Like many other industries, the insurance industry in Australia has traditionally been male-dominated, with women occupying only a small proportion of leadership positions and facing gender-based barriers in the workplace.
However, a change is underway as more women are breaking through the barriers and establishing successful careers in the field. These pioneers are not only defying the norm but also motivating future generations of women to chase their aspirations and realise their ambitions, regardless of the industry.
One such individual is Samantha White, a serial entrepreneur based in the UK and an award-winner. She shares her choice to establish Stella Insurance, a women-focused motor insurance brand, in Australia instead of her native country. Stella Insurance, designed and operated by women, endeavours to shatter women’s obstacles in the historically male-dominated insurance sector.
Since its establishment in Australia in 2020, Stella Insurance has seen impressive growth and success. The company has secured $1 million from a local insurance-focused investment fund, entered into a media-for-equity agreement worth $15 million, and achieved a 400 per cent increase in gross written premiums.
Going back to the roots, let’s delve into the beginnings of it all!
Samantha was curious about whether insurance products were tailored for men and if the evaluation process was based on a male perspective. After conducting research, she discovered that this was indeed the reality and saw an opportunity to develop new insurance and financial services that would take into account a woman’s point of view.
“Having been in insurance for over twenty years, I’m used to operating in a traditional, male-dominated insurance sector. This masculine energy, or left-brained approach, is characterised by numbers and results, while feminine energy is more holistic, promoting collaboration and creative thinking. I believe a balance of both energies is important in life and business, and that’s what I’m bringing into Stella.
“It’s no secret that we’re living in a world designed by men for men. I’m not suggesting the men in our society are actively out to get us, but it’s the result of a historical and ongoing system of oppression.
“For example, car design itself is inherently discriminatory. Although men are more likely to be in car crashes, women are more likely to be seriously injured due to car design and car crash dummies with male stature being used to test safety. Similarly, drug tests are usually done on men, so if a woman has a heart problem, doctors may not know what to look for because they are used to seeing symptoms in male physiology.”
“I wondered if insurance products were made for men and if the way they are evaluated was based on a male point of view. After some investigation, this was indeed the case, and I saw the possibility of creating new insurance and financial services that would consider a woman’s perspective.
“We still provide coverage for men but also want to reward women for being safer drivers by providing premium benefits, competitive pricing, and tailored products with women in mind.”
Women entrepreneurs often face obstacles in securing capital, such as limited access to networks, lower levels of investment readiness, and unconscious bias from investors.
Samantha recalls that as a young woman without any significant business experience, obtaining financial support was close to impossible. She recalls being unable to secure a bank overdraft to expand her business without her father pretending to be involved in the venture. These early struggles instilled in her a sense of self-reliance, leading her to build the Freedom Group entirely through organic self-funding.
“When it comes to starting a business, I’ve been around the block a few times. In the late 90s, I set up my first business in the insurance industry at the age of 24 from my sister’s conservatory. My first job out of university was in the insurance sector, which gave me a taste of what it was like as a woman in a male-dominated industry. I realised quickly that I wanted to do things differently and carve out a path for myself, so I took the risk to set up my first business, a claims management business called Action 356.
“As a young woman with no tangible business experience, getting financial help was almost impossible back then. In fact, I couldn’t get a bank overdraft approved to expand without my father pretending to be involved in the business! Because of those early experiences, I adopted a self-reliance that has meant Freedom group is entirely organically self-funded.
“Twenty years on, I diversified and set up several insurance businesses under the umbrella of Freedom Services, which eventually led me to launch Stella Insurance.
“As a woman in business, I’ve seen the challenges and the improvements made over the years in terms of funding. There’s still a lot to be done, but I’m passionate about being a part of this change and will be making it my mission to invest in more opportunities for women both in business and in life.”
Challenging the status quo
Launching a business in 2020 during the pandemic presented a significant challenge for everyone, including Samantha. She had previously built all of her businesses through bootstrapping efforts.
“For example, my UK business Freedom Services Group has grown organically since 1999 and has 250 staff and a turnover of over £20 million (over $34 million AUD).
“On the other hand, Stella started with external investors with an obvious stake in its success, such as Bauer Media Group, Viper Capital and Envest. There was some discussion about whether we should wait to launch, but I chose to go full steam ahead as I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.
“While lockdowns created some difficulties, the team on the ground believed in Stella wholeheartedly and focused on finding solutions and moving forward. Now we’ve written over $18 million in premiums in the motor business alone and recently began offering pet insurance.
“We’ve found that men and women alike get on board with our message, and we’re confident that we’ll continue challenging the status quo.”
Let’s talk business
Since its launch in Australia in 2020, Stella Insurance has seen impressive growth and success. In its mission to create a more equitable world for women, Stella has formed partnerships with like-minded local charities such as Women’s and Girl’s Emergency Centre (WAGEC) and Her Heart. Through these partnerships, the company has raised over $80,000 by donating $5 from every policy sold to WAGEC to support women in leaving violent situations.
In terms of its policies, Stella Insurance offers additional coverage for baby capsules and child safety seats and waives any excess fees for insurance claims related to damage resulting from domestic violence.
“We don’t talk a big game; we truly deliver on our promise to be there for women. Once we stabilised and started bringing in revenue following the pandemic, we partnered with like-minded charity partners and organisations such as the Women & Girls’ Emergency Centre.
“It was crucial that our message for standing for women also came across in our actions and was embedded in the business as soon as possible. That’s why we started giving $5 from every policy to the Women’s & Girls’ Emergency Centre, now totalling more than $70,000.
“I’m also the Chair of Her Heart, which empowers women’s medical health, and have ties with female entrepreneur groups, We are One Roof and Northern Power Women. Numbers are important, but knowing that we’re part of a collective effort to make women safer (financially, mentally and physically) is hugely rewarding and powerful.”
Change is coming sooner than you think!
Samantha predicts that the insurance industry will become more diverse, offering new products and services that cater to changing needs. She believes that there is not a need for insurance products that are exclusive to women but rather a need for a more balanced approach that includes female-focused insurance products.
“I actually think men will equally enjoy a more right-brained approach to financial services. In insurance, that means designing products that take into consideration potentially biased or discriminatory clauses. For example, at Stella, we are also rethinking insurance and looking at what isn’t insured that maybe should be, e.g. domestic abuse or cover for medical procedures that are currently excluded.
Samantha firmly thinks that a more holistic approach to financial services will appeal to both men and women. She envisions the creation of insurance products that address potentially biased or discriminatory clauses, taking into account a wider range of perspectives and experiences.
“We are also building a very strong interconnected community platform, and by concentrating on open communication and genuine shared value, we feel we can change the often-negative perception of financial services. I’m excited about the possibilities in terms of what we can offer, and the markets we’re expanding to next are continuing to unfold!”
Samantha inspires other women entrepreneurs or those who dream of starting their own business in the insurance industry with the following words of encouragement: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”
“You learn more from the things that don’t go right versus the things that do. Women’s’ greatest downfall is most often a lack of confidence, not a lack of capability.
“We socialise girls differently from boys. Women often attribute our successes to factors such as support from others, while men attribute their accomplishments to their own innate qualities and skills. It’s similar to failures; women might believe failure reveals a personal flaw when often it’s a natural part of life and business.
Women in Australia make up half of the road users and have a safer driving record, making them an ideal target for Stella’s mission to provide excellent benefits, competitive pricing, and tailored products that take into account women’s unique needs and perspectives.
“I’ve always believed in keeping up momentum because things can change as soon as you stop, and you could miss your opportunity. Just remember, no one is ever as good as you think they are when you first meet them, and they are never as bad as you think they are the first time you hit a challenge.
“Challenges and failures are bound to happen; trust in yourself to have the confidence to move forward and make sure to get started in the first place!”
You can follow Sam on LinkedIn or tune into her podcast “Human Business with Sam White”, where she candidly discusses the challenges of running a business.
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