Claire Simpson: 'When you're doing it on your own any working mums guilt goes out the window'

POWER MUMS: The insurance executive talks about taking on City bully boys, being a single mum and why she sent her daughters to private school.

by Christine Armstrong
Last Updated: 20 Oct 2015

Claire works at Hiscox, based at Lloyds of London, as a political and credit risk underwriter, where she manages a worldwide portfolio of over $1bn (£660m). She has two daughters aged 11 and 13, who she has raised on her own for the last 10 years. She says she is inspired by her hard working parents and particularly by her own mother, who was the family breadwinner at some points in her childhood.

What does someone who underwrites insurance actually do?

Each day I sit in Lloyds and wait for brokers to come and discuss their clients’ risks with me; you never know what they will bring. So this morning I saw deals in Chad, Angola and Venezuela. And you appraise their risks and make decisions on whether to share those risks with them. There is $25m at the end of my pen.

I love my job; I love my team. There are five of us who generate £15m in new business each year and having to build that up from scratch each January is very exciting.

That sounds like a lot of pressure. What if it goes wrong?

You get a lurch in your stomach! The broker usually comes in person to tell you. And then there is a period where we work with our clients to try and sort their problems out. Failing that, you pay the claim and then work hard to salvage your loss. You can end up owning all sorts, from aeroplanes to sugar mills.

What makes you good at it?

I am passionate about the news: the FT, The Economist. I hoover up information - it’s the fun part of my job. Plus I hold onto clients for a long time. Long-term relationships and experience are important when you are dealing in emerging markets, where local knowledge is everything.

What have you leant while building your career and raising your girls singlehandedly at the same time?

Let’s just say that when you’re doing it on your own and supporting yourself, any parental guilt about working mums goes out of the window. At a low point, when I didn’t know what to do, I thought, ‘Right, I’ll just have to get on with it.’ Work became my normal.

When the girls were little I didn’t have the money for a nanny. So I had the nursery nightmare that is familiar to so many, with the stress of ‘thou shalt be back by 6pm’. I remember the awful panic of the trains being late - there was no plan B. There was just me. When my eldest started school we fell upon the most amazing Turkish childminder that makes it all possible. She is amazing: she has almost adopted my girls.

How does a normal day work?

I take the girls to school at 7.30am – the school run is a huge stress for me - and then go straight into work. I get to the office at about 9am. The fun part of my day is going to the Lloyds environment to meet brokers. Then I do the walk of shame out of the office at 6pm. It is important to get up and go - the children are my sanity and I work late at home.

My childminder picks them up from school and cooks them wonderful Turkish food. Then the girls and I spend evenings at the dining table: I work while they do their homework. It’s quite sweet - a nice dynamic. They ask about their homework, while I do some research on Chad.

What about entertaining?

Towards Christmas there’s a lot. It’s hard that there is no provision for people not to be available in the evening. I do feel terribly guilty about being out in the evenings.

Has it changed your worldview?

Well I’m a state grammar school girl, but I’ve chosen to send my girls to private school. Coming to the City it became clear how confident other people were and I wasn’t. I still struggle with it. It’s polish. I want that for the girls so they feel that they can do anything if they work hard.

I’ve learnt I need to be brave, to put my hand up for myself at work and not let the bully boys think their views are more valuable than mine. I want to teach my girls that always have to be able to support yourself and manage your own finances. It’s hugely important to be able to take control and run your own ship.

Does it ever go wrong?

I want to be the best at everything: the best employee, best manager, best mum I can be and something often gives. Like when you put the kids to bed at 9pm and at 9.30pm one comes down to say, ‘Mum, I forget to say that tomorrow I need to be dressed as a llama.’

Do you have a network of other mums?

I have my lovely ‘wine mums’ and we go out once a month, which is fabulous. Other people who get it are your sanity. Most people don’t get it. Stay at home wives have the hardest job in the world, but it doesn’t make for understanding male colleagues when they have wives who are totally dedicated to running their households, because they don’t really get what I do.

Some of the mums used to not know who I was. I was once mistaken for the photographer at one of my own kids’ parties! That is really hard - it tugs at my heartstrings.

What do you know now that you didn't know when you were younger?

That I am stronger and more capable person that I ever gave myself credit for. In the most challenging circumstances you pull it out of the bag - I don’t give myself credit for that.

In the early days I think I spent too much time trying to be a man and not recognising that difference is valid and not a weakness. It’s great that we now have Inga Beale as the CEO at Lloyds, who has brought in a diversity agenda.

Is insurance a good business to work in?

Yes, I love my job. But it is a shame there aren’t more senior women. At entry level we have 50/50, but at my level we have 11% - four women out of 35. We hire super-incredible women but at some point they vanish. It’s very old school City.

What needs to change?

People need to recognise that women’s careers are not linear. You need the right support network and the right frame of mind to make progress. But it’s important that you do make it for all the people behind you: if you stay and work your backside off, you will get there.

Does it ever feel lonely?

Well it can feel very stressful. I meet a friend at the school Christmas show every year and she and I both run in late looking grey and tired. We’re the ones whose kids are dressed in the most rubbish, last-minute costumes because we didn’t have time to do it properly. We sit and laugh together.

Christine is a contributing editor of MT, owner of and a partner at Jericho Chambers. Find her on Twitter: @HannisArmstrong.

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