CFC Underwriting’s David Walsh on how he made it to the top
How did you make it to where you are today?
I spent four years at Marsh FINPRO, which gave me a good grounding, before moving to Howden Insurance Brokers for a couple of years. Later, following a stint at a broker in Tel Aviv, I was lucky to come back to London in 1999, when the dot-com boom was at its most frenzied. At that time it was possible for a young person with a crazy idea to make a lot of money. I set up Clickforcover.com, one of the first online commercial insurance providers. As the dot-coms around us started to topple, we were banging the table at board meetings trying to convince ourselves: “We are not a dot-com!” After spending £1m we gave up, repositioned the business as an underwriting agency and rebranded as CFC Underwriting. The business has gone from strength to strength, and we are about to celebrate CFC Underwriting’s ten-year anniversary.
What challenges lie ahead?
The distribution landscape is challenging, as, of course, is the continued soft market. It is crucial to ensure that your business will remain relevant in the future world of online distribution. As a broker-only underwriter, CFC now develops software for brokers to white label as their own, and we are very excited indeed about this initiative.
What has changed most since you started in insurance?
The combination of better technology and increased regulation has resulted in a more professional market with more robust processes and risk management.
What advice would you offer a new starter?
Insurance has a bad reputation, but can actually be great fun and very rewarding. I would say that by finding a role working for an inspirational leader in a small, fast-growing business, then opportunities will come your way if you have the desire and the energy to grasp them. I was lucky enough to work for David Howden, who showed me that, even in an industry characterised by large global corporations, it is possible to build a business from scratch and compete effectively with the big boys.
What’s been your biggest mistake?
Spending a million pounds on a failed dot-com venture has to rank fairly high! But that business led to the creation of CFC Underwriting, so I could also argue that this was the best thing I’ve ever done. Since then, the original dot-com investors have been repaid their debt and now have a stake in an exciting and fast-growing business.
What has been your biggest success?
Building a business from scratch has had its challenges, so its success is ultimately the most rewarding. I’m also very proud of the team and the culture that we have built at CFC Underwriting, and believe that the business can now go a long way with these key ingredients in place.
What is your unique selling point?
It’s relatively easy for a board to agree to a strategy, but the trick is to have the tenacity and drive to implement it. Since these are my strengths, I’ll stick to this story!
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
I read some quite nerdy non-fiction, but the fiction I like are novels that challenge society, such as 1984, Brave New World, Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting. I would also say that Errol Flynn’s autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, is a great read when you are still young enough to dream of that kind of lifestyle! My favourite film is Withnail and I and I support Chelsea. I should point out that any similarity between Chelsea FC and CFC Underwriting is purely coincidental!
David Walsh is managing director of CFC Underwriting