Building on firm family foundations with Polly Staveley

As we jump further into Spring 2021, we’re starting our focus on our UNA Alliance people – the energy behind everything we do. UNA is a concentration of independent brokers, coming together to build unified, strong foundations for our customers to rely on.

Many of our members are family businesses and, with a focus on this and putting a spotlight on women in insurance, too, who better to start our series of Bringing All Together Better People interviews than Polly Staveley – MD of TL Dallas and an active member of the UNA Alliance board as well.

You’ve been with TL Dallas now for 21 years, tell us a bit about your career and your journey to the top…

TL Dallas is very much a family business for me as our founder, Thomas Lessels Dallas OBE, was my great grandfather. The business was established over 100 years ago, primarily covering the textile mills in Bradford. Since then, it’s evolved and grown into a multi-faceted business covering some very diverse risks. That’s not to say, though, that I always wanted to work there and, after university, I actually started my career in banking.

In 1999 I felt ready to move into the family firm and, starting at the grass roots as a junior credit insurance handler, I learned the trade from the bottom up. In 2017 I became Managing Director, and I’ve been incredibly proud to be at the helm for our 100 year anniversary in 2019.

Women in insurance is a hot topic and especially women at the top. Are you the first female Managing Director at TL Dallas?

Technically, yes. But I’m not the first female to steer the company as, during WWII, my Great Aunt Babbie assisted with the running of the company while the men were away fighting. As was too often the way at that time, though, as soon as the men returned, Aunt Babbie moved back away from the business. Insurance is still a very male-dominated business but I find that women bring a set of skills to the industry that are very much needed. 

It may sound cliched to say that women are better multi-taskers, but it definitely seems to be the case for many. Add to that a greater abundance of empathy and even perhaps a harder attitude to negotiating, and women in insurance make a great deal of sense! 

How has the support of UNA Alliance helped you to build business at TL Dallas?

As one of the founding members of UNA Alliance, I think we’ve very much supported each other. Being a member of UNA has given us boosted strength in the marketplace and as an Alliance of companies, together we are able to negotiate better solutions for our customers. 

As a business leader, surrounding yourself with like-minded people – mentors, if you like – who you can bounce ideas with, is essential. Being a member of UNA also allows us to take that model all the way through the business, sharing ideas, concerns and development opportunities together. 

What would you say are the opportunities in insurance broking for young people starting their careers?

Insurance broking can be incredibly fulfilling and, with so many different types of insurance, there are many different paths you can take. Choosing a smaller, family organisation gives you the chance to experience more, as the business will likely be less siloed. And you’ll find your voice within the company more quickly, as well. I feel very fortunate to have worked my way through the business here at TL Dallas, and that’s given me an incredible grounding for running the company now. 

The teams here at TL Dallas all really benefit from being members of UNA Alliance and I’d recommend for any young person to join a broking organisation that can offer a support network in this way. As a part of UNA Alliance, we can offer a great deal more knowledge sharing, as well as extended opportunities to develop professionally via the Alliance’s UNAversity. 

Great insurance brokers are people people. We have to really reach into our clients’ lives and businesses to understand their unique risks. And then we need to analyse those risks and find and negotiate the most appropriate solutions for them. In that way, we can add real value, help to protect people’s livelihoods and also learn a lot at the same time!  


Checking in for wellbeing the importance of small talk

They say that a smile speaks a thousand words and at UNA we tend to agree. Bringing people together is what it’s all about and in these times when we can’t come together in person so easily, video calls have certainly filled the breach. But while video calls allow us to see each other – and that smile – the small talk that would generally take place before and after meetings is distinctly lacking.

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Meeting virtually - focusing in on videoconferencing

You’re on mute! This may be one of the most common sentences heard during 2020 and it’s still prevalent today. As we make our way down the road out of lockdown, everyone is looking forward to a resumption of more standard working practices, including face to face meetings and the ability to be a bit more sociable again. For many businesses and their employees, though, working from home will remain the norm for some time to come. Our executive chair, Tim Ryan, explores options...

Videoconferencing seems to have come a long way in the last 12 months. Whether that’s due to new features that have been developed to help us all to chart the new challenges of business, or whether that’s because we’ve all become more used to using them. There are many to choose from, though, and finding the right one for your business needs, and your personal preferences, is easier said than done.

Having reviewed platforms for the very first virtual UNA Alliance conference, that took place in November 2020, as well as for team meetings, one-to-ones with staff, customers and suppliers, and for recruiting new people too, I’ve noted down some key features for four of the best:


GoToMeeting – mobile friendly at a reasonable price

GoToMeeting offers audio and video conferencing, plus screen sharing, and as a part of the LogMeIn portfolio, it also offers a webinar option. This relatively cost friendly app is easy to use on your laptop or desktop, and it’s also very mobile friendly, which is handy if you need to meet with someone while you’re on the move or, indeed, if you’d like to move around while you meet. Most features are available in the standard package, which provides for up to 150 people to meet at the same time.

 Microsoft Teams – value for money as part of Microsoft 365

For a joined up approach that enables you to connect your teams with calendars, file sharing and audio and video conferencing, as well as webinars, Teams is ideal for businesses already using Microsoft 365. And, for guests invited from outside the organisation, no app is needed to take part in meetings. 

Microsoft Teams also offers all the features you’d expect from a leading videoconferencing platform, including screen sharing and call recording, chat and background blurring, and it’s easy to use via a mobile app for meetings on the go, too.

Google Meet – cost effective and great with Google Workspace integration

Google Meet, previously called Google Hangouts Meet, is part of the Google Workspace office productivity platform, so it’s connected to other Google apps, such as Google Calendar, and has been developed specifically for business needs.

For guests invited to your meetings there is a web app, meaning no software needs to be downloaded to join. It also provides a dedicated dial-in number, which means that people on the go can join and ensures a good quality connection.

Zoom Meetings – affordable and intuitive to use

Zoom Meetings is quick and easy to set up and offers video conferencing and messaging with a wide range of scalable features. As well as high definition video and audio and screen sharing, Zoom Meetings can be recorded and saved locally or to the cloud, along with transcripts that include searchable text.

Perhaps best of all, the free tier of Zoom Meetings includes many features, with the ability to host a meeting for up to 100 participants and for up to 40 minutes. For longer meetings, a licence for business use is needed.


Bringing your team together

Of course, the platform you choose and the features you need will be individual to your business, and there are many other videoconferencing solutions to choose from as well. While chairing a meeting via video is certainly not my preference, it is far preferable to not seeing your teams at all. Staying in touch is not only vital for business, it’s important for the mental wellbeing of your people, too. It’s suggested that social connectedness can help people to build a stronger immune system, improved memory and cognitive skills and lower stress levels, all helping to keep your workforce productive, too. See you online soon!

Making time to talk an all together better way of working

All together better. That’s our mantra at UNA Alliance, and we very much work to it. As independent insurance brokers, making time to talk – whether that’s with our customers, our fellow members, our insurer partners or, indeed, our people – is something we do every single day. Here, our Executive Chair, Tim Ryan, explores how making 'time to talk' can boost wellbeing for all. 

Making time to talk is more than just about business and, in these unsettling times, picking up the phone or even dropping a quick note by email can make a great difference to that person’s wellbeing, and our own.

It’s all about staying connected. It could be easy to suggest that in our digitally joined-up world we’re more connected than ever. Right now, though, even if we spend hours every day on video or telephone calls, and even if we’re surrounded by a whole family working and schooling from home, we may also feel disconnected, lonely and overwhelmed.

Within our businesses, the same is true whether we’re talking about a staff member who is working – either on site at our premises or from home – or an employee who has been furloughed. Staying in touch to check in on wellbeing, rather than work, is the right thing to do.

Looking outwards, customer service can also change to reflect the current circumstances. Reaching out to customers to reassure them that you’re on hand to help, and taking time to talk for just a few minutes, means that they will feel more connected to your business, that you care and that they’ve made the right decision working with you. Better still, they’ll feel happier afterwards, too. That’s because ‘feel good’ conversations trigger higher levels of wellbeing hormones, including dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins, among others.

Meanwhile, keeping the communications channels open with our business associates, be they fellow members of an alliance such as UNA, partners such as our network of insurers, or any other stakeholder in the supply chain is important, too.

We’re all in this together and we’re all together better. It’s been shown that kindness helps to increase self-esteem and to improve mood and wellbeing. Kindness can also increase your sense of connectivity with others, directly impacting feelings of loneliness for you and them. It also can be contagious…pass it on!