Historically, it has been ‘unbelievably difficult for female founders to get funding’, says top boss

Equal opportunities are lacking in the insurance sector because of a “skewer of male dominance” that is driven not by “the conscious decisions that people make”, but the “unconscious bias that sits behind” decision-making, according to Freedom Services Group chief executive Sam White.

After launching her first motor claims business, Action365, in her sister’s conservatory at the age of 24, White is now the founder of five businesses, including MGA Pukka Insure (2016), Freedom Services Group (2017), Freedom Brokers (2017) and Australia-based insurtech MGA Stella (2021). She also hosts the Human Business podcast with co-host Tony Dibbin, chief executive of Arena Radio.

The majority of these ventures centre around the motor insurance and telematics markets, meaning they suffered a dip in revenue and profit during the Covid-19 pandemic, as cars remained parked on driveways and the pipeline of new drivers dried up.

Part of beating this economic downfall was securing a £5m loan from alternative lender Boost and Co in February 2021 – White describes the lender as  “a breath of fresh air”.

This capital proved to be “revolutionary” for Freedom Services Group because it was the first time White had managed to receive funding for a UK business in around 20 years.

Highlighting how it is “unbelievably difficult for female founder to get funding”, White explains: “If you look at how money is handed out, I think it’s 3p in every £1 goes to female founded business. [Yet] if you look at the success of female founded businesses, they tend to produce returns that are in excess of 30% more than their male counterparts.

“If it was based purely on merit, you would expect that more money would be going through to female founders.”

In February 2019, the UK VC and Female Founders report – undertaken by the British Business Bank, Diversity VC and the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association – revealed that for every £1 of venture capital (VC) investment in the UK, all-female founder teams received less than 1p. All-male founder teams, on the other hand, gained 89p. Mixed gender teams received 10p.

Furthermore, a report by company insights business Crunchbase, published in December 2020, highlighted that over 800 female founded startups that launched in mid-December last year received VC funding totalling $4.9bn (£3.35bn). This is a 27% decrease compared to the same period in 2019.

Following national lockdown restrictions being lifted, Freedom Services Group’s 170 staff are now on track to achieve between £80m and £90m gross written premium (GWP) and approximately £18m in revenue. “The pre-pandemic numbers were slightly better, but we are getting there,” White notes.

Securing capital

White does not believe that ill intent is the reason why it is difficult for female c-suites to secure capital. She thinks “people tend to back people that look, sound and act like them – that’s just human nature because that’s what makes us feel safe, we feel more connected”.

White adds that she has got “some really decent male friends and business associates in the industry”, however “when you’ve got such [a] skewer of male dominance - and it’s not just gender, it’s ethnicity and neurodiversity [too] - the majority of the market is sat in a very small pool of people”.

She continues:  “[This] means that products aren’t being designed for [the] consumers that they represent. It means they’re not recruiting from a talent viewpoint on a balanced basis and I think the industry is far poorer as a result of it.”

While White admits that she hasn’t “seen the dial shift massively” since starting in the industry in 1999, what does give her hope for greater diversity in the sector is the fact that considerably more senior female appointments are being made.

One person that helped White break through misogynistic barriers she encountered was her dad. “I’ve always had a sense of fair play. I was lucky enough to be brought up mostly by my dad and he’s actually more of a feminist than most women,” she says.

“He always taught me that I was by no means inferior to the boys or the men. I could be anything I wanted, do anything that I wanted to do and when I first started getting older and going out into the world and realising that this wasn’t necessarily supported by the world, it really p*ssed me off - I wasn’t prepared to accept it because all of my grounding and childhood experience was telling me that that wasn’t the case.”

White says that it breaks her heart  “that a lot of women don’t have” this belief and that they  “are socialised to believe they are in some way inferior”.

Instead, White’s motto is “you will treat me as an equal, because I d*mn well am an equal”.


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