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“Leave your preconceptions about insurance at the door.” – Matt Palmer

Matt Palmer
Chief Information Security Officer
Office for General Counsel
London

Matt Palmer is Willis Group’s Chief Information Security Officer. Based in London, Matt joined Willis in 2014, having transitioned his career to information security following a decade as a financial services auditor. He has consulted on cybersecurity, governance and risk for a number of leading global finance institutions in retail banking, financial administration, and investment management. Matt also serves as Chairman and co-founder of the Channel Islands Information Security Forum, undertaking public policy research, supporting learning and education, and building engagement and understanding of cybersecurity risk and response.

Here, Matt shares his perspectives on working in insurance, how he came to join Willis, and the expanding focus on information security in all sectors across the globe.

Why Information Security?

Information security has never been more important—and it’s rarely been more intriguing!

Companies live or die by their security, and yet it is a hard problem to solve. Information security is full of talented people who like solving that that sort of challenge, but it’s also full of people who want to challenge us.

The threat changes minute by minute, the technology evolves daily, and the regulatory environment and client expectations move nearly as fast. There are few right answers, and no absolute answers. It’s all about finding the best answers for your business that will work as well tomorrow as they do today.

The skills required change constantly to match, so you learn more in security than in almost any other field. That’s a challenge too, but if you want to be involved in how technology is changing the world around us, security is key. Ten years ago almost nothing was connected, and in ten years’ time, almost everything will be. Whether that is good for the world—and good for business—will come down to security.

How I Got Here

I ended up at Willis entirely by accident. I wasn't consciously looking for a move into insurance. It was only when I started to look at Willis that I realized what an opportunity it presented.

I've specialized in financial services for most of my career and been through several different areas. You get a huge variety in different parts of the financial services sector. Retail banking, insurance, private equity: they're all very, very different.

In many ways, I think insurance is the most exciting area within financial services because it is the part that changes how people can behave by helping them manage their risk. And that's a very exciting place to be. So having gotten here, I think I'll be here for a while.

The Willis Culture: Friendly, Supportive, Dynamic

Willis has a very open and quite a dynamic culture, with a large number of different people from very different backgrounds involved in very different roles. It has a willingness to accept challenge and a willingness to take responsibility. And it has a willingness to let people make mistakes—a quality which can be difficult to find.

As a result, you get quite a creative environment where people are coming up with their own ideas and putting those ideas into the mix and willing to make suggestions. This creates a real opportunity to do things better.

It's an incredibly friendly environment in which to operate, and really a very constructive place to work. I think everybody I know who's part of the security team at Willis feels that. Nowhere is ever going to be a free ride or an easy ride, and in an environment that's changing as fast as Willis is, that's definitely not the case. But it’s a supportive place to work.

Where Willis is Going

The direction of travel for Willis now is a very exciting one. We've seen a lot of change in recent years across the insurance sector. There are also a lot of disruptors to the insurance model: new companies, new technologies, different ways of working, and new types of insurance like cyber risk. Those are all impacting Willis at the moment.

At the same time, we have a huge change program, our Operational Improvement Program, and a list of other projects, including information security. This change will give Willis the opportunity to move into quite a strong position in the marketplace: as a genuine global insurance broker and risk management company that is valued for its analytical capability and its understanding of the risks that its clients face.

That is something toward which we all have a contribution to make, whether you are client-facing or in a back office function. From where I sit looking towards Willis itself, I can see that what we are delivering is going to empower and create opportunities for our client-facing teams. And that's very much what it's all about.

What It’s Like Here

Admittedly, Willis can be quite a challenging place to work. One of the biggest challenges we've got at the moment is building a new Information Security team and getting the right people in the right roles to support the change that we're delivering.

But that also makes it one of the most fun, rewarding and exciting aspects of doing the job, because you can see the opportunities that you can give people to shine and to make a difference to the organization.

Willis is quite unique compared to other financial services companies for which I’ve worked. It's large enough to be a proper global enterprise without being so large that you get lost in it. That's quite a luxury really, particularly in the financial services sector, which tends to focus around very large global banks and some very small players.

So with about 20,000 staff and operations in 100 or more countries, Willis is a very interesting and varied organization. It has the scope of an enterprise without having such a scale that it's difficult to get the job done.

My Advice

If you're an outsider to insurance, I would say come in with an open mind, because it really is different to what you would expect.

Insurance doesn't have the reputation for being a dynamic and forward-looking part of financial services—but it very much is. And it's very much the future. So while other parts of the financial services industry are focused on day-to-day management of people's accounts and finances, insurance is the one that is changing how the world looks. It does that by changing how people can manage their risks.

If you can manage your risks well, you can do things that you never thought you could. That is something that is unique to the insurance sector across the globe. So I'd say focus on the opportunities that insurance brings. Dump your preconceptions and leave them at the door

About Me

I have two small children, so when I'm not at Willis, the fun usually is generated by them. I have the luxury of living near the coast, so we spend a lot of time on the beach and lots of time doing family things.

When I'm not doing that, I have a slightly different task to risk. I love to sail, and I'm also working toward my private pilot's license, to fly light aircraft. Those activities are quite complimentary to what I do at Willis because they prove one thing: if you want to do something that involves risk, then you have to find a way to manage that risk!

That comes through your own understanding and knowledge of the activities, as well as knowledge and understanding of those around you and those you count on. And that's where Willis comes in for our corporate clients. You actually learn a lot from things you do in your personal life that help you do your job better at work. And vice versa!

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