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An interview with Claire McDonald

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

We speak with Claire McDonald ACII Chartered Insurer who is the Global Head of Operations & International Insurance Solutions Global Practice Leader at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) about her career so far.

What were you doing before this role?

It’s a long story...

4 years in Allianz UK – underwriting commercial business

4 years in AGCS handling local UK policies for German multinational clients

4 years underwriting Corporate Property – so business with a turnover in excess of €500m

7 years in Energy underwriting oil, gas and petrochemical property risks

1 year as Chief Underwriting Officer for Energy

3 years as Head of Operations UK

3 years as Head of Operations France

3 years as Head of Global Governance for Operations 

...before getting my current job in June 2016 

What’s a typical working day?

Problem-solving and making the various different parts of the company work together is one of the bigger parts of my job. I am looking to ensure that we sell our product correctly and, when we have global clients with international programs, that we provide the service expected of us. I am in Germany frequently and often have the opportunity to meet the risk managers of our insured clients to understand what we are doing right and what needs to be improved.

How does your role fit into the bigger insurance picture?

Large multinational companies do not want individual negotiations in each country – they want to have one central conversation with an insurer and be able to implement from that central point. My job is about how Allianz sells and delivers that mechanism.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety. No two days are the same – I speak to people from all over the world and I am working on something that our clients care about.

What is the most challenging part of your role?

Trying to predict what our clients will expect from us in the future in terms of digital delivery in what has been, to date, a very relationship-driven area.

What do you need to be successful in your role?

You need to enjoy solving problems, learning constantly, developing networks and keeping an ear to the ground.

What have been your career highlights so far?

Being the first female manager for AGCS in London

Creating and executing a London office strategy

Change management in Paris - very different to the UK, and all in French

Getting my new job! 

What are the main benefits of working in risk?

There are so many different jobs you can do, through the different roles I have taken – I have travelled (lots of countries from Kuwait to Australia, Bahrain to South Africa), lived in another country, been able to have a diverse career all whilst working for one employer. Who knows what or where my next role will be and to be nearly 30 years in and still learning is fantastic!

Why did you choose a career in insurance?

I didn’t – I knew nothing about insurance. I picked my first job where there was guaranteed training and job progression linked to exam performance and on-the-job success. Other influencing factors were that the receptionist knew my name and that my offer letter came the very next morning! No regrets though at all. 

What are some of the successful programmes and initiatives that AGCS/Allianz is using to attract and retain top female talent? 

For senior women we have since 2011 had the Allianz Womens Sponsorship programme – a Board level sponsor for 2 years plus attendance at the annual Womens Sponsorship Forum - a chance to network and meet senior leaders in the Allianz world. Always a feature is the time we spend with our CEO – Oliver Baete to understand the top strategic priorities and sometimes like this year a chance to have a drink and an informal catch up with him.

Another initiative launched in Germany in 2016 but which we are hoping to roll out more widely is the Jet program – self nomination, aimed at non exec women, linking like minded women together to help push each other on.

In London we started the Allianz Women in the City network in 2016 and have already had 3 successful events supported by women and men in our business.

How has your experience of working in insurance changed since you joined it?

I have been in insurance 30 years this year, I know forever, and 25 of them in the City. The biggest changes are in the use of computers in our daily life, it seems to hard to remember working with paper, micro fiche, data cards…

In terms of the city and the insurance sector – lot more shops now and restaurants – when I started there were 2 M&S shops – men formal and men casual – no womens section – must admit minor victory the day we had a wall of tights in the mens’ casual shop!

Perhaps this also goes hand in hand with the increase in number of women in the City and the number in more senior roles – still more to do but we are on the right track.

What would you say to any female graduates unsure if insurance is right for them?

Do you like working with people, like the idea of a city career that actually benefits society – then have a look at insurance …but take 5 minutes and you will see that within insurance there are all sorts of roles, find a company that will train you well and give you the flexibility to move and to learn. It is a great sector with lots of good people and a place where you can build a lifelong career.

What piece of advice would you give to anyone looking to secure a graduate career in insurance?

Be open minded, where you start does not necessarily determine the next role, so if you are lucky enough to get on a graduate scheme – great make the most of it – if you don’t and still think insurance is for  - get yourself an entry job, take your ACII and push on. Insurance is one of those areas where you can shine and in the right company it will be noticed.


Find out more about the Chartered Insurers Institute membership and where it can take you.