’We’re creating new solutions where they didn’t exist before to help clients solve problems,’ says broker’s UK chief executive

When Jane Kielty’s promotion from head of UK commercial risks to UK chief executive at intermediary Aon was announced at the beginning of the year (9 January 2024), she told Insurance Times that the news had come somewhat out of the blue for her. 

And while the move has yet to receive formal regulatory approval, Kielty has been using the months since the news broke to familiarise herself with the new role and continue learning from “role model” Julie Page, who was promoted from UK boss to be Aon’s chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) last year (3 November 2023), when the broker giant merged its client serving capabilities and operations in the UK and EMEA.

With its promotion of Kielty, Aon has elected to hand the reins for its UK operations to a vastly experienced team member who joined the business almost 19 years ago in a client management director role.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, she explains: ”It’s obviously a massive honour – I’ve been with Aon for a long time and know the business really well. 

”I also know the team really well because I’ve been part of the leadership team in the UK and I’ve got a great network that will help me as I transition fully and get to know the role.

“But a bit of the romance of the story is that it’s fantastic to have a role model – Julie [Page] has been a fantastic role model, sponsor and coach who has helped me enormously with my development and career progression and that makes you more confident that you can see yourself in this role, even though it might be a little scary.” 

The “romance” of Kielty’s story doesn’t end there, however – as far as examples of what can be achieved in the insurance sector go, hers is one of the best. 

From growing up in Urmston, Greater Manchester with parents who “didn’t have any education” but provided her with “a really strong work ethic”, to winning Biba’s inaugural Young Broker of the Year award in 2003, Kielty’s new position means she now has responsibility for overseeing UK operations for one of the world’s largest brokers and managing over 6,000 staff.

Handing the baton

In her new position, Kielty explains that she is keen to preserve the culture that saw her rise from new starter to chief executive – she sees the transition from Page’s leadership to her own very much as “a handing of the baton”.

Kielty is also keen to support the continuity of an Aon ethos that pushes high achievers into positions of responsibility so that they can grow, with her own career journey at the broker testament to the strength of this model. 

She says: “I try to be as open as I possibly can about my own experiences, so that people can feel the leadership are real, normal people and that we have the same challenges as everyone else because we’re all trying to do our best for colleagues and clients.”

Kielty joined Aon in 2005, but her career in insurance began in 1999 at Marsh, when she joined its graduate training scheme. Prior to this, however, she had studied law and was even on the path to becoming a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force (RAF), before she was told that cockpits had been designed with male proportions in mind and she couldn’t fulfil this dream. 

She explains: ”That leadership experience – for example, running through an RAF base in a jumpsuit delivering fake bombs from one side to the other with a team – probably helped me to get into our profession. 

“But what really attracted me to the sector was the diversity of what you could do – in my first roles, I had such diverse clients and it was great to learn how all those businesses operated.

”Working outside of London in the Manchester insurance market, you had to be able to turn your hand from a big retailer one day to an airport or food manufacturer the next and those experiences really helped and still help me.” 

Joining the dots

In the most recent Insurance Times Top 50 Brokers report, released last year (13 November 2023), Aon ranked sixth and posted a revenue of £1.09bn. 

Jane Kielty sitting

Jane Kielty joined Aon in 2005 as a client manager, before rising to UK chief executive this year

The broker also grew its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) by 43% in 2022 to reach a total figure of £396.1m – up from £277.8m the year before. 

This ebitda improvement was the biggest jump of the top six brokers featured in this report and saw Aon net an ebitda margin of 36%.

This scale as one the world’s largest brokers provides Aon with definitive advantages when servicing clients and seeking to innovate to solve modern problems. 

Kielty explains: ”Being able to play out our global strategy at such scale means that it’s super impactful – many of our clients are also global organisations and so the scale of our organisation helps us to, firstly, meet their enormously varied needs, but secondly, to be joined up in doing that. 

”We’re creating new solutions where they didn’t exist before to help clients solve problems.” 

One such new proposition that tackles an emerging challenge is Aon’s investigation of carbon capture products, which seek to facilitate the ecological efforts of companies by enabling them to capture carbon dioxide from manufacturing processes and store it in a way that doesn’t impact the atmosphere. 

Kielty explains: ”We’ve started looking at the whole chain of the carbon emitter, which might be a manufacturing plant, for example, that may have to change its processes and machinery so that [it] can capture carbon and send it down pipelines to be stored.

“That whole equation is something that we as an insurance industry have never had to deal with before.

”Aon has the expertise to work with the whole chain to help [clients] with changes in the risk exposure and to help insurers be comfortable with what the exposures are and how to underwrite them.

“I can look at one of our largest energy clients, look at [its] mission and know that we’re enabling that. That’s the joy of working at Aon – we have the breadth and depth of capability to join all the dots.” 

Social purpose

Kielty attributes her long tenure working at Aon to the strength of the broker’s teams and the opportunities afforded to her, but also to the fulfilment that her roles have provided in terms of doing good for society. 

Whether that be by encouraging school children to consider a career in insurance by bringing them into Aon for work experience, or facilitating the climate transition, the broker’s scale allows it to have impact. 

Kielty adds: “Our scale also brings more experience across many placements, which allows us to better advise clients and provide them with benchmarking data and modelling on risks that haven’t happened to them.”

But, far from simply leveraging this scale for Aon’s own purposes, Kielty is supportive of the broker having a voice in the industry. For example, Kielty is deputy chair on the board for trade association Biba and gave the opening speech for the body’s manifesto launch at Parliament earlier this year (11 January 2024). 

In this vein, she explains: “We give feedback to insurers all the time around how they’re performing compared to each other and our scale allows us to [measure] insurer performance, whether that be the responsiveness of underwriters or willingness to pay claims.

“I don’t think us being large means that we get a different service, but being large does help us contribute feedback to insurers so they know which areas they might need to improve.” 

Kielty believes that both Aon and the wider insurance industry have a fundamental role to play in society by facilitating important technological and social innovations. But to do this, there has to be an acceptance of the vital nature of the sector’s work.

She concludes: ”The history of solutions in the insurance industry don’t necessarily cater for all those things we’re going to see happen in the future. But I see that as a great opportunity for our industry to adapt.

“We have to really think differently, as an industry, about how we enable this and how we create new products and solutions to deal with what the future is going to look like.”