Lessons learnt from a female trailblazer in insurance

For 25 years, Stella Pruscino has forged a path for other female entrepreneurs to follow. This is her story

Stella Pruscino’s career in the insurance industry started at the reception desk of a small, suburban brokerage. She didn’t last long.

“After a couple of weeks of not being able to transfer the calls correctly, they gave me an opportunity to move into the SME broking team,” she says with a laugh.

That was 25 years ago.

Today, Stella is an account director and shareholder of Edgewise insurance brokers, Chair of NIBA Victoria, a director on two NFPs, an advisory member of Journalism of Terrorism and Cyber Insurance and a project team member of Standards Australia – Physical Protective Security Treatments for Building focusing on terrorism protection.  All this giving her a distinguished position in what is still a male-dominated industry, especially at the upper-echelons.

This is what she has learned.

“Anyone can succeed in any industry as long as they have the drive and the determination to self-develop and educate themselves either formally or informally”

Focus on motivation and ability

Stella says that while there were challenges for women looking to get ahead, especially in the early stages of her career, none were insurmountable. Passion, drive and a commitment to excellence are the keys behind her success.

“There were definitely challenges for women across every industry. But I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s not about gender, it’s about drive and ability,” she says.

“Anyone can succeed in any industry as long as they have the drive and the determination to self-develop and educate themselves either formally or informally.”

After 18 months at the suburban brokerage, Stella got one of the biggest breaks of her career when she scored a job at global insurance brokerhouse Marsh.

There, she received the training and experience that would provide the foundation of her success, working first in risk management before moving on to business development.

“The training that was provided by international firms, particularly back then, was second to none,” she says.

The importance of support networks

After spending the majority of her career at international brokers houses, Stella shifted to the domestic market two years ago when opportunity came knocking in the form of a senior role at Edgewise.

“It was an opportunity to become a stakeholder in the firm and actually play a part in the strategic direction of the business moving forward,” she says.

In leaning on her own experience, Stella has taken a leading role in establishing support networks for the younger generation of females.

“It’s a case of getting like-minded women together and saying ‘OK how do we work together and continue to promote other women both within the insurance sector and outside it’,” she says.

“How do we bring more women through the ranks and provide them with the support that may not have been there 20 years ago, when we were coming though ourselves?

“It’s about providing more opportunities for females to be recognised. Though of course they still need the skill set for that recognition to happen.”

Stella has also become involved in Head Over Heels, a support network for female-led start-ups – a sector that still skews heavily male.

Head over Heels aims to put an end to the discrimination and gender inequality faced by female entrepreneurs in Australia and pro-actively supports them by providing access to mentorship and networks across the country.

Stella is firm in her belief that, men should also provide crucial support for female entrepreneurs and younger women.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the male sponsors that I have had because there weren’t the female sponsors around 20 to 25 years ago,” she says.

“If we’re looking at the majority of start-ups being male and our industry is predominantly male, then it makes sense that every female needs to have male sponsors to assist them.”

Stay with the same employer for longer

Stella’s key piece of advice to younger colleagues, is to stay with the one company for longer and look for ways to progress inside that structure.

While many millennials look to move on from one employer to another every couple of years in search of higher pay and better titles, doing so means they can miss out on the opportunity to round out their experience and build stronger relationships and networks during that time.

One of the cornerstones of Stella’s success has been in staying with employers for long enough to learn as much  as she could and to take on special projects and development opportunities. Her passion for projects outside her day to day role in areas such as terrorism insurance has seen Stella writing various articles on terrorism insurance and also as a presenter at NIBA conferences and the OECD Global Terrorism Conference in 2016.

“The ability to stay where you are until you have actually learnt everything and also to take on additional projects – that’s where I’ve created my opportunities,” she says.

Advice for start-ups and SMEs

When it comes to insurance, Stella says the key for start-ups and small businesses is to find a broker with expertise in working with similar business in your sector.

She says a good broker should also understand the needs of start-ups at different growth stages.

“There are so many different phases of growth that they go through and they don’t need every type of insurance from start up.

“But if you are starting a business, you need to look closely at the right business insurance for you, and that is where an insurance broker is your key ally.

“The nature of your business will determine the biggest risks you face, and an insurance broker will be able to advise you on these.”

One of the biggest emerging risks

However, whatever their stage of growth, Stella stresses that a key risk every start-up and SME needs to be insured against is cyber attacks.

Small and micro businesses needed to be aware they are just as vulnerable, if not more so, to a hacking attack that could comprise their systems and compromise sensitive client data, as bigger companies are. This is often because they have less measures in place to protect themselves.

“The consideration at that level is that they are not going to be a victim but it’s generally the micros and the SMEs that are targeted on a more consistent basis,” she says.

“It’s about making sure they align themselves with a broker that understands the fast movement in technology, whether it’s going to be online or AI, and to be able to assist them to grow that side of it,” she says.

“That’s why the right cyber insurance is so important for your small business.”

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