Legal & General doesn’t immediately strike you as a company at the
forefront of online developments, but that is exactly where it now finds
Recognition of this came at the annual online awards held by Campaign’s
sister title, Revolution, in February. It was there that Legal & General
was honoured not only for producing the best online advertising of the
year, but for developing the best online work of any company,
There were more than a few gasps when Legal & General was announced as
the winner of the overall Grand Prix. They came from two areas. There
were those at the event who were amazed that an insurance company was
winning the top new-media award; and then there were the gasps from the
Legal & General table.
Even the woman who takes most of the credit for turning the company into
an award-winning pioneer admits to having emitted a few of her own.
Neeta Patel, the insurer’s new-media director, says: ’I have to say I
was completely staggered. An old-fashioned insurance company winning the
Grand Prix award?’
It might be an old-fashioned insurance company, but it is one that has
produced some online firsts: the first insurer to launch a website, now
in its third incarnation; the first to launch an extranet for
independent financial advisers; and the first to integrate its website
with its back office systems.
Patel has what she describes as ’total immersion’ in new media - an area
in which she has more experience than most, having spent her entire
15-year career working online. After all, this in an industry where a
five-year career qualifies you as a veteran.
’I drink, eat, think, sleep, dream and breathe new media,’ she enthuses.
’I have four e-mail accounts that I actively use.’
It’s not hard to see why Patel has been so successful at Legal &
More instructive for the rest of us, however, is not why but how.
For a start, it’s interesting that most of the work has been done
in-house, with only design handled externally by Black Sun.
’For us, it’s historic,’ Patel explains. ’We have had people in our IT
department who have been very interested. Initially, it was on an ad hoc
basis. But when emerging media was set up, we had a dedicated resource.
We have five full-time web developers. We tend to work well as a
Legal & General has been on the web since November 1995, which is also
the year that Patel arrived, fresh from her MBA.
Although she joined as a marketing communications manager, one of the
first things she did was track down who was responsible for Legal &
General’s website, which was then little more than a corporate
’Once I had found it, I just took it over,’ she recalls. ’I muscled in.
The person who’d set it up was delighted someone was interested.’
In the beginning, money was a problem. But unlike many organisations
where failure to demonstrate a return on investment is likely to kill
any development, Patel was able to get budgets approved from the highest
And that’s the real secret of her success, according to Danny Bowers,
the managing director of moneyworld.co.uk, who knows Patel quite well.
He says: ’She’s a player.
She is a clearly focused, tenacious manager who has achieved an enormous
amount. It takes more than your average manager in new media to get them
to commit and make it work.’
Patel admits: ’I was asking for large sums of money and I could not put
down an ROI, as I didn’t know what it was and I still don’t.’
While ROI is difficult to gauge in pure monetary terms, Legal & General
has profited in other ways such as an increase in the number of visitors
to the site.
Moreover, Legal & General’s new-media activity has changed the way that
the organisation is perceived. People are starting to see it as an
More innovation is planned this year with the goal of making customer
accounts self-servicing. Patel says: ’We’re looking at small things like
changes of address. You don’t write in, you don’t call, you do it
yourself. It may be small but it is significant.’
It’s hard to imagine there being room in Patel’s life for another great
passion. She cites travel, but you can imagine that if you put Patel on
a desert island, the first thing she’d look for wouldn’t be a bottle to
put a message in, but an ISDN line. And she’d find it, too.
The Patel file
1981 Oxford University, Masters
1984 BT Telecom Gold, account
manager, then marketing
1987 Datastream International,
1993 ISO Group, marketing
1994 City University Business
1995 Legal & General, marketing
1996 L&G, group head of brand
1997 L&G, head of emerging
1998 L&G, head of electronic
1999 L&G, new-media director