We would like to introduce MERJE Meets... a series of interviews with a selection of senior leaders across our core markets. Here, we will take the opportunity to have a candid catch up with these individuals with a view to learning more about their personal and professional stories and what makes them tick.
First up in the spotlight is Briony Horvath, who joined British motoring association The AA as Chief Risk Officer at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We gather a brief insight into her background, challenges she has faced, particularly around the current Coronavirus outbreak, and advice she would give to other professionals.
Briony, can you please provide a brief overview of your career and the journey which has resulted in the role you hold today?
I’ve worked in insurance for pretty much all of my career. I started in a call centre while I was at the Latrobe University, Melbourne Australia and then moved into operational roles when I came to the UK from 2002.
I went into risk and compliance at the same time that insurance broking became regulated by the then FSA, in 2005. It attracted me because I like knowing about all aspects of a business and one of my strengths is problem solving.
Since then, I have worked across the industry in various organisations, from global institutions to fintech start-ups and recently landed the role at The AA at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is a once in a generation challenge that I was keen to step up to!
Summarise your business, its ethos and culture and what makes it unique to your competitors.
The AA is probably one of the most interesting risk and compliance career opportunities that I have had for a long time. The AA is steeped in history and has been around for more than 100 years but at the same time it has continued to evolve to meet the needs of its customers.
At the moment it’s really pushing the agenda when it comes to digital and connectivity, with some really innovative products and propositions, such as the Smart Breakdown app. It also lives and breathes its values, including doing the right thing. During the COVID-19 crisis the organisation has gone above and beyond to help those in need and is really living up to the original AA values of courtesy and care.
Whether it’s helping 100 key NHS workers get to their jobs every day with free breakdown cover or partnering with the London Ambulance Service to get more vehicles on the road, The AA has happily stepped up and kept Britain moving. It’s such a great organisation and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
What type of qualities or attributes do you look for when building out your team?
My roles often involve some sort of transformation and The AA is no different. Therefore, I am attracted to a diverse range of people who can bring something new to the table to help move things forward.
I like working with people who are not afraid to challenge the status quo, genuinely want to work as part of a high performing team and who are up for a bit of a laugh as well.
What are your strategy and growth plans for the next 12 months?
The AA is in a significant period of evolution and its strategy centres around Britain’s driving life being simpler and smarter, by using innovation and data to provide increased benefits to our customers and members.
The risk and compliance function is a key part of this journey and one of my goals is really to evolve what we currently do and make it more agile and able to respond to the changing landscape of The AA more effectively and efficiently. It’s a really exciting time to be involved at The AA and there are some great projects in the pipeline!
How has the current landscape affected your sector or business?
The AA, like a lot of organisations, has felt the impact of COVID-19. However, due to the work we undertake, it has mostly been business as usual and helping to keep people on the roads and insured during this time. As an organisation, we were able to respond quickly and efficiently to the changing way we work while continuing to maintain our services for the people who need them.
We were also able to mobilise our resources to help out on the front line, like we did with the London Ambulance Service. So while we definitely saw a drop in breakdown activity, we did and continue to have an important role to play in keeping things moving.
What advice would you give to rising talent in your industry?
Take every opportunity you can to learn skills outside of risk and compliance, especially around business and strategy. To be effective in your role you really need to fully understand a business from a practical rather than theoretical level. Learn how to code, take courses in business strategy and broaden your skill-set outside of the risk and compliance box.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your former self?
Don’t equate the success of others with you being a failure. Everyone has their own journey to go on. Just keep your eye on what you want to achieve and work towards your own goal.
What has been your sliding doors or lightbulb moment which changed the course of your professional or personal life?
It would have to be moving into risk and compliance during a time where there was a lot of change in the insurance broking industry. I really loved working in insurance but hadn’t found the right “fit” from a career perspective. At that time, I didn’t even fully appreciate that this career path would be achievable for myself, not having a legal or actuarial background. I was potentially going to go into underwriting, but the unknown entity that is risk and compliance was too much of a draw and here I am still!
If you could instantaneously gain a new skill what would it be?
Juggling! I think it would be really cool to be able to do it as a party trick. I’ve tried but just cannot get the hang of it.
COVID Quick-fire: What is...
The guilty pleasure which has kept you sane in lockdown?
Nintendo Switch - it has enabled me to relive my youth a little bit!
The first restaurant you’ll head to after lockdown?
My local café Mae and Harvey - it serves the best brunches.
The one thing lockdown has made you realise you don’t actually need?
Shoes - no explanation required!
Thanks to Briony for her contribution and stay tuned for the next instalment of the "MERJE Meets" series......if you are a business leader and would like to contribute to our Q&A blog series going forward then please get in touch with our PR & Marketing team at firstname.lastname@example.org.