Playing to Win

By Chris Sheedy | Vol: 39 Issue: 3 | Sep 2016
  • Claims
  • General Insurance
  • Insurance Broking
  • Life Health and Retirement Income
  • Reinsurance
  • Risk Management

Brad French is on the end of a phone line in his ‘other’ house in Hokkaido, Japan, just outside the country’s premier ski resort of Niseko Village. With his wife and their 15-year old daughter (their 21-year-old daughter is at their home on Sydney’s northern beaches), he is enjoying the fruits of his success but speaks with the straightforward conviction of one who has worked hard and broken plenty of rules to accomplish what he has.

Brad’s entry into the insurance game came in 1993 after a job offer from Rollins Hudig Hall, which would become Aon. Brad worked his way up, managing underwriting and broking businesses – eventually running SLE for Aon. Most of these insurance businesses had a sporting angle, which was fitting for this former rugby player, who spent several years in the Eastwood first grade squad.


Throughout his insurance career, Brad has been willing to make tough calls to build a better, more successful business and create trust. An example of this came when SLE (under Aon) made a move into the public liability business.

Brad had a sneaking suspicion that things were going to turn ugly in terms of loss ratio, so rather than hoping for the best he called in PwC to conduct an actuarial review.

The actuaries ran the numbers on the entire business and came back with alarming news. Major losses were imminent. Risk had not been assessed thoroughly across numerous lines and, like many insurance businesses at the time, there was too much limit with too
little premium to pay for it.

“Aon was upset with me for ordering the review because it was expensive, but it would have cost a lot more without the review,” Brad says. “I knew it was the right thing to do. Once I had the results I got straight on a plane to London and told our carriers the position we were in and how we were going to fix it. That taught me a lot. It has also meant those same carriers are still supporting SLE today, some 17 years on.”

Other experiences made Brad realise how little collaboration occurs in some insurance businesses. He saw underwriters who simply took orders and rarely saw their claims or met the insureds. He met marketers who had no idea of the effectiveness (or lack of ) of the various events they organised for brokers. He watched the demise of Australian insurers like HIH, and other overseas insurers whose Australian portfolios had failed miserably.


 Brad eventually purchased SLE Worldwide from Aon in 2008. As CEO of SLE Holdings, he is the owner of SLE Worldwide, Pacific Underwriting and Mobius Underwriting Australasia. The three businesses cover a broad range of risk, from sports and leisure to property, cyber, liability and accident and health.

They collectively employ 30 people and punch far above their weight, thanks to a technological base that has taken several years to build from scratch.

“I got the idea for the new system when I was on a surf trip in the Maldives with a mate who runs a large, multinational software company,” says Brad. “One day he was on a conference call with numerous territories and was using Salesforce. He had several dashboards open on his screen showing data from his regions in real time.

“He let loose on a bloke who had been fudging his numbers in order to make himself look good. My mate had all the details in front of him and he could see that numbers had been moved around. He had real transparency and I thought that was pretty clever.”

When he returned from the surf trip Brad called a meeting with Salesforce. The result was a threeyear, live-in visit from several of the company’s technical experts from India. They came to learn the business before building a system that would offer absolute transparency as well as real-time data analysis to allow for accurate risk selection.


At the same time Brad knocked down 
office walls and sat his people together. He promoted the idea of a single team, just like the one on a rugby field. In making the changes he has, Brad believes, created world’s best practice for a managing general underwriter.

Individual performance, Brad says, is important on the sporting field, but teamwork is far more vital. Members of a great team know each other’s jobs and trust each other to do them, know exactly where on the field they need to be in order to support the player with the ball and, together, are skilled at turning adversity into opportunity.

“Everybody can see exactly what everybody else is doing in the business,” Brad says. “People are collaborating.

Underwriters are taking claims people to client meetings and Finance is involved in everything. We are collecting reams of data and are analysing and
acting on it in real time.”

What drove this change?

“I didn’t want to be in a situation where I had to go to London and have London underwriters sit there and look down their glasses and say to me that all Australian businesses are unprofitable. That is what happens when they back the wrong people.

“I wanted to create a business that says, ‘Back me! Don’t back anybody else!’ That was my philosophy, and we built it.”

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