Close Brothers' PF MD on moving to an employee-first agenda

Heading up one major business during a time of massive global transition is something to be reckoned with, but to lead two is another matter entirely. Not that Sean Kemple (pictured), Close Brothers’ MD of motor finance and premium finance seems especially fazed by the implications of his twin titles, well-versed as he is in steering the operations of forward-thinking businesses looking to align themselves with changing market conditions and consumer expectations.

Kemple who first joined Close Brothers’ motor finance division in 2017 steadily worked his way to the position of MD in 2020 and he was several months into this role when he was approached by Rebecca McNeil [CEO, Retail] to take over as MD of the premium finance business. Speaking with McNeil, he said, he got a great sense of where that business stands, where it wants to go next and what it will take to get there – and he was delighted to accept the opportunity.

“Over the last four or five months, we’ve been focusing on a strong colleague-first piece,” he said. “Traditionally there has always been a big focus on broker-first, which I understand 100%, but if we don’t have happy colleagues, we won’t have happy brokers so we’re flipping that into [an ethos of] having happy colleagues first.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work to understand where our people are at, through opinion surveys, pulse surveys etc. as well as understanding where we’re at as a business, what our proposition is, what conversations look like when we go to brokers and what else can we do. So, we’ve been surveying brokers, and have also commissioned some work on competition in the marketplace.”

Receiving this feedback that offers both an internal and external perspective has been tremendously valuable, he said, and brings great affirmation of what the team does particularly well and where it stands in the wider marketplace. This is helping the firm set its core priorities moving forward. Kemple noted that obtaining this kind of quality insight is essential to drive the businesses he leads into the natural next phase of their growth and means implicitly understanding their structure, culture, broker partners and the wider market.

“Because I’ve been in finance, in digital, in print media, in software, in the accountancy sector, in motor finance and now in insurance – I’m used to learning about different and new markets,” he said. “That’s been a really interesting part of [these roles] for me and the motor team have afforded me great support, and with new roles coming that will stabilise even further. That understanding and discovery piece is so important for me as it allows us to prioritise, to understand what sets us apart from our competitors from a performance perspective, as well as from a colleague and culture perspective.”

That kind of clarity allows his wider team to clearly identify main areas of emphasis going forward, he said, as once a set of priorities has been established it makes it easier for a business to rally around them. Kemple noted that he has been delighted by the talent of the team he has seen in premium finance and is looking forward to tapping into the depth of talent that exists within that team to empower it going forward.

In that spirit, a key focus for both the motor finance and premium finance businesses in recent months has been bringing in great new talent to kick his transformation programmes into the next gear.

For Kemple, who has held several senior roles in a variety of industries over the last two decades or so, the key to setting strong operational and strategic objectives goes back to that culture and people piece. Seeing an improvement in top-line numbers is brilliant, he said, and a great affirmation of a strong strategy, but having a culture that allows people to know they are an instrumental part of its success story and are empowered to contribute in meaningful ways is the key to long-term achievement.

Seeing your people thriving and enjoying their work is the most rewarding part of being a leader, Kemple said, and he has already seen from his work with the motor finance team how this emphasis can pay dividends. Developing people to the best of their potential may see them move on in time, but that’s what a good manager should support and, having that kind of culture, will in turn draw in the best talent from the rest of the industry.

“We’ve developed an internal strapline ‘together, we are premium’,” he said, “and we’re developing a whole new approach to colleague engagement… And we’re really keen to get back into the office and see people and be with each other, I can’t wait to do that. And I know that the leadership team across Premium are all in the same position.

“[…] That culture piece is something that we’re only really getting started on, it’s incredibly important and aligned to what we’re doing here, around how it feels to be an employee of Close Brothers and how this business puts people first in everything it does. And that’s only going to grow.”

This article was taken from Insurance Business UK.