Q&A: Keith Butler CEO, Acorn Life DAC.

Guaranteed Irish member Acorn Life DAC is an independent Irish owned privately held company based in Galway, offering Protection, Savings, Pensions, and Investment products specifically designed for the Irish market.

Keith Butler CEO of Acorn Life DAC talks working remotely, what we can expect from them in the future with business strategy and transformation program D21, and how Acorn Life has benefited from Guaranteed Irish membership. 

Can you tell us a bit about Acorn Life?

Established in 1989, Acorn Life DAC is licensed under the Insurance Act 1936 and authorised under the European Communities (Life Assurance) Framework Regulations 1994 to transact life assurance business in the Republic of Ireland.

Acorn Life DAC, part of the Acorn Life Group of companies, is an independent Irish owned privately held company with its Head Office based in Galway. Acorn Life has for over 30 years offered Protection, Savings, Pensions and Investment products specifically designed for the Irish market. It is a multi-award-winning company that provides a wide range of financial services and is dedicated to excellence through advanced administration systems and quality customer service. It distributes its products through 11 branches and a nationwide team of over 130 financial advisers. It has a total group count of almost 300 people.

In conjunction with our sister company Acorn Brokerage Ltd, trading as Acorn Insurance and Acorn Mortgages, we can offer the full suite of General Insurance products regarding motor, home, travel and commercial insurance. Through our mortgage agencies, with all the broker banks, we can cater to the first-time buyer, switcher, trader upper or investor looking for the most suitable mortgage product in the market.

What are the challenges that you face in your business, and how do you work to overcome them particularly in the current climate?

Recent events have proved challenging for any service-oriented commercial business, especially for one such as Acorn which operates a ‘face to face’ model for providing financial advice to its clients. As a result, we had to be flexible and fast in our response by adapting to the new world mainly through two elements: fintech innovation and a culture that promotes and rewards quick and effective responses to external forces and challenges.

Our primary focus in the current climate has been to ensure we can still provide service and advice to our clients when they need it. Agile and innovative use of technology has been key to this, along with our ongoing commitment to our clients. Our call centre is fully operational with staff working remotely, thereby allowing us to be available to our clients by phone to listen, understand and follow up as required. We have a state-of-the-art electronic Point of Sale (ePOS) system, which we use to understand clients’ needs, provide recommendations and complete application forms. We are successfully using Microsoft Teams to enable us to meet clients remotely and provide them with products and services. We also integrated DocuSign to enable remote signatures and avoid physical meetings between clients and advisers. Our agile approach and use of cloud-based systems such as Microsoft CRM and Teams have enabled us to prioritise client needs with minimal disruption and no reduction in service quality or standards.

We can now carry out the majority of our new business seamlessly anywhere, at any time.

Our people have always been the cornerstone of our success to date. Our mission statement is ‘Empowering ordinary people to achieve extra results.’ No more so has this been evidenced that over the last couple of months.

As is the norm for any business operating in a highly regulated environment, our culture needs to be grounded in a compliant, structured process and mentality. Yet, in the present global pandemic, our size and entrepreneurial can-do attitude enabled us to respond quickly, while still maintaining our absolute commitment to running a compliant business. This business-driven and problem-solving mindset allowed us as a company to meet our new challenge head-on.

What’s one thing that is often misunderstood about the nature of the business you are in?

The numerous benefits of having a professionally qualified financial advisor in your corner are, at times, immeasurable. People who work with a financial adviser are more likely to know how to balance spending now and to save for later; set specific goals and feel confident that they will achieve those goals; have a plan in place to weather economic ups and downs.

Often overlooked are the intangible benefits of a financial adviser delivering value to their clients’ as well as improved retirement confidence and peace of mind for clients.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your business over the next five years?

Now more than ever, people need help with their financial affairs. For example, people are living longer, meaning they will have to plan to make their retirement funds last over a longer period. Increased life spans require that consumers plan for long-term needs. The variety and sophistication of financial products mean that consumers need more advice to gather and protect wealth.

Business and economic trends are very promising for a career in financial services where demand for professionals in the industry has never been greater. There are 60% less authorised intermediaries in our sector today than ten years ago. Acorns business model is about growth through partnership with likeminded proprietary financial advisers who want to be in business for themselves, but not by themselves.

We see considerable opportunities in continuing with our model of partnership and empowerment with entrepreneurial, business owner mindset people looking to set up in financial services for the first time. However, through our business strategy and transformation program Distribution 21(D21) there is going to be an increased opportunity for Acorn to partner with existing industry experienced qualified financial advisors looking to set up or continue to run their own brokerage. Those that are not achieving the required scale and volume to be profitable while keeping abreast of the ever-changing and growing demands of compliance, regulation and legislation will inevitably need to consider joining an umbrella organisation such as Acorn. By doing so will enable them to operate and thrive while focussing on their core skills in meeting client needs, providing first-class service and being able to develop and grow their business.

What made you decide to become a member of Guaranteed Irish?

Acorn Life has always been about the community. Our people all tend to live, work and socialise in the communities where a lot of our clients – individuals, families, business owners and companies are present. We are very active from a CSR perspective and have multiple community support and outreach programmes that contribute materially to the localities in which we are based. We have always been proud of the fact that we are 100% Irish owned and based out of Galway city. We are not part of any large pan- European or worldwide conglomerate that could decide to close up shop in Ireland in the morning or move operations elsewhere. Our success is based on one of partnership and connection: to our people, clients, communities and each other.

Being a member of Guaranteed Irish is also about being part of a community—one we are proud to be part of and whose membership is based on meeting the three core criteria of provenance, jobs and local community impact. Being Guaranteed Irish now more than ever is an ideal opportunity for both Acorn Life and its clients to back each other, Irish businesses and Irish jobs. 

What can we expect for Acorn Life in the future and do you have plans to expand to other services?

As mentioned previously, we have started our D21 strategic program earlier this year. D21 will facilitate the bringing together of our life insurance, general insurance and mortgage offerings on the one integrated platform for enhanced user and customer experience. This transformation is being driven by a desire to have the client at the centre of everything we do as a company, and where the client will have access to a one-stop-shop model that will meet all their present-day and future financial needs. All conducted through an expanded range of products, professional advice supported by top-class client service and technology systems, with an option for remote or face to face interactions from either the comfort of your own home, office or offsite at a time that’s convenient to both parties.

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