Coversure's husband and wife team, Mark Coverdale and Jan Utting talk to Chris Wheal about their careers
Mark Coverdale is chairman and Jan Utting is finance director of Coversure Insurance Services. They are married with six grown-up children and work in Coversure’s head office in Cambridgeshire. Coversure will soon have more than 90 franchised offices in the UK. It also offers insurance wholesaling through Policyfast, and system solutions to the insurance industry through DataMatters.
How did you make it to where you are today?
Jan: When Mark started Coversure in 1986 he had planned what the company was going to do and how he was going to do it. I applied for a job and started working for Coversure in 1990.
Mark: To franchise any business you have to offer something that works well and is very fair. Team work and co-operation are, therefore, essential and every relationship and commitment has to be fair to all participants. That was the business plan.
What are the key challenges ahead?
Jan: The industry is changing all the time, it’s just a question of keeping up and being able to react. It is easy to find something that works initially and stick to it long after it has stopped working, hoping that somehow it will work again.
Mark: Yes, like last year, Jan had a glut of courgettes from the garden. We started having them with every meal and soon Jan had exhausted every courgette recipe known to man. At this point we should have stopped but no, we continued until even to look at a courgette now turns my tummy. We should learn from our mistakes and be ready to change sooner.
What has changed the most since you started in insurance?
Jan: Mark’s waistline!
Mark: The fundamentals in the industry are exactly the same – helping people to protect themselves and their property when disaster strikes is still at the very heart of the industry. However, the way we get a quotation, administer the risk and deliver the policy has changed beyond all recognition. The introduction of computer quoting has taken some of the thrill and the challenge away, but we are much more efficient as a result.
What advice would you offer someone just starting out?
Mark: The most important thing that you can ever do is listen. Despite everything that the industry tries to do to compartmentalise people and risks, every client is different. When you let them tell you what they do, what they are proud of and what their worries are, you are in a far better position to offer them the right help and advice.
Jan: I would also suggest that they take a job working for a Coversure franchise. They are the nicest people and offer excellent prospects.
What is the biggest mistake you have ever made?
Jan: When we decided to change our computer system to the new DataMatters system, brains here thought it would be a good idea to spend our weekends rewiring the offices ourselves.
Mark: It was an excellent way of giving some practical help, and showing that we were truly hands on. Also it has given us a new skill that will always be useful.
What was your biggest success?
Mark: After being together for 12 years and a seriously long engagement, we finally got married in 2003. We sloped off and did it secretly, with just our children as guests, in a castle in Shropshire.
Jan: Would you believe that he proposed at a Coversure conference?
Talk about some of your contemporaries and friends in the insurance market.
Mark: One of the things that we are most proud of about the insurance industry is how many genuinely nice people there are in it.
Jan: We have met and worked with so many, this whole magazine would be too small to mention them all.
What is your unique selling point?
Mark: We try to do everything really well but also with a sense of fun. As a consequence, we have attracted fantastic franchise holders, great colleagues and staff who really make the whole organisation fly.
Jan: We also try to look at the world through a different perspective which is why our conferences are very different. It is hard to show someone that you are really good at insurance, so we use our conferences to show that we are creative, organised and fun.
When you are not working what do you do to relax?
Mark: We have just taken up ballroom dancing and are in an absolute beginners’ class.
Jan: Over the past few years we have been fitting out narrowboats but since Mark broke his leg 18 months ago slipping down a riverbank, his boat hopping confidence has waned somewhat.
What is your favourite book/film/football team?
Jan: I like any gardening book. We watch a lot of films but have a soft spot for musicals.
Mark: We are looking forward to seeing the new film version of Sweeney Todd.
Day in the life
Jan: Mark feeds the cats and disposes of all the corpses of mice and voles that they have brought in overnight. He gets breakfast and brings it back to bed.
Mark: I have coffee and toast or Coco Pops when in season. We listen to the news then read our emails and overnight stats before getting into the office at 9.30.
We work closely about half the time. On management days we work together throughout the day holding a succession of meetings with every department head and getting feedback from them on what is working well and what needs improvement.
On senior management days, we are again working together with board meetings and senior management meetings throughout the day. On these days we have a boardroom lunch of sandwiches, fruit and cakes from Tesco. On other days we will normally just have a sandwich.
Many people ask how we can work together and not bicker. Well that is easy, we do bicker.
Jan: Mark compensates for our bickering by also bickering with most of his other colleagues as well, so they do not feel left out.
Mark: I also have a big rule that I do not talk about work at home.
Jan: I am predominantly office based. As Mark is chairman, when he is in the office he attends meetings with insurers, developers, franchiseholders and suppliers.
Mark: About eight to 10 days a month I will have meetings away. In London I stick to insurance tradition and have many of the meetings in coffee shops but will also meet insurers in their offices. When you meet for a coffee outside of an office you get a lot more done. You also tend to get much more gossip.
Jan: We both made a decision about 10 years ago that we would not spend a night apart, so we always attend evening functions together. If away from home, Mark will always try to be back by 6.30-7pm and I tend to leave the office shortly after 6pm.
Mark: We have too many takeaways, but Jan is growing her own fruit and veg so we are trying to cook more at home and eat healthier.
Jan: In the evening it is TV, films and pets. In addition to the two cats, I also have two rabbits and a guinea pig to care for.
Mark: Bedtime is at midnight and it is then that Jan tells me about something that has happened at work and gets my mind racing, just when its time to sleep. Why do you do it?
Jan: You do not snore when you are awake!