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A Day in the Life: writing international insurance from Shannon Back  
Operating from Shannon, Co. Clare, HIIL is a subsidiary of HBOS plc. and underwrites creditor insurance for HBOS customers. After opening its doors a little over three years ago with 55 employees, HIIL is now over five times its original size and has nearly two million insurance policies in force. As chief operating officer, Mary Halton was tasked with ensuring that the rapid growth was matched with a financial and operating structure suited to an organisation with very ambitious goals.
66.45am Figures become a way of life after a while. First task in the morning is to do a quick headcount check on whether the two children have made it down for breakfast. As I’m travelling to the UK today and won’t see them for a couple of days, I take some time to enjoy breakfast with them before I go. My husband, well used to my schedule, keeps things running smoothly in my absence.

7.30am After years of city life, the short commute to Shannon from my home in the historic village of Quin is a real bonus and leaves me just enough time to catch up on Irish news and current affairs.

7.50am On arrival at work, a quick look at the HBOS intranet provides an overview of UK financial and business news and any industry relevant issues.

8.00am A half hour session with Roisin, my PA is time well spent, going through my schedule for the day and addressing early e-mails . One valuable lesson is to follow Giulliani’s principle of ‘when I delegate, I delegate’!

8.30am A weekly meeting of our senior management team is fundamental to the effective operation of the company and discussion is often animated. Given the pace of past and planned growth, active communication and interaction between departments is a must and each of the managers plays a key role in making this happen. Though a relatively young company, we are successfully growing a culture that focuses firstly on our customers. Ensuring high quality products and services has allowed us to consistently grow the business through new sales and high levels of customer retention. The energy and enthusiasm of staff at all levels across the company has underpinned our success to date and will continue to be a key driver of our business going forward.

10.30am An hour to make and return phone calls and deal with any further e-mails helps to clear some items from my to-do list. A short discussion with Shannon Development, our local development authority paves the way for a meeting with another local firm to review business opportunities and share information. Shannon Development played a key role in bringing HBOS to Shannon and continues to actively provide support for business expansion. A call with Howard Posner, managing director of the HBOS General Insurance group, clarifies some final issues on plans for the coming year. Howard has grown the HBOS general insurance business significantly since taking over in 1997 and the aggressive growth policy is reflected in HIIL’s success to-date.

11.30am I head for the airport for my flight to the UK. Though video and tele-conferencing are very much a part of how we do business, proximity to an international airport with a regular service to the UK is a real bonus. Travel time is minimal and flight schedules often allow me to return same day, a real plus for family life! The short flight allows me time for some final prep in advance of this afternoon’s meetings.

2.15pm Having picked up a car at the airport, I enjoy the trip across the Yorkshire dales on my way to the general insurance offices in Copley. The weather is often damp and overcast so it is easy to feel right at home!

3.15pm I arrive on time to grab a coffee and catch up with Roisin before my first meeting. A common operating platform allows me to access my e-mails and any files I need and I catch up with our finance manager on the final details of expense hedging for 2004. Our income is all sterling denominated and the increased strength of the euro has made the operating budget even more of a challenge. Through active management, our cost base remains competitive and efficiency and productivity are continually evaluated and reviewed to protect this advantage.

4pm A meeting with another group company, for whom we administer business, is the initial step in re-negotiating contract terms for the coming year. Monthly video conferences to review systems and service standards ensure that there are no surprises on either side and discussions progress smoothly.

5.30pm A catch up on mails for the day and a review of the final papers for tomorrow’s General Insurance Audit and Risk Committee throws out a couple of issues to be addressed. As with the US, the UK and other EU countries, the increasingly onerous regulatory and corporate governance environment in Ireland requires a high degree of adaptability and effort across all aspects of the operations. Fortunately for HIIL, an established practice of actively managing risk and compliance provides an advantage in this environment and assures customers a quality service. Risk and compliance issues are managed within a strong group risk management framework and the monthly group Audit and Risk meeting facilitates sharing of best practice, policy interpretation and management of aggregate risk exposures.

6.30pm Head to hotel and take a breather. I ring home to say goodnight to the kids and hear about their day.

7.30pm A working dinner with the general insurance group finance director provides a pleasant change of environment for discussing expected full year results and finance related issues.

10.30pm Back at the hotel I catch up on news for the day and chat with my husband before settling down for a read. I’ve swapped my usual favourites such as Robert Goddard and Elizabeth George for a totally different read in the form of Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ - a good way to finish out the day!

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