Interview with Jackie Hyde from Dot2Dot

After years of working with nurseries in the insurance sector, mum of two Jackie Hyde realised that she could create a better product for their unique needs. She tells us how she set up Dot2Dot, a leading UK specialist day nursery and childcare insurance provider.

What inspired you to set up dot2dot?

I started to work with nurseries through another insurance supplier and quickly realised that this was a fantastic business sector to work with. The owners and managers of nurseries were interested in ensuring their cover was right as they appreciated they were carrying a considerable risk as they were looking after children. Conversations just flowed and as our relationships became stronger they were keen to help us improve our services.

I also loved the fact I was working predominately with female business owners, so when the opportunity came to move away from the other supplier, I decided that we were more than capable of launching our own product which would enable us to bring our own ideas and solutions to the market.

The clients were unbelievably supportive in moving across and were move than willing for us to bounce off ideas to ensure what we were going to offer was just what they wanted.

How have you managed to balance running two businesses in the same sector?

Interesting question and something I haven’t honestly thought about. You just have to ensure that your priorities are in order and there are times when I focus on dot2dot and other times Stanmore needs more attention. I have a great squad of people in the business and we have dedicated staff in each aspect of the business.

As the business has developed so have the team who fully understand what is expected by me and more importantly our clients. Each client has a dedicated account handler and this has been vital as they build such strong relationships with their clients.

It is quite surprising what they get to know whether it is a client is poorly, they are getting married or there is a new baby on the horizon, so cards, flowers and gifts to ensure our client’s feel special are sent. The team always know when I need to be involved and I would be completely lost without them.

Have you ever experienced any gender bias working in the financial services industry?

Having worked in the insurance industry for over 30 years, I have seen lots of gender bias but there has been lots of changes and improvements during this period but there is still lots of work to do. I have had two children that are 5½ years apart that are now 28 and 22 years old respectively.

When I returned to work after my first child was born, it was six months maternity leave and back to work full time or not at all. When my son was born, I returned on a part-time basis much sooner and built my hours up to full time.

I have to say, that when my second child was born, my focus on work was different and I knew that if I didn’t come back reasonably quickly I would have found the transition difficult. I had moved to Stanmore by then as an employee and my boss at the time, valued what I did and wanted us to find a solution that would work for both me and the business.

When I became a director of the business, I found myself in the minority as a female in senior position within the independent broking industry and this is still the case. Men have found it difficult to come across a woman that is willing to speak her mind quite forcefully if needed.

Men and women do work differently and I have the experience to prove this as I have worked with a number of male business partners. It is the responsibility of both parties to try to understand how each wants to operate and find the answers together as there are strengths from each view point.

The insurance company world now has some incredibly talented women heading and managing those businesses. It would be fabulous to see this develop in the independent broking industry too.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced since starting your own business?

On the 2 January 2014 my business partner sustained a serious injury and was subsequently away from the business for 19 months which has recently resulted in me purchasing his shares in July 2015. Overnight the business needs changed, as I had to not only to service my clients but immediately needed to understand the requirements of my partner’s clients and build relationships very quickly.

In addition, the whole of the responsibility for running the business became mine with the need to have a greater understanding of regulatory matters and finances which had previously been my partner’s area. To add a further challenge I was diagnosed with breast cancer two months later, so treatment took place with two weeks off for surgery and radiotherapy outside business hours.

During times like these you realise the support that is around. I have a fantastic team who did whatever was needed to ensure clients were not neglected. Insurers provided renewal terms for us well in advance which helped us with planning.

Clients were so understanding with what was happening and were prepared to be flexible where needed. Business peers were amazing, providing reassurance, guidance, understanding and the occasional stern word whenever it was needed. The business needed looking after alongside my own person situation.

We never took the foot off driving for new business or ensuring our clients still received the service they expected. The business not only survived but had the best financial year for a long time with an increase in turnover and profitability.

Many lessons were learnt personally. The business had to undergo changes but this predominately brought opportunities to lots of individuals to develop within our organisation.

I had some really tough days but there were lots of good ones too and I am so much stronger for this experience.

What has been your proudest achievement to date?

My greatest accomplishment has been dot2dot, which was developed and driven by me from day one. I have already explained why I launched dot2dot in 2003 but for me it was important that we had an innovative approach including a nursery branded product with a name that is associated to children and an appropriate brand with a teddy bear as our mascot.

At events we promoted the dot2dot product in jeans and t-shirts giving away stickers, wall planners and children’s CD’s to demonstrate we were in tune with the Early Years industry. It was so well received that all our competitors who had previously presented their products in the normal insurance style followed our approach.

Blue-chip insurers have always been the backers for our policy which benefits from minimal warranties and conditions that ensure claims are met. Since the change of insurer to Zurich in 2009 dot2dot has had 100% growth.

All clients have a dedicated account handler who personally gets to know them and their business. It also creates individual ownership at the office. Cards and gifts regularly leave the building to celebrate births, marriages or simply wishing a client well when they are poorly or having a difficult time.

Strategic partners were chosen to provide wider business solutions to the sector in areas including claims, legal, HR, H&S, safeguarding, IT to name a few.

Claims trends are regularly monitored and solutions sought when a need arises. Previous examples have been to persuade clients to fit finger guards to doors to prevent children suffering major injuries.

Incorporation of an on-line management toolkit to assist clients with documentation so clients can be defended should a liability claim arise or a H&S allegation occur. Safeguarding and mock tribunal events to raise awareness of challenging issues have been a relatively new development.

The gross written premium has grown from £100,000 in 2003 to £1.7 million in 2015 and is on target to reach £2 million by the end of its next trading year. dot2dot currently insures over 1,500 nurseries on a national basis, 50,000 children and £1.2 billion material damage.

We have recently changed insurers to Aviva which takes us to the next stage of development. There are lots of great ideas in the pipeline and we are so looking forward to what the future holds.

How have to managed to keep a work-life balance?

This is a constant challenge and changes all the time so I have to adapt regularly. When my career developed and I had two small children, my husband and I sat down to agree who would do what and when.

This helped enormously and I have always had the mentality that when I am at work, this is my priority and when home then family life is then the focus. I have a wonderful relationship with my children and delighted to say that my daughter now works with me in the business.

The family are really supportive and understand when the business has to come first. This doesn’t remove the guilt completely when there are times you still feel you are in the wrong place. I have a business coach who has helped me manage the various changes in my life and she has been instrumental in my success.

As stated earlier I have had a period of ill health coupled with a very difficult time in the business. This resulted in me working ridiculous hours during the week and often needing to work at the weekend too.

When situations like this happen, you cannot under-estimate the support of family, friends, work colleagues and business peers. You just need to off load and get back on with what needs to be done. You have to aim to find long term solutions and seek guidance when needed. It comes right in the end.

My latest solution to work-life balance is I have recently brought home an eight week puppy. Mad you may think! In fact he has given me a new focus away from work. The method in the madness is that I will get fitter by going for walks with him and we will have lots of fun.

Work is still busy, hours needs to be managed even better, so as I respond to this article it is Sunday morning, I have been up since 6am with Baxter, have completely a few hours work which I needed to catch up with and now off to spend time with my puppy and say thanks to my husband for looking after him.

So no golden rules – just try to keep your prioritise as good as possible and forgive yourself when you don’t always get it right.

What three tips would you give to a woman wanting to start her own business in the financial services sector?

  1. Think it through carefully and complete your research so you fully understand what you are doing
  2. Talk things through with your family so they are fully supportive and they too understand how this will affect family life
  3. When you start the business, network and build up some good quality peers as nobody can give you better advice than someone that is in business themselves.

You can find out more about Dot2Dot on their website