Inspirational Woman: Laura Benton | Founder & COO, Reassured

Laura Benton

Reassured is the UK’s largest FCA-regulated life insurance broker.

They operate 9 sales offices and specialise in arranging suitable life insurance, free of charge, for families across the country.

They were formed in 2009 by Laura Benton and her business partner Steve Marshall with 4 members of staff, but now employ over 1,000 people.

To date Reassured have helped protect well over 1,000,000 families in the UK.

We caught up with Reassured founder and COO Laura Benton to discuss her rapid rise in the heavily male dominated life insurance sector…

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I started my “career” aged just 8. My father passed away when I was a baby, leaving us hard up and so luxuries such as pocket money or the latest toy wasn’t something I ever experienced.

I started washing cars around where I lived and by the time I was a teenager I was working 30 hours a week doing ironing, at a taxi rank and in a fish and chip shop to name a few.

By the time I started my first proper job in telesales aged 18 it all seemed very easy. I was never academic, I am dyslexic which in the 80’s meant you were written off at school, so I knew if I wanted to make something of myself, I had to work harder than anyone else – this is exactly what I did.

I started out in the motor trade doing finance and insurance, working my way up to management by the age of 21. I then made the move from unsecured to secured lending where I met by current business partner Steve Marshall.

Steve and I then co-founded Reassured in 2009 and grew the business organically from just 4 staff to over a 1,000 people today. My role is Chief Operating Officer with responsibility for sales, service and people teams.

Reassured are currently the UK’s largest life insurance broker and have protected well over 1,000,000 families in the UK.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

No. I always knew I wanted to be a manager to drive business forward and help people, I was also very advanced for my age in terms of understanding people and resilience because of my working experience from a young age.

I never had delusions of grandeur, I never thought in terms of what I wanted because I was acutely aware that no one is entitled to anything. Instead, I always meticulously planned my next step.

Once I became a manager, I planned my next step to senior manager. I never thought beyond this as I was forensic, and borderline obsessive, in my plan as to how to move to the next level. It was always about progression and not dreaming of being a CEO when I was 20.

I realised very early on that progression is closely linked to ones’ drive and character and that working harder earned you the time to learn any lacking skills. Have I got everything I have ever gone for – no, but have I ever not gone for every opportunity by giving everything I have – no.  

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Absolutely. Where do I start?

Starting out in the motor trade being the only female, setting up a lending business three months before the 2008 credit crunch was formally announced, being a start-up team of four and having no money to do anything – every stage of my career has come with a new set of challenges and at the time they feel insurmountable.

Most recently the COVID-19 pandemic has presented multiple challenges. Transitioning over 1000 staff to home-working when we were an exclusively office-based organisation was a monumental task. Seeing some of the tragedies our people have experienced during this time has also been very hard – especially in terms of their mental wellbeing. However, every challenge I face I simply break it down into more manageable tasks.

I ask myself what can I influence and what can’t I influence? Can I improve this situation by 10%, now let’s try for 20%…the most important thing in challenging times is to get your arm around everyone else in the team and let them see you are in it with them. If we put everything in this together, then the outcome will be what it is.

Cliche as it may sound, I believe that every single challenge, all the hard times I have faced, have made me a better leader, as I have learnt from these experiences, both good and bad. Over the last 20 years I have had a lot of “scars” and I’m pretty proud of most of them.   

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

The growth of my people. At Reassured we have promoted most of our management internally. Most of our directors started as sales agents with us many years ago and I trained most of them. All our managers started as new-to-industry trainee agents.

These personal development stories make me incredibly proud. I love that I helped these talented people realise their potential, watching our people grow has been a genuine privilege.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

The most important thing is to never believe your own hype. No matter how well you do and no matter how much you achieve, there is no such thing as one person who achieved it all.

The second you start to believe that you are some genius with magical business powers you are on a dangerous path. Never take anything for granted, always operate with a healthy sense of paranoia, always create a forum for honesty, be open to criticism and open to being wrong.

Reassured’s success has been a huge team effort from many talented and driven individuals, the reason we are a great business is because we have great people – it’s that simple.  

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

A massive turning point in my career was the opportunity to work with a business coach called Chris Southam. She entirely changed my approach to business, educated me on emotional intelligence and leadership – she spent a year with me helping me to navigate my new role when I was promoted to the Board. I am so grateful for this development.

I think mentoring is an undervalued skill. Just because you are successful doesn’t mean you are a good coach or are able to help other people. If mentoring means giving one to one support and guidance then yes, I have done this with many people over the years, but I’m also aware that there are better people than me.

At Reassured we have amazing Learning & Development team, business management specialists, an occupational phycologist, plus an incredible HR team. They are the experts, so my support is best given to them to enable them to shine as they do very regularly.

In 2018, the Princess Royal Training Awards recognised Reassured for our inspirational commitment to learning and development and we have been nominated again this year for an award.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

It would be hard to choose one thing. I’m very passionate about gender equality, having spent my life in two very male dominated industries. Twenty years ago, it was awful, I remember being told to my face that I wouldn’t make anything of myself in the motor trade because I was a woman, I was an imposter and made aware of this directly.

These days it’s usually less brazen, but it’s the micro aggressions towards women that really make my blood boil and for this I have so many examples. It starts when you are young, calling little girls “princess”, starting an early unhealthy association with being like a princess linked to their parents’ affection.

Saying to little boys stop crying or running like a girl. Fast forward to an industry event a couple of years ago where I was introduced to a counterpart at another firm “this is Laura she is the founder and Chief Operating Officer at Reassured” and the man replied, “I like your shoes”!

Whilst companies are making steps to support women back into work after maternity and flexible working, it’s the undertones that haven’t changed and very much need to. Until there are more women at the top to create the right culture, it won’t change to get more women to the top. It’s not one big thing, I believe it’s the thousand little things that need to be eradicated. 

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Stop trying to fit in. Fitting in means conforming to everyone else, and this is the basis for why companies and industries don’t evolve. Show them that not fitting in is the healthiest thing a company can have, pave the way for more.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The world post COVID has changed. We can deny it, we can hope it changes back but it will never be the same. The cycle of change also hasn’t stopped, people want different things now compared with just six months ago. My next challenge is to thoroughly understand what the post COVID world needs to look like for my people and my customers. My ongoing goal is to once again, evolve my business to be a market leading proposition in a changing world.

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