Women in Insurance: Q&A with Alexandra Gladyshevskaya, CEO and Co-founder, SPOKK Insurance

Women in Insurance - July 15 2020

In this interview series, we profile women who are shaping the future of insurance. By highlighting their achievements and sharing their insights, we aim to have an open dialogue about what carriers, brokers and insurtechs can do to promote greater gender parity and diversity in the world of insurance and increase the number of women in leadership positions. This week, we connect with Alexandra Gladyshevskaya, CEO and Co-founder of SPOKK Insurance. Founded in 2018, SPOKK is a mobile application which aims to simplify the ways the millennials engage with insurance companies – from product selection, underwriting, quoting and purchasing to service and claims.

Alexandra, tell us about your path to insurance. What attracted you to the profession?

In 2011, I graduated from the University of Eastern Languages (Kyiv, Ukraine). My specialization was the Japanese language. But as I soon found out, there was almost no demand in my country for this kind of language specialist. At the same time, I was working toward obtaining a second degree in a more practical field – finance. This combination of language and finance gave me a competitive advantage and a unique set of soft skills. In 2011, I was hired as a manager in the international re/insurance department of a re/insurance broker. In 2014, AIG (Kyiv branch) offered me a position in senior management. I was young and hungry for the disruptions and, at the time, I believed that big changes could be done only within a big company with big people, so I accepted the position. But in 2016, I realized that the opposite is true: small, nimble startups can be the driving force for disruption and change within the insurance industry. And that same year, I established my first own B2B insurance agency to sell cyber-insurance. In 2018, together with partners, I established SPOKK, a B2C insurtech company. But believe me, no one dreams of becoming an insurance agent. Myself, for example: I wanted to build spaceships.

What do you find most fulfilling about the work you do?

First, it is a feeling that someone relies on you, that customers trust you with their well-being when disaster strikes. Second, and this might sound a bit childish, but me and my team feel like superheroes when we help our clients in critical situations when they need us the most. That feeling is exactly what drives us. As I said before, no one dreams of becoming an insurance agent, but a lot of us in childhood dreamed of becoming a superhero. This attitude inspires me most.

The insurance industry is increasingly focused on customer-centricity and digitally transforming the way they sell coverage to attract new customers including millennials. If you had to give the industry a report card, how well are established insurance companies doing when it comes to building successful digital strategies and products that match the needs and buying behavior of millennial and Gen Z customers?

My mark would be 3 out of 10. The situation is very bad. Of course, some carriers are making efforts to go digital. But the audience of millennials that they are targeting is always one step ahead in their expectations regarding insurance services. Maria Ferrante-Schepis in her book about innovation in the insurance industry Flirting with the Uninterested writes: “My not-so-secret theory is that the ranks of insurance executives, mostly boomers, see Gen Y more as their children than they do potential customers. In other words, they look at members of Gen Y and see their kids – people who still need to be cared for and told what to do”. And here is this classical parents-kids problem “I know better what is better for you.”

But in insurance it doesn’t work. Now we have to ask our kids AKA our customers what they think is better for us. And in my opinion, targeting Gen Z is an unachievable goal for current carriers.

The insurance industry is in the midst of massive change. What do you think the insurance business will look like in five years?

I don’t want to sound pessimistic but, not being a futurist, I can say that nothing will change dramatically in a few years. It will take decades, hundreds of enthusiasts, and plenty of tries and fails in order for disruption to take root in such an old and conservative industry as insurance. But I believe it will happen to insurance, the same as it happened to the transportation industry with Ford, the space industry with Elon Musk, banks with PayPal, and others. We just have to be persistent in our pursuit of meaningful change.

If you had to pick one technology trend that will fundamentally transform insurance over the next 5-10 years, what would it be?

I would say that every technology connected to data and based on it, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, etc. will influence not only the insurance industry, but all industries. But of course, the ability to analyze large amounts of data from different sources would bring a huge value for underwriting, claims handling, risk predictions, and as a result for the customer. Because in the end, all the changes and all the technologies play for the end-user team.

The insurance industry faces a recruitment challenge with millennials choosing professions they deem to be more progressive, challenging and fun. What can the industry do to entice new talent?

The recipe is really very easy: Make the insurance industry more progressive, challenging and fun. We millennials are looking for very simple but valuable things: An atmosphere of creativity and freedom of personality (no more gray suits!), and a feeling of being involved in creating some great things that are important for society and even humanity (even if it is, for example, adopting cats for the office).

According to a 2017 study, just 12 percent of insurance companies’ top corporate officers are women. Why do you think there are so few women in senior leadership roles in the insurance industry? Do you see a similar situation in Insurtech with women in senior leadership?

From my point of view, the reason for the lack of women in top management in insurance is the same as in other spheres – politics, finance, technology, etc. First, stereotypes and traditionalism. A girl should be a “good mother, talented teacher, caring doctor, loving wife.” But you almost never hear someone say to his/her daughter, “When you grow up, you will be the best boss.” What I see regarding women in insurance is that most of them are taking high positions in insurance companies “not because of, but in spite of.” In respect to the number of women in insurtech leadership roles, I don’t have statistics, but speaking from my own experience being part of the fintech community, I can say that the situation is better than in traditional insurance companies. Maybe the reason for this is that the insurtech industry is much younger itself and most of the members of this community grew up with different social narratives.

As an Insurtech co-founder and CEO, what recommendations do you have for the next generation of women considering a career in insurance and technology?

Dear young ladies and future businesswomen: Never be shy. Take your place at the head of the table. Learn to say “No” to objectification and say “Yes” to all the opportunities with no self-doubt. You are really good enough, and even better.


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Alexandra Gladyshevskaya has almost a decade of experience in the insurance industry. She worked as a top manager for American International Group (AIG, Kyiv branch) and TBT insurance brokerage. Four years ago, she shifted to running her own business as an insurance broker specializing in cyber insurance and tech insurance, including insurtechs and insurance for IT companies. In 2018, together with partners, she started SPOKK, a new insurtech focusing on the B2C market with the idea of becoming “an insurance company in your smartphone.”

 

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