How does one become an aviation insurance expert? By chance, of course.
31. August 2020
Hana Kulhová, Head of the Aviation Department at RENOMIA, laughs today as she tells us how it all got started. From the whole manual that she had to read over the weekend, to her position as one of the top experts in a narrowly specialized field, it was an extremely interesting and not at all easy journey. “You don’t become an expert on anything overnight. If so, I must have done something wrong,” she comments with a sense of perspective as a woman who has gained clients with her experience and ability to understand all their problems and difficulties throughout her impressive career. Her specialization was – and still is – rare in the Czech Republic. All the more so, as the field of aviation is generally the domain of men. And you know what? Hana Kulhová does not care at all.
How does one become an aviation insurance expert?
Actually, by chance. Shortly after I started working at RENOMIA in 2006, in the international insurance department at the time, I received an offer to take care of one large, unnamed local airline. The offer came with the request that I have experience with insurance abroad, I know languages, and basically it would be like any other insurance. Like cars. In addition, it would be a great opportunity to move forward professionally, gain new experience, and on the other hand, I would have a foreign partner for support. Along with the offer, a manual with 900 pages of miniature text landed on my desk on Friday afternoon as a basic “reading for the weekend to familiarize myself with the basics.” I can laugh about it today, but I was not laughing much back then.
And how did it turn out?
I got my bearings. But it required a lot of hours of self-study, participation in professional workshops and trainings abroad, and daily work with clients, which we gradually obtained. In my opinion, you only become an expert in such a specialized field the moment you get to know the background of your clients, their daily routine and mentality, and when you can think like them and understand what bothers them. If you can translate their concerns and difficulties into the type of protection they can rely on, you become a partner for them.
So, you are a pioneer on the Czech market?
Yes, Pavel Nepala calls me that. We were the first, that’s true.
If you were hiring someone on the team now, they already have you here and you would train them?
Actually, yes. Given how exceptional this expertise is, I will hardly hire someone from the same field who is just improving their qualifications. So, if anyone comes, it will be from the beginning.
So are you actually alone in this field?
It is weird and I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I guess so. We did a survey and I did not meet a colleague from the industry who had as wide an expertise as I have.
How big is the field worldwide?
Huge. It is impossible to count how many people are involved, but the greatest experts in this field have been working for up to thirty years. I work with a lot of them, we have known each other for a long time and without them, I would not be doing what I am now.
Do you enjoy it?
Yes, for sure.
When you say aviation insurance, I imagine you are insuring aircraft, but it is probably not just the machines themselves, is it?
This is how most people view it. When asked what I do, I learned to say, “I work in aviation.” And only after do I admit that I deal with aviation risk insurance. It’s a general term which of course includes aircraft, but also helicopters, balloons, and drones, which is now a new and interesting segment. But there are also manufacturers of aircraft and various aircraft parts, the airports, hangar operators, service organizations that repair all the aircraft. And this includes all the staff who work there – like pilots and stewards, and there is a certain special insurance for them. So, it is not just about planes.
What is the most interesting case you have encountered so far?
Each case is unique, because in aviation it is not possible to insure according to a template and a table. For each client, protection is really negotiated individually. But I have one interesting experience. A few years ago, a gentleman called me up and said that he was a pilot and would need advice on insurance. He asked questions that made it clear that he was testing me, and after about an hour he said to me: “You know, Mrs. Kulhová, I’m not going to bother you anymore, I have been testing you, you are a woman, so I wondered what it would be like. A lot of so-called experts come to see me, and after a long time I can finally talk to someone. So, you know what, we’ll arrange the insurance with you.” And he did. We proposed a lot of interesting solutions, unified the existing insurance and invented various bonuses. What he has done so far with his accountant, he has entrusted to us. We have been working together for four years already and we have a relatively above-standard, rather friendly relationship. He is such a guru for me, and when I need to talk and consult about something, he never turns me down.
Isn’t this typical for all of RENOMIA, that you like to build good relationships with clients?
Things never work out without it. Especially in these specialized environments. Everyone knows each other and you must take good care of the reputation you build. When you meet clients who entrust you with their problems and pains from their professional as well as private life, you must, of course, keep them to yourself. Clients know this very well and appreciate our discreet relationship.
You have already mentioned that the fact that you are a woman can play a role. How often do you come across a reaction to this topic?
In general, and without any judgement, aviation is simply the domain of men. All my contacts and clients are overwhelmingly men. But I do not take any prejudices personally, and on the contrary, I perceive the fact that I am a woman, and even a blonde, as a positive thing. Of course, when I come to a meeting, I sit down and have some coffee in peace, while the other party is waiting to hear some wise comments from me. They also test me with a few questions. I start with their topic, I talk to them in a friendly way, and many times they don’t even know that I’m also collecting information, which I will later use to fill in a very unpopular questionnaire. So they appreciate the fact that I don’t just send a questionnaire – on the contrary, I talk to them about what their daily bread is and what worries bother them. I offer them an opinion and a solution, which will then be reflected in unpopular insurance, which is at the edge of their interest. And they then relax and often brighten up, because they understand that the meeting and the subsequent cooperation will be pleasant for both parties.
And most importantly, I always say that models bring their portfolio, I bring my presentation. Just go to the references page. This field is one big family, so when a client sees well-known names, my position is immediately strengthened.
The good news is that experience and references are crucial.
Yes, it is like that one good classic movie which says, “Mr. Manager, you have to try.” In fact, you have to try and, if possible, sail with a relatively healthy, clean shield.
Let’s go back to the beginning: when they told you “airplanes, it's almost like insuring cars,” it was not like that at all, was it?
No way. But of course, I knew that to insure a Boeing would be about something other than insuring a Skoda.