What makes someone leave a twenty-year career at a global organisation for a post at an eight-year-old start-up? The answer, according to Paul Stedall, recently appointed Chief Financial Officer (aka Master of Coin) at King Price, is simple: it all comes down to a dynamic culture and exciting opportunities.
While part of the Deloitte team, Paul Stedall was no stranger to King Price, having fulfilled the role as the company’s audit partner for five years.
‘It was the kind of client we all wanted to work with,’ he recalls. Anyone familiar with King Price’s off-beat advertising, quirky brand persona and values-based approach to business will know it to be a company that isn’t scared to turn its back on the ordinary. And, in this way, its external image lives up to its internal culture, which Paul describes as ‘extremely energetic and entrepreneurial’.
These were qualities that Paul, a self-professed people’s person, found highly attractive. And so, when he learned of the team’s intention to invite him to join them, he was more than ready to accept.
Paul’s entry into the group came in the wake of its acquisition of a life insurance business and its progress towards establishing a presence in Europe − a strategy which has seen former CFO Rhett Finch take on the role as Deputy CEO. Although Paul was officially appointed as CFO in November 2020, following a cooling-off period, he first came on board looking after strategic financial projects already at the beginning of March 2020, tasked with overseeing finance-related processes, controls and systems optimisation. It was tricky timing, given the lockdown that was implemented less than a month later.
‘This put a real strain on our people who genuinely want to be at work and who feed off each other’s energy,’ Paul recalls. He attributes the enthusiasm shared among King Price employees to the accountability and autonomy afforded all employees: although King Price’s adherence to financial controls is impeccable, there’s no space for red tape inside this organisation. It’s a place where decisions are made and actions are taken quickly.
This ethos resonated with Paul when he was an outsider at the organisation; now that he’s seen it ‘warts and all’, the appeal holds firm. ‘This is a very welcoming place. The team is highly supportive and interactive,’ he says. His own enthusiasm for the organisation is easily explained by his admission that he is ‘energised by people who have a good attitude’, which makes him all the more pleased to be part of a company where people are eager to hear what their colleagues have to say and to learn from them. ‘It’s an incredible organisation,’ he says, adding that although it’s certainly a change from the first part of his career, it’s ‘different in all the right ways’.
The solid foundation laid by King Price’s vibrant culture stands to be strengthened further still by Paul’s skills. Having spent the past two years working as a member of a technical accounting team, one of his first actions at King Price was to implement a robust focus on technical accounting. This is especially timely given its current state of maturity and makes Paul’s interventions even more impactful.
‘We’ve traditionally concentrated more on finance and operations, so it’s good to contribute and strengthen the process with relevant memoranda supporting accounting decisions taken,’ says Paul. ‘It’s also great to bring a fresh perspective to existing systems and processes,’ he adds. He does this at a critical stage in the company’s life cycle: the processes that were put in place when the organisation was established back in 2012 may have served adequately until now, but as the company starts the next phase of its journey – with the introduction of a life insurance offering and expansion of its IP and systems into Europe – they won’t be fit for purpose indefinitely. Add to this the increasing influence of AI and automation on the financial services industry, and it’s clear that changes must be made, which is why King Price has placed a disproportionately large emphasis on data and analytics in the past five years. The company has, moreover, built a data warehouse which it will leverage heavily going forward as it takes the next step, Paul informs, to transition from IFRS 4 to IFRS 17.
It’s an exciting period for the company and one where it sees itself already well ahead of current industry trends and developments. ‘It’s crucial for a successful insurer to be extremely agile,’ Paul maintains. ‘You have to be able to adjust pricing real-time from the perspective of product pricing and claims experience, all the while managing policy lapses and non-take-up rate and, of course, optimising the bottom line and returns to stakeholders.’
This is where data has a critical role to play. ‘Our analytics and pricing team is able to go live with a product, and within a few short days, it will be clear whether the pricing is right or whether we have to make refinements, because we can see what it’s doing to unpaid rates and policy lapses or cancellations. We can dynamically price the portfolio based on what we see happening live on the ground – something which simply wasn’t possible for us a few years ago.’ King Price has embraced the progress made possible through innovations with an alacrity that pushes it into the insure-tech stratosphere, leveraging technology and deep data analytic skills to make the most of the information available and to respond accordingly.
How does Paul fit into this fast-paced and rapidly evolving milieu? ‘Twenty years in the profession has allowed me to build a strong technical accounting and controls foundation. My time at Deloitte, coupled with my training as a CA, has helped me develop an ability to interact with people at all levels.’ As someone who values emotional intelligence, Paul takes pride in being able to build teams that work with him rather than for him, an approach he believes naturally leads to excellent performance.
‘It’s about creating a personal connection,’ he continues. ‘I consider myself to have strong administrative skills, so I’m able to get through large volumes of work and still have time to help my team members find solutions for whatever challenges they’re facing.’ Paul’s talent for galvanising diverse personalities comes to the fore here; it’s what assures his team members that he’s accessible and always ready to discuss ideas. In fact, he’s already received feedback from some team members commenting on their appreciation of his willingness and availability to brainstorm.
After just a few months in his new role, Paul has several ideas on how he plans to build on the foundations he’s established. His chief priority is to spend more time in the office in all areas – ‘getting my hands dirty and really getting to know the underbelly of the organisation’ – so that he’s able to deepen his understanding of what drives the numbers.
From a personal perspective, he plans on expanding and nurturing his network. ‘Having been part of the same organisation for twenty years, it’s only natural that most of my contacts were developed around that circle,’ he observes. While that may have been a help when it comes to developing a depth of expertise, he acknowledges the importance of building the breadth of his network, too − ‘especially when it comes to finding reliable providers to support the new systems we’re planning on implementing’.
His top tip for aspiring executives? ‘Never forget about the people. Careers aren’t about you and your ambitions. Rather, they’re about the team that surrounds you and how you can help each other, and therefore the organisation, progress.’