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In a special guest blog, Helen Withers, one of the original founders of Arc Legal, shares her memories of what the company was like at the very beginning.
Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to reminisce with us on the beginnings of Arc Legal! How fast have the past twenty years flown by?

I can’t believe Arc Legal is celebrating 20 years this year! It feels like just yesterday that Frank, Richard and I developed an idea for a new type of Legal Expenses Insurance business from my kitchen table: Something transformational and unencumbered by some of the legacy issues weighing down the main players in in the market. Two decades ago, we had the ambition for the company to become a market leader in Before the Event Legal Expenses Insurance (LEI) and it’s so satisfying to see that that dream has been not only achieved but surpassed with the diversification into other ancillary products and services.

What inspired you, Frank and Richard to create Arc Legal Assistance back in 2003?

Before Arc Legal, I had only worked for long established large organisations. Arc Legal was launched following a redundancy from a senior role within the LEI sector, and I was keen to use the expertise that I had gained to create something new. Starting from a blank sheet of paper was a great opportunity to assess what was working well in the sector currently and what could be improved upon. The LEI servicing model that we introduced was designed to be more cost efficient than the competition and to give the customer a simplified, seamless claims journey.

Frank, Richard and I built a strong team around us over time, together with a culture that emphasised high quality services and value for money for customers, open communication, work-life balance and a ‘can-do’ mentality for our teams. I’m pleased to see that our original core values are still maintained in the company today and I’m sure that this has contributed to its success.

What were your ambitions for the business?

In the beginning, one of the main ambitions was, simply, to create a company that serviced its customers better than the competition, and gain market share as a result. We were obsessed with customer service and with providing our corporate clients with exactly what they needed, often on a bespoke basis. Over the past 20 years, technology has, of course, made it possible to drive continual improvement in the claims journey and in the information and analysis provided to clients and I’m delighted to see that the team continues to innovate and strive to deliver outstanding services.

What was your proudest moment with the business?

It’s hard to pinpoint one single moment – as we were building the business, every account win or renewal was a huge cause for celebration, and it was a great relief that within the first year we had secured enough business to breakeven and from there moved into steady profit growth. Over the years I also took enormous satisfaction from seeing the team expand and from seeing individuals develop personally in terms of skills and confidence and build good career prospects for themselves as a result. Another proud moment was becoming a part of AmTrust Financial Services in 2016. AmTrust was recently listed as one of America’s largest private companies by Forbes, and the invitation to join their international group was a sign that the business had truly “come of age” and was ready to step up and take the opportunities offered to expand and diversify to secure its future.

What was the biggest challenge starting out?

As an accountant, I’d have to say that in the early days the biggest challenge was probably lack of funds! We started off in a tiny three-man office, had very limited start-up investment available and growing families to support. Despite this we were able to create a business model involving outsourcing of key services that we were able to present to large potential clients from day one. With hindsight I think that lack of funds was actually a benefit as it made us more creative, determined to make every penny count, and led to us building financial models and processes that enabled us to manage the business properly and set it up for success in the future.

What have you gone on to do since leaving Arc Legal?

I left Arc Legal at the end of 2019, by which time it was well settled into the AmTrust Group business and was delighted that Frank O’Malley was able to take over as CEO and that Richard Finan was also keen to remain with the business. I am now enjoying a portfolio lifestyle, with a variety of roles and interests supporting and adding value in different ways to a range of entrepreneurs and their businesses. Launching Arc Legal was such a fulfilling experience for me, I’m particularly keen on helping new business start-ups, and “giving back” to the insurance industry which continues to offer great opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.

I now act as a consultant, strategic advisor, mentor, and angel investor to a range of start-ups both in insurance and in sectors completely new to me. I particularly enjoy working as a volunteer mentor with young people starting their own businesses through The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme. They have often come from very challenging backgrounds and their drive and determination to succeed is truly inspirational. As a founder member of the Trust’s Enterprise Network, I’m also involved with fundraising, inspirational speaking, and promotional activities to support the work of Enterprise Programme and am delighted to be able to spend time supporting a charity which does so much for the next generation of business owners.

I also have a start-up business of my own – YoPO Wellbeing Limited, which provides movement, mindfulness and lifestyle resources for employee and member wellbeing programmes. YoPO was inspired by my experience of working in high pressure desk-based roles for many years, finding it difficult to take any time to look after myself, and being responsible for the wellbeing of teams in similar situations. It provides quick, simple, and accessible practices that can easily be integrated into the working day and offers real benefits to physical and mental wellbeing – stretching, strengthening and mobilising the body, and calming the mind, all of which I would have certainly benefited from while at Arc Legal!

So, while I no longer work with Arc Legal, I’m keeping busy and am building on the experience I gained from my time with the business in different ways. I’m enormously proud of all that the business has achieved over the last twenty years, and can’t wait to see what is next for Arc Legal Group.

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