The Ascot Way – Jonathan Zaffino, President, Ascot Group
In this week’s episode of The Voice of Insurance, Mark Geoghegan chats to Jonathan Zaffino, President, Ascot Group, about the group’s expansion into the US market, delegated authority, the disaggregation of the insurance value chain as a whole, overall growth, the importance of fostering the right culture, and why finding a better way is a key element to the Ascot Way.
Kicking off the discussion, Mark asks Jonathan what attracted him to the role; Jonathan answers, “We´re on an incredibly exciting journey here, and candidly it was pretty easy to become enthusiastic about joining the organisation.” Jonathan goes on to say that for him, it’s always been about the people and that certain unique and exciting things about Ascot inspired him, such as the company´s passion for building a great company and great culture.
Further elaborating on the above question, Jonathan adds, “Certainly the underwriting pedigree of the organisation was pretty clear; it had a very long-term track record.”
Jonathan also discusses that one of the key areas that attracted him to Ascot is that it’s quite mission-centric. Also, what jumped off the canvas personally for him was to have a remit that looked across the entirety of the group, and having an unfiltered view across the insurance, reinsurance, and underwriting services businesses was attractive to him. Plus, Ascot’s resources and having direct access to talented colleagues was compelling. Furthermore, the US platform was in its infancy when he joined, and to have the chance to shape that in a modern way, deliver value for all constituents, and execute a unique plan was attractive.
When asked about his game plan and success, Jonathan remarks, “I believe an underpinning of our early success and establishing the US was really a sobering recognition that what works in London doesn´t always work in the US; by the way, the reverse is often true as well.” Expanding on this point, Jonathan talks about how regulations, distributions, portfolio construction, and cultures are all different. Jonathan discusses how the Ascot team knew about this, which is why they recruited talent that had the experience in executing a successful build in the US, which requires different skills than operating from an established platform.
Speaking further about building the US business, Jonathan says, “While you have to take a view from geography to geography and recognise differences, it doesn’t mean you sacrifice building a common culture, having that common set of beliefs, that unifying feel across the organisation.” Jonathan discusses how having common strategy elements that everyone agrees on and cares about is critical, and while the overarching strategy is global in nature, execution is always local. Having common core principles with local nuances doesn´t mean sacrificing those bigger issues that bind the company together, he says – it’s a journey where everyone is constantly learning.
Mark asks Jonathan for Ascot’s view on risk; Jonathan replies, “We’re very thoughtful about risk, we’re thoughtful about where we assume risk, we’re disciplined in that regard.” Expanding on this point, Jonathan adds, “So we use this phrase, and it’s called The Ascot Way, and part of that is described as a passion to find a better way.” Jonathan discusses how at Ascot, there´s a constant passion and intellectual curiosity about what they could do better, and having an open mindset allows you to see some amazing solutions out there.
Enjoy the podcast.