Two key lessons that Ben Smyth learnt from his chief executive father include entrepreneurialism and resilience

Tim Smyth and Ben Smyth (1)

L-R: Tim Smyth and Ben Smyth in 2002

Bringing “broader mindsets” into the insurance sector to “challenge convention” and drive innovation is of key importance if the UK industry is to beat its “staid” status, according to UK General Insurance (UKG) chief executive Tim Smyth.

One person that Tim feels has grabbed this mentality with “both hands” is his son, Ben Smyth. Ben, aged 30, initially dived into a career in insurance as a summer intern at Willis Towers Watson (WTW) in 2013 - interestingly, against his father’s “better judgement”.

Speaking exclusively to Insurance Times, Tim explains that advising Ben against joining the industry stemmed from his own experience entering the sector - he felt that his son’s education provided him with a “broader set of opportunities” rather than joining an industry that historically promoted a lack of “exciting roles”.

However, after earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in modern history and international relations at the University of Essex in 2013 and interning at WTW, Ben has followed in his father’s footsteps by working “hard” and rising through the insurance ranks.

Tim Smyth and Ben Smyth (2)

L-R: Tim Smyth and Ben Smyth in 2022

After his five-month stint at WTW, Ben went on to work at Miller Insurance as a broker before moving to Acrisure’s reinsurance broking arm Beach and Associates in 2017. He then worked as a senior broker at BMS Group between 2018 and 2019.

Fast forward almost a decade and Ben is now chief executive of MGA Arma Karma – a business he co-founded alongside chief financial officer Chris Frogner in April 2021. The MGA aims to innovate insurance products for young adults.

Tim, on the other hand, did not study at university since he struggled at school. He was advised by his own father to get ahead by going straight into the job market.

Upon doing so at the age of 17, Tim says he “started at the very bottom” as an accounts technician before transitioning into broking and then management roles in his 20s.

Tim has performed several c-suite positions during his 38-year career so far, including his current role as boss of UKG. For example, he worked as chief executive of Lloyd’s broker Prime Professions in 2010 before founding MGA incubator Precision Partnership in 2013.

He has also supported Ben’s venture Arma Karma “pretty much from day one” as a non-executive chairman. In this role, Tim helps ensure the right protocols are implemented - for example, around fair pricing.

In February 2022, UKG partnered with Arma Karma to underwrite a personal possessions product for students, young professionals and renters - although Tim clarified that he does not have anything to do with the running of the partnership due to a “conflict of interest”.

Words of wisdom

Ben reveals that one of the key lessons that he has learned from his father is around entrepreneurialism and “resilience”.

He continues: “I saw how turbulent [the insurance industry] could be, but also the successes.

“While it didn’t put me off, it prepared me. If I hadn’t witnessed that firsthand, it would have been an absolute shock because it does have really big ups and downs.”

Another element of Tim’s advice to Ben, which Ben feels has “definitely helped” him with his career progression, is to be a “jack of all trades and master of none because that gives you the best possible view on the market and what can be done about [its challenges]”, he adds.

Meanwhile, Tim feels Ben has demonstrated the importance of using datasets to reduce friction in insurance transactions and drive true customer value – as opposed having a one-size-fits-all approach.

He says: “Ben started with [a] minimal viable product – he’s gone out there and he’s constantly refreshing it. Never a week goes by without some slightly different tweak or view just to sharpen that proposition.

“[This is] hugely impressive [within] an industry that likes to sit on tails for years upon end.

”The dynamism is hugely impressive and I’m delighted that Ben’s picked up on the work ethic – you don’t get anything in this world without having to work really hard and he’s done that in spades.

“[Arma Karma] has caught the imagination of investors, insurance, people in the industry.

“This is genuinely disrupting what has previously been a very staid industry and I’m immensely proud of what Ben and his team has done to achieve that.”

Arma Karma has almost finished its second seed raise, which it began in August this year (2022), and has been shortlisted in the MGA Challenger of the Year category for the upcoming Insurance Times Awards on 8 December 2022.