Electric dreams

The car industry is set for a major shake-up - and one locally-based business has a vision of how to grab a slice of the future

It’s not often that you get to talk to a CEO about tanks. But for Simon Walker, it’s all in a day’s work. He runs First Central Group, which has grown from its base in Guernsey – where it employs around 50 people - to grab a large chunk of the car insurance market in the UK. 

It has succeeded by developing clever technology locally, and deploying it through the firm’s UK motor insurer 1st Central and Gibraltar-based underwriter Skyfire Insurance. ‘We issue 500,000 policy quotes every single day and for each of those quotes, we will have a 1,000 data points for each quote. So we have 500 million points of data per day. That technology is here,’ said Mr Walker.

Meeting this CEO, you also quickly realise that car insurance is anything but boring. For him, it’s about the power of technology to disrupt and transform. He’s not afraid to talk and think big. The car industry is on the verge of massive disruption driven by technology, he believes, and the effects will be felt by all of us. 

Like a chess grandmaster, he also seems to already be plotting not just his next business move but the one after that. In fact, you get the impression that he’s already figured out the next 10 moves to get into a winning position – which gets us back to tanks and those fully autonomous vehicles that will start appearing over the coming years.

Fighting car hackers with tanks

‘I think the first time you get one of these cars on the road, I think you are just basically putting a big target on it for every hacker in the world to have a race to see who can hack it first. I think that is a huge danger,’ according to Mr Walker, who joined the business a year ago as chief operating officer and was promoted to the top job in May.

‘So, that’s why I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year working with the guys who provide cyber-security for the British Army because in my mind what we should be doing is facilitating collaboration. Not just between an insurer and a manufacturer, but an insurer, a manufacturer and cyber-security expertise – like military grade cyber security.

‘The way I made that link was when I was reading how vulnerable cars are through your phone; through the Bluetooth; through the tire pressure gauges, if you hack into those, you can route your way through the whole system.

‘Once you get that into head and think: ‘Right, everything is hackable – but I can’t hack into a tank for example, they must have something in tanks for example, right?”. Because otherwise every terrorist organisation in the world would be hacking into fighter jets and tanks, aircraft carrier and so on and so forth. What is that that stops that? So, what I did was get in touch with the company who do that.’

Talking to that company’s CEO, they talked about making six million units of this technology to proof connected cars against hackers – and the price point of that. ‘It’s an interesting conversation to take to car manufacturers,’ said the FCG boss during an interview at his company’s offices in St Peter Port, Guernsey.

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