Coffee Cup Corner: Q&A with Brian Thomas, Account Manager
Join us for another edition of our Coffee Cup Corner here at Xenia - uncovering the people behind the policies. This month we take a moment to catch up with our Account Manager colleague Brian Thomas, read on to find out more.
How long have you worked at Xenia?
I have been with Xenia for two years, having transferred across with the Howden Trade Credit team at the beginning of the first lockdown in 2020.
What this role means/area is: (Please describe in layman's terms)
My portfolio consists of clients with one or more offices outside the UK. As well as helping with the day-to-day administration and training requirements on their trade credit policies, I also co-ordinate and consolidate information for reporting back to their central management teams too.
What do you like about Xenia/Why do you like working for Xenia?
Xenia very much has the feel of a young, modern and progressive company, but within this organisation there is a vast wealth of experience. And the fact everyone in the Xenia team, from the top down, is always willing to make themselves available and share their knowledge with colleagues in order to help our clients really does makes it a great place to work and learn.
A piece of advice you'd give your younger self?
Having a plan and a goal in life is always a good starting point but rarely will the line from one to the other be a straight one. So if, on occasion, there is an unexpected deviation from the plan then don’t worry as you'll almost certainly come away better for having had the experience anyway. And one other message to younger Brian: when you do eventually get to Paris for the first time, maybe think twice before ordering those garlic snails.
What's your most commonly asked question in your job role and how would you answer it? Or a top tip using your expert advice:
Always report a past due debt within the policy deadline. This seems like an obvious thing to say but sometimes a client will choose to delay reporting because their customer has promised the payment is on its way. When that delay cuts across the fixed reporting date, however, it becomes difficult to justify any non-compliance in the cold light of day if ultimately the payment doesn’t come then through. So always file the report in time and add a simple note to advise the insurer there is an ongoing positive dialogue with your debtor. Generally they will be understanding and accommodating of the situation so you have still got the additional time for your debtor to pay as promised - but by fulfilling your obligation under the policy you have also protected your own position "just in case" too.
How did you get into the insurance sector?
Trade credit Insurance wasn’t very high up on the list when we had our career advice days at school, so like most people I found my way via a number of sliding doors moments and a touch of good fortune. After joining the Civil Service back in 1983 I was offered a transfer to another department on promotion the following year. I was told the transfer would be to "ECGD", the UK government insurer at the time, although when I asked HR what those initials stood for, they didn’t know it was the Export Credits Guarantee Department, and neither could they tell me what kind of work ECGD actually did. This was a time long before Google and a quick decision was required, so I decided to take the gamble and by the time I left 15 years later it had become what we all now know as Atradius.
What do you do at Xenia and what does your typical day look like?
Most days I spend communicating directly with my clients and their insurers. This involves advising and working on credit limit coverage, general policy compliance, any past dues and claims issues as well as identifying any aspects of the business that may require policy wording amendments to be made in order to ensure our clients have the maximum coverage available, and they are therefore getting the best from their programme.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
While I obviously enjoy reading a good policy document as much as the next person, I would have to say getting out and meeting people face-to-face is probably the most enjoyable part of the job. The last two years have been tough in that respect but thankfully we are gradually now transitioning back from our Teams calls to across the table meetings once again.
What's the strangest / funniest / most memorable thing you’ve had to do in your current role?
Being born and bred just a few miles outside of Glasgow I still recall a telephone conversation with one of my first international clients, which I thought was going quite well until a very nice German lady politely interjected and said to me: “Brian, you need to slow down… because your English is not very good”. So whenever any of my overseas clients feel the need to apologise for what they consider to be a limited grasp of the English language, I usually share this story with them and we manage to work through our mutual linguistic challenges together.
How has the job changed since you started your career?
When I first started there were not as many trade credit insurance providers as there are now. Options were limited for any customers whose business perhaps strayed outside of the one size fits all packages on offer at that time: there is now much more of a commercial approach from insurers to give customers what they need in order to win and retain their business. Also, when you start your career in 1983, unless you count pens, telephones and LCD desk calculators, you pretty much pre-date almost all technology! So I would say it’s the ease and speed in which we now communicate with each other that has changed dramatically over the years.
Where do you see Xenia going over the next few years?
It’s definitely exciting times at Xenia and if what I have seen over my two years here is anything to go by, then I can only see us continuing to grow the business - not only here in the UK but also internationally whenever and wherever the right opportunities present themselves.
Tell us something most people don't know about you/what's your hidden talent?
I play guitar in a band that I started with my old school friends many, many years ago. The word "talent" might be a bit too strong a word for it, as even after all this time I’m still not that good a player. It is definitely well-hidden, however, as the band only ever plays live once every 10 years and our next scheduled appearance will be in 2025, which I can’t help but feel goes a long way in explaining my sustained lack of musical progress too.
What job would you be doing if you weren't doing this one?
My ideal job after leaving school would have seen me working as a music journalist back in the day, but even then I knew that was most likely to have a fairly limited shelf-life and I guess the practical side of me would always have found its way back into a similar business environment to the one I currently work in, so I might have stayed with the Civil Service or perhaps I would be in another branch of insurance, or in a pensions/banking type role.
What would you say to a young person who wants to get into insurance?
There are not that many industries with such a wide variety of interesting roles and opportunities for young people as there are in insurance, so I would definitely encourage anyone who is thinking about it to do so. The support, training and career development programmes we have will undoubtedly equip them for a life both inside and outside of the workplace, and we as an industry also need to see the next generation(s) come through with all of the fresh ideas and energy they will bring with them.
Who's your greatest hero or heroine and why?
I’m not really one for putting people on pedestals and the folks that I do admire would never want themselves to be considered as heroes anyway. That being said I do think the good people of the NHS are very much deserving of such an accolade, not only for the way they have worked tirelessly and selflessly over the last two years or so, but also for all the work they did before the pandemic, and for the work that they continue to do for us now.
What do you do to relax?
We have a very large Labradoodle called (Big) Mac who takes a lot of walking, and I still enjoy going out to see live music whenever I can. I am a season ticket holder at Celtic Park, which is not always that relaxing, and I do like to travel as much as possible with the family when we have the opportunity. I also like to spend as much time as I can responding to customer surveys and any Q&A requests that I receive in my inbox by using as many words as I can.*
*It’s always nice to end on a joke, however small, but sincerely: very well done to anyone who made it to the bottom of this particular article, I hope your coffee’s not too cold now.
To find out more about the people behind Xenia head over to last month’s Coffee Club Corner episode with our colleague Simon Wheeler.