An Englishman in New York

November 30, 2011

We’ve just released a wide-ranging report comparing and contrasting the mood and behaviors of entrepreneurs in the US and Europe.

Being an Englishman myself, adopted by the US last decade and living in New York, it reminded me of that famous George Bernard Shaw quote “England & America are two countries separated by a common language”. The report supports that, and having traveled back to London recently for a few days,  my lasting impression was that there definitely seems to be more optimism on the US side of the pond. I guess though that we’re just talking about relativity, as everywhere you turn there seems to be deeply entrenched issues to deal with- whether that’s the inability of the Republicans and Democrats to step above party politics to do the right thing on the fiscal budget, or Germany and France still being the powerhouses of the Euro economy, but no longer considered untouchable from economic turmoil. The report is fascinating, and I recommend reading it for transatlantic insights. Otherwise, on a more light-hearted note, my recent trip back to London made me reflect on some more personal differences between my experiences of life in New York and London:

  • The attitudes in the US to service come across as so much stronger. I don’t think it’s just to do with tipping either – it feels a much more deep-rooted attitude towards giving great service and the realisation that excellent service drives repeat business. The only exception being the DMV, which I have to say must be the only institution on planet earth with a NetPromoter Score of zero. By way of contrast, I was disappointed that my UK brethren gave me the impression that I was doing them a favor by using their hotel, taxi or airline.
  • When you hail a London cab you have 100% certainty that they’ll know where the address you want to get to is. That’s because of the requirement for the driver to have passed a test (“The Knowledge”) – where they have to know about 25,000 streets in London and 20,000 landmarks. It takes between 2 and 4 years to pass. I still find that incredible. An added bonus for me is that the London taxi driver is always willing to engage in cheerful, lively debate, and they make it their business to have their finger on the pulse of the UK mood. It’s a good litmus test, and I have to say that the taxi drivers I spoke with were more pessimistic than I can ever remember. It’s an interesting contrast to a New York cab, which is altogether a much more stressful and less insightful experience - where I often end up telling the cab driver how to get to a place and the best route.
  • I love the sense of patriotism in the US. The Stars and Stripes prominently displayed on buildings – commercial and domestic. The Star Spangled Banner sung with gusto at every major event. The respect shown to those in the armed forces. It never really struck me until I went back to London how this sense of national pride in the UK is virtually invisible compared to the US, and in these tough times the contribution this makes to morale and the sense of community is significant.
  • Finally, I’ve not met an American yet who understands why the British have baked beans for breakfast, and so it was a relief to be able to order a cooked breakfast in London, with baked beans, without getting looked at by those around me like I’d lost my mind.

Another difference between the two countries is how small businesses buy their insurance. It struck me that in the UK buying small business insurance online is the norm, and the US insurance industry overall has some way to go until it catches up. At Hiscox we specialize in coverage for professional services businesses and we’re still the only domestic insurer in the US that enables small businesses to quote and buy online. We are passionate about reinventing the way small businesses buy their professional liability insurance, general liability insurance and business owners insurance and strive to provide the best levels of service to our clients, whether in the US, the UK or any of the other countries where we operate. It’s very exciting to be leading this charge in the US, even if I’m not always able to get my beans for breakfast.

Kevin Kerridge
Head of Direct
Hiscox Partner
Hiscox USA