’s job a bit easier.”

She feels passionate about this part of the business and adds: “I’ve always done different roles based on my desire to learn something new. I really like P&L. When you say you work in insurance, generally the response is not hugely positive. When I say, ‘Actually, I run a business’, its different. We run businesses and we just sell a different type of product through a different type of distribution. Ultimately, we’re all here to serve the needs of customers.”

Service and efficiency

In her new role Mitchell is planning to focus on service and efficiency: “Service is incredibly important: how we service our brokers and clients, and the expectation that they have of what they get from Chubb. I want that to be consistent across our business, and ask how we can create more efficiency – possibly utilising our e-trade platforms in the places where it makes sense.”

She explains she is asking: “How do we create slicker processes for smaller premium business that still gives the broker the service and the support they want from an underwriter, but that the turnaround times are commensurate with the speed that they need to achieve, but also the size of that premium?

“How do we ensure that our most complex global multi-national clients are getting the same level of service from us, regardless of where their policies are issued?”

She adds that an area the firm has tried to focus on is how to minimise the question set: “How do we ask five questions to give a quote? How do we take the information you’ve already provided us and say to you, ‘If you tell us one more thing, we can also give you a quote on another product’? We’re getting better as an industry at looking at how this works, as we look into a smaller to middle commercial space.”


April 2019 to date

Divisional president for the UK and Ireland retail business

2017 to 2019

Head of middle market division for the UK and Ireland

2011 to 2017

Vice-president, speciality personal lines, Europe, Eurasia & Africa and Asia Pacific

2009 to 2011

Head of schemes – commercial

2007 to 2008

Chief of staff

2006 to 2007

Broker development manager risk solutions

2005 to 2005

New business development – schemes business

2004 to 2005

Broker sales consultant, sales and distribution, commercial

2002 to 2004

Graduate placements

Creating tangibility

Mitchell acknowledges that insurance is still an expensive purchase for an organisation and believes it is up to the insurers and brokers to help quantify and create that tangibility. She explains: “It will never be a purchase that people are delighted to buy. What we want to do though is to enable our customers to understand the value that insurance creates, should they need it.

“What is also key to us is that we have multi-line underwriters that can underwrite the risk, rather than just one line. We have people in our teams who come from different industries so they have a wider perspective on those risks. If we look at the diversification we need to create, it’s being able to talk to clients and brokers in a language that makes sense to them.”

Mitchell expands: “Fundamentally, whatever business you’re in, if you’re serving customers you need diverse perspectives, backgrounds and ways of thinking. Whether that be, gender, race, religion, experience, background - it makes common sense. We are seeing changes in the insurance industry, and this is probably happening to a greater extent than we give ourselves credit for. Insurance is always thought of as being slow.

“Sometimes, it’s not about being slow it’s about being considered. We need to make sure that people are given opportunities because of their individual capabilities. We strive to be a diverse and inclusive meritocracy in which all employees feel comfortable to do their best and contribute to their fullest potential. I am glad to see that, as an industry we have made great strides - and we are also doing the same within our own organisation.” 

As well as getting the sector in order Mitchell explains that some business lines are facing challenges: “We need to be alive to the fact that there are certain lines of business where you’re seeing loss activity and trends increase, and that there is real need as a market for us to respond. We’ve all seen the articles on things such as the big public directors’ and officers’ litigations cases and the Class Action securities. If you look at the past 10 years we’ve seen rates decrease and coverage expand. You don’t have to be a genius to understand the maths challenge that that creates, especially when you see the number of litigations, Class Action securities and what’s happening in the legal and regulatory environment.

“It’s our responsibility as an organisation to be able to explain what clients are facing, and what brokers are seeing in those markets, and our real need to make sure that, in order to provide a sustainable market, the right price is charged for the right risk. I see it as an area where Chubb is being progressive. We’re having conversations and we’re being very upfront around some of the challenges we see in the market, and how we feel we need to respond, but also that we think the market needs to respond.”

More to be done

Cyber is one product line where she believes more still needs to be done she explains: “Cyber has been the industry buzzword for several years and yet it is still a product we see as misunderstood by clients. It’s the job of insurers and brokers to be able to articulate what the coverage is, and what is suited to that individual customer. The key issue for customers around cyber is understanding the risks they face and also what insurance can realistically cover.

“We’ve taken an approach where we’ve been quite specific in terms of where we think we can offer sustainability in the product, and also we are fortunate that we’ve been writing cyber in one form or another for more than 20 years. The risks are all too real, but part of the issue is that the level of frequency is still not enough for some clients to see the value. Cyber is the area where we, as an industry, need to make sure we understand fully the risks that we are writing - particularly where those risks are emerging -  and that we have got the sustainability to be able to support what could be a multi-multi-million-pound claim when it happens.”

Terrorism has also been an area that has seen major change in recent years but Mitchell feels this market is “more sophisticated”. She explains: “As an industry, awareness around terrorism has increased steadily so we know what most of those risks look like and how they might manifest themselves. If there is a bomb explosion, for example, you can see the damage to the property. You can also observe the physical disruption when people cannot get into their businesses. It’s the consequential losses that occur as the aftermath we need to consider, the non-physical business interruption and insurers must be able to deal with this, wherever in the world they operate.”

But business risks are constantly changing and Mitchell is keen to keep up with the pace for customers benefit: “We have seen many changes to the risk landscape and consequently our industry over the last decade. And going forward we will see more and that rate of change is going to increase. So we’re going to need to adapt quickly and deliver different types of product, probably faster than we’ve ever done before. It will be a fundamental change from what many people associate insurance with – bricks and mortar, slips and trips – we’ll be looking at insuring risks around crypto-currencies, drones and the way in which artificial intelligence is driving different consequences, for example. What is the insurable risk here?

“There aren’t actually answers to all of the questions yet. That’s where, as an industry, we’ve got to start and continue the elements of thought leadership. That’s the evolution piece, but it’s around how fast we are responding, and is it quick enough for the environment that we’re now in.”

Mitchell adds: “As I look at the industry today, I can’t think that there is a better place to be able to come up with those solutions than the insurance market, but if we don’t keep up with the pace, somebody else will figure out a way to do it.”

Change of pace

Chubb is also going with a change of pace with long term regional president of the European group Andrew Kendrick retiring from the industry at the end of last year and David Furby taking up the reins of the company. 

Mitchell says: “David has brought a continuation, a renewed vigour, a different perspective. He’s been doing a global role for a long time, so he’s seen things in different markets that we might not have thought of about in Europe. Overall we also got a relatively new team.

“The really nice thing around the Chubb team is that we have people that are new to the organisation, people that have done completely different jobs, and that bring a different perspective, but actually that we’re not afraid of changing the way in which we do things.”

She expands: “Chubb is not an organisation that waits for others to make the first move. When we do act we need to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for our business and that’s exactly the same in the UK. It’s almost ensuring that we continue to deliver for the group, that we continue to attract the right people and that we continue to make our mark in terms of how important Chubb is in the UK, but also as part of the overall diversity of the business.

“We want to ensure that the UK business continues to deliver for the Chubb Group and for our shareholders. So, we want to keep driving growth and this is a market that is still growing despite, for example, issues such as Brexit and the potential consequences of that. There is still opportunity in the UK market and I would hate for people to think because of all of the uncertainty they might want to look elsewhere.” 

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