Women Who Lead

Women of the Year 2021: PolicyMe Founder Laura McKay is Putting Families First by Redefining the Insurance Industry

black and white photo of laura mckay wearing white shirt

From Olympic athletes and tech startup founders to social impact champions and business changemakers, our inaugural 2021 Women of the Year guide features 37 impressive leaders who are making a difference, both individually and as a collective. They’ve all navigated incredible obstacles to get to where they are (often on an uneven playing field) and yet, despite this, have still managed to summit their industries and change Canada—and the world around them—for the better. In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and the other women that inspire them in their own lives.

Q&A

Laura McKay

Co-founder, PolicyMe

 

What is your elevator pitch to the world?

Laura McKay: I am a founder working hard to remove barriers to financial protection while working just as hard at being a mom. 

Where do you think you have made the most impact in your company and community?

Laura McKay: At 28, I co-Founded PolicyMe, a startup at the intersection of insurance and technology, two traditionally male-dominated industries. At 30, while acting as COO and founder of one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies (in my opinion), I also became a parent. I am extremely proud to be another proof point to help substantiate that being a parent doesn’t mean you can’t also build a great company.

What kind of problems are you trying to solve? 

Laura McKay: Before PolicyMe, buying life insurance was tedious and expensive. The process could take weeks to complete. It could involve confusing paperwork and long phone calls with agents. We set out to fix that. No more paperwork, no fancy jargon, no meetings. We’ve cut unnecessary steps and expenses to offer the most affordable product in Canada, with the same quality of coverage.

What are you doing that no one else is doing?

Laura McKay: I like to argue that we are the only insurance company in Canada devoted to putting families first in everything we do. Intimately understanding and solving the pain points of our parents is the secret to how we create value for our customers.

Doing this has led us to bring innovation to an industry that hasn’t seen much change in decades. Whether that be launching a joint application process (having learned quickly that many couples are looking to buy the policy together) or adding free child coverage to all our policies, putting parents at the center of all that we do has led us to build a business and a product that I am extremely proud of.

Why is your work important?

Laura McKay: Four percent of parents will pass away before the age of 65. And 27 percent will be diagnosed with a critical illness. Life and critical illness insurance can keep a family afloat during these horrific unexpected events. It does not take away the grief but it can certainly take away the financial tragedies that can come with the worst-case scenarios.

Was there ever a turning point in your career that fundamentally changed your business for the better? 

Laura McKay: I remember pretty early on when a friend relayed some advice, “If you are proud of your first product launch, you waited too long.” That was a huge mindset shift for me and one I need to remind myself of again and again today. Speed and growth is the lifeblood of any startup, you can’t wait for perfection to win.

What have you learned about yourself as you’ve led your company?

Laura McKay: I have learned a lot about my own personal values while building the startup. A lot of which have become reflected in our team values. One of the key values that aligns our team is empathy. It’s our key to connection, allowing us to see through the lens of our customers and each other in everything we do.

What has been the most challenging part of building the business? 

Laura McKay: Probably facing the constant existential crisis of running a startup in the early days. Getting comfortable with the concept of a small number of months of runway (often in the single digits in the early years) is something that is not easy to come to terms with if you are used to working at a large company. Time is a scarce resource and you need to do everything you can to learn, test, and launch ideas quickly. Luckily, this challenge starts to become a little less prominent as time goes on, but it is always in the back of your mind.

What has been the most rewarding part of building the business?

Laura McKay: Building a team and watching them get inspired by the mission of the business. It’s such a rewarding experience to work with such talented and passionate people who trust you to take the business to the next level. 

What questions do you think all leaders should ask themselves before building a company?

Laura McKay: Am I ready to commit 10 years to this business, minimum? I think too often founders come in with the mindset of, “I can do this for a year and see what happens.” But what if that year goes well? Building a business is more like a marathon than a sprint. You shouldn’t go into it only having only committed to the sprint.

In your experience, what do you think is the quickest way to get people on board with your mission? 

Laura McKay: Telling them about our customer stories, especially ones that have benefited from a life insurance payout. It’s an incredible experience knowing that something we did can have a permanent impact on a family’s future.

What is your mission? The bigger picture? 

Laura McKay: We’re on a mission to put families first, protecting them with the honest and uncomplicated life insurance they deserve.

Ultimately, we want to deliver parents peace of mind knowing that their family is protected; to feel confident that they’re in good hands, and that if something were to have happened, we would be there for their families. 

How do you define success? What does it mean to you?

Laura McKay: Success is in our experience paying out claims. It is in delivering on our promise to be there when families need us most.

What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work? 

Laura McKay: I lead with empathy and choose integrity as my guide. 

If you could go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?

Laura McKay: Don’t overthink it! In a few months, this challenge will be replaced by another. Choose a path and learn from it but don’t get stuck at the fork in the road.

Who is a woman in the community that you admire? 

Laura McKay: There are too many to count. There are two women business owners (also good friends) of mine that I have leaned on since the first days of starting this business. Every week we send each other an email that outlines our APMs (Accomplishments, Priorities, and Mes – the last one being more of a personal update) of the week. I look forward to these updates every week as it is definitely an opportunity to step back and reflect on what is going well and what isn’t going so well. Sometimes I look back on my emails from the earliest days of building our company and can’t believe how far we’ve come. I bet I’ll be thinking the same thing when I look back on today’s update in a few years.

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Feeling inspired? Meet the rest of the 2021 Women of the Year