In the latest edition of the Tech Q&A series, MBS’s Stephen Rosenthal talks with Matthew Crummack, CEO of GoCompare.com Group plc (‘GoCompare’), the Newport-headquartered tech company behind disruptive brands like comparison website GoCompare, discount provider MyVoucherCodes, automatic energy switching service weflip, and Ofgem-accredited domestic and business energy comparison provider Energylinx.
Beginning his career in Proctor & Gamble, Matthew’s journey to GoCompare saw him hold senior roles at Nestlé, Voyages-SNCF, Expedia and LastMinute.com, where he held the post of CEO for four years.
With the unique combination of a deep understanding of customers and ability to utilise data highly-effectively, it’s little surprise that, under Matthew’s leadership, GoCompare is now regarded as one of the UK’s leading technology businesses.
In their London office, Matthew and I discussed data, innovation, talent and what the future of comparison could look like.
How does a gold-standard trained FMCG, travel and hospitality, marketplace executive and Founder/CEO and Non-Executive Director end up running a comparison site?
It was somewhere between coincidence, chance and luck. I was fortunate enough to meet Sir Peter Wood. We got along very well and there was an opportunity to work with him on a business with genuine potential.
Are you the CEO of a modern, technology-led iteration of the thousand-year-old insurance industry, or is the comparison vertical a totally new industry?
Up to now, the comparison vertical has been an evolution of insurance, accelerating a laborious process that has become considerably easier to do online. The technology involved in creating this wasn’t very sophisticated, but the operational process and regulatory burdens behind the curtain were – and still are – quite heavy.
I’m often told by energy, telecom, insurance and subscription businesses that there’s next to no margin in their core offerings, with the majority of their profits coming from additional, out-of-channel product offerings like cinema tickets, restaurant vouchers and even stuffed toys. Is this the future of the industry?
It’s difficult for legacy companies to convert themselves into profitable going concerns in a changing market. They require enormous transformation and resilience, which is why challengers come through and do so well. Newer players tend to do the same job, more efficiently, with better service, at lower cost.
The goal is to win customers who are choosing you for service more than price. Some people are driven by the lowest price – following the likes of Martin Lewis and researching for 45 mins to save £10 – but they’re the minority. The majority tend to overpay unintentionally, or knowingly pay a higher price for a better service or reassurance they’re not being taken advantage of.
In a world in which consumers are increasingly wary of the data held on them, how do you ensure that a data-rich company like GoCompare, which requires personal data, remains on the right side of the helpful-scary line?
Our approach is very clear. For us, data is a single use event – we ask customers to provide us with inputs, from which we can create relevant, accurate outputs. With their permission, we reuse the data they’ve provided one year later, when their policy is up for renewal.
We have a clear philosophy– we don’t monetise data through advertising and traffic. We don’t sell data. We use it for driving better savings, which, in turn, drives more business and higher customer satisfaction.
You recently cited the strengthening of your technology team as a key factor in the delivery of marked improvement in both customer and partner experience. How key a factor has the investment in talent been in GoCompare’s success?
It’s been crucial. We want to create a stronger machine, delivering more services to more people.
Having enough people to concurrently manage their day job and innovate is the capacity we’ve been building for.
We’ve worked hard to empower small teams of people to own the roadmap in front of them, challenging them to create outputs as goals. Our new auto-saving energy service, weflip is a great example of what that culture can create.
We’ve made significant transformation at the top of the business, bringing in people with outstanding tech and digital skills. That’s a work in progress as we keep building. There’s more growth to go through as we continue to challenge ourselves, but the team of today is already unrecognisable from what it was just three years ago.
Tech moves fast. How do you keep on top of the rapid evolution of data software to remain relevant?
Through securing outstanding talent. Government and academic institutions have been promoting data science skills for students and young people and it’s been wonderful to hire entry-level data colleagues in our South Wales headquarters. That’s something we’re committed to continuing to drive.
I think there is more to be done to get more young people studying STEM subjects. We recently hired five school leavers into a degree apprenticeship programme we are running in partnership with Aston University – this is an integral part of our GoFurther Academy, through which we seek to find, train and retain the best talent. Finding applicants motivated to apply took some effort. To unearth the calibre of candidate we wanted – young people motivated enough to study and work hard at the same time – it was crucial to partner with the right schools.
I feel this is going to be a long-term build for the UK. To close the large supply gap, companies are going to have to encourage more young people to go into more technical subjects, and then incentivise them to stay with them for longer.
Comparison sites are now firmly established within the consumer market. Given the platform has totally disrupted the traditional insurance and personal finance market, what’s next?
People now expect more than comparison. They want assimilation of data, comparison of it and then an extension into proactive advice and recommendations – “Here’s what we think you’d like/what you could do”.
Data science and the internet have enabled incredible choice, allowing people to access opportunities and ideas across the world in a way they never could.
Comparison won’t be the answer for everyone. As with everything, it depends on what you’re shopping for. If you live in a standard house with standard things, you probably need a basic insurance product and will be happy to select from a broad range of options.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a tailored honeymoon, you probably don’t want an off-the-shelf option that’s the same as everyone else. People are increasingly looking for help and advice on the purchases that really matter to them.
How does the business pitch into that insight?
Carefully! Curation is a very different proposition, with real responsibility. You have to do the right thing. That requires careful thought around delivery, transparency and how you measure yourself against that responsibility.
Born: Rugby, but grew up in Altrincham, Greater Manchester
What excites you about tech?: The incredible opportunity it creates for people – the first time I moved to the West Coast, teaching my 80 year old father how to use Skype allowed him to see his family whenever he wanted. He still uses it today. Tech can really improve lives.
Who are your mentors?: I have learned a lot from my father, who is 92. He grew up working in engineering in the 70s and 80s. It’s incredible to listen to how business principles and concepts haven’t changed very much over time. It’s just that the environments, conditions and speed of doing things have.