Degreed’s Conor Gilligan talks to head of customer insight at Co-op Insurance Patrick Alcantara about his career so far; his struggle for acceptance in the UK as an immigrant and the importance of lifelong learning in his development.
What has been your career journey to date and are there any highlights?
I started my career as a teacher before coming to the UK 11 years ago on a scholarship. I remember arriving in London with just a suitcase and having to arrange practical stuff like a place to live, a bank account and a phone pretty quickly. I had the time of my life being a student again, and then went for a research job at the Business Continuity Institute, which trains and certifies professionals. I moved to O2 and then to Co-op Insurance, where I look after insights there. I have been incredibly lucky with my career to date. I got a chance to travel abroad and talk about my research, get invited to the House of Lords, organise an event in an actual smart home, win tickets to the Rolling Stones at work, among other things. As a first-generation immigrant to the UK, I am truly grateful at the opportunities which came my way. The ‘great’ in Great Britain means something more to me – I am lucky to live in a great country that rewards hard work and represents opportunity.
How has market research changed over the years? How do data and analytics influence your job?
In recent years, I have observed working more closely with data and analytics colleagues and it helps us tell a better, ‘joined up’ story to decision makers. It’s part of my routine to look at data insights as we consider a research piece – it helps me ask better questions. In insurance, for example, if we were in a situation where customers aren’t renewing their policies, we can look at the data to see if it’s driven by price or incentives. We can then use research to explore pain points at renewal. By marshalling various sources of evidence, we can build more compelling recommendations that drive action.
You have a lifelong learning background, how do you use that in a corporate setting?
I finished a Masters in lifelong learning at the Institute of Education, now part of University College London, and found it incredibly useful to my career. It gave me an appreciation of the various kinds of learning – it isn’t limited to formal schooling – and how workplaces can fuel curiosity and help people lead more fulfilling lives. I challenge myself to master my craft and pick up new skills. Last year, I finished an Executive Data Science course as I found myself working ever more closely with data and analytics colleagues and wanted to better support them in projects. Not sounding daft during meetings was also a plus!
A lifelong learning background also made me become more conscious about personal development, especially with my team, helping build plans that aligned to their goals. One of the highlights of my career to date was refreshing the membership criteria for a global trade body, making it clearer and easier for professionals to progress their membership as the new criteria considered the various ways someone can demonstrate growing expertise in the field.
Any advice for up and coming researchers or professionals in general, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds?
I still struggle to find people like me represented in more senior roles, which is unfortunate. Our stories and lived experience are useful in creating products and services that give a competitive advantage. Seen through that lens, fostering greater diversity and genuine inclusion is a necessity. If we are to be part of change, we have to take up space, which means putting ourselves out there and taking opportunities to lead. It’s not easy – many times in my career I had to work twice as hard just to be heard, or even considered to be part of the conversation. But there are lots of encouraging signs around, and the vast majority of people are happy to help. Of course, taking up space individually has to happen with more structural changes too, and our stories can help start those conversations.