New McGill CEO ready for her next challenge
Veteran underwriter Kate Vacher was looking for her next challenge earlier this year.
She was on the original team for start-up Aspen Insurance in 2002, and was promoted to group director of underwriting there four years later.
But after Apollo Management bought Aspen in 2019, she was not sure what she would do next.
"When Covid-19 hit, I saw many different start-ups forming different management teams, and wanted to be involved in a start-up again,“ Ms Vacher said. “I thought that just being at the start of something and building it and building the culture, rather than going into something that was already established, was really the key to what I was looking for.”
She became the new chief executive officer of McGill and Partners on Victoria Street in Hamilton, in September.
One of the things that appealed to her about McGill and Partners was their emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
“We are not just doing lip service,” she said. “Every month statistics go out to show how we are doing. It is good. It keeps it alive.”
At the start of her career in 1995, she saw a sea of blue suits when she interviewed for her first jobs at A N Taylor, a Lloyd’s syndicate in London.
“Women were in the market by then, and there were certainly some trail blazers ahead of me, but it was very male dominated,” she said. “It was a bit of a boy’s club, back then.”
She thrived anyway.
“Part of it was that my bosses and coworkers were very supportive,” she said.
Her husband, Piers Vacher was also an underwriter. She was working at Wellington in 2000 when she became pregnant with their first child. Her plan was to quit to become a full-time mother, but her boss, Chris O’Kane, suggested she work part-time. In the early 2000s, that was still a radical concept.
“The brokers went a bit crazy,” Ms Vacher said. “They said we can’t have a part time underwriter on our accounts. If she is going to be part-time, other brokers will use it against us to say they have full access to Wellington and we only have part access.”
But Mr O’Kane stayed firm. He said, if Ms Vacher did not get back to them in time, the broker could go to him. Ms Vacher made sure that never happened. Today, she is very grateful to Mr O’Kane.
“If he had folded, we probably would have been another five years before working part-time was acceptable,” she said. “Now, it is pretty common in Lloyd’s to have part-time underwriters. Technology has helped a lot.”
She worked three-days a week for eight years, working full-time during busy renewal periods.
“I was at Aspen when they realised they had a competitive disadvantage with all the Bermudians who were operating to a lower brokerage because they were dealing directly to brokers,” Ms Vacher said. “There was also the tax advantage. We decided we needed to move our property cat reinsurance over to Bermuda. Aspen already had an office here, but it was a behind the scenes head office.”
She arrived in Bermuda in 2004 with two toddlers and a two-week-old baby.
“I was on maternity leave, but still doing all of the buying for Aspen,” she said. “I was heavily involved in a lot of the outward purchases. I was on calls with brokers while breast feeding. I would be giving my toddlers cookies to make them quiet while I was on a phone call. Looking back, that was quite intense.”
She went back to the UK in 2008, then returned to Bermuda in 2017.
Now, her plan as McGill CEO is to build out in the United Kingdom and Bermuda in insurance and reinsurance.
“Insurance will be somewhat tied to how McGill grows in the US,” she said. “This is very much a US focused insurance market. We will be building out McGill US over the next 12 to 24 months. I think that we will see more business flow coming into Bermuda from McGill offices globally. The Bermuda insurance side will be building up in line with that and lock step.”
Now, one of her biggest challenges is staffing. Staff with the expertise she needs is in short supply in Bermuda, so she plans to bring in some from overseas, then grow talent locally.