How a stop and learn approach can help insurers with their innovation and digitalisation

To be successful with innovation and digital transformation, insurance firms need to learn from when changes do not work out, according to Swiss Re UK digital transformation officer Pravina Ladva.

This insight came during the first Insurance and Finance LIVE – UK Special, which was co-hosted by Digital Scouting founder Dr Robin Kiera and FinTech Global director Richard Sachar.

According to Ladva, Swiss Re’s purpose is about making the world more resilient through insurance. She claims this is particularly pertinent considering what is happening in today’s world.

She said, “I guess insurance is in the forefront of everyone’s mind at the moment. If you think about the experience we’ve been through with the pandemic, insurance is right at the front of everyone’s mind. If you take that through and you think about everything that we do today, and what we’ve faced, and what we continue to face, that really puts insurance at the heart of what we do.”

One of the biggest effects of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the shift online. Most industries have been forced to accelerate their shift away from bricks and mortar and into the digital world in order to continue operations, as well as meet changing customer demands. Insurance is no different and has had to adapt to the changing nature of the market. A recent survey from Information Services Group, which questioned 300 senior insurance executives, found that 90% of firms are accelerating digital transformation.

Rise of technology

Insurance firms have been slowly integrating technology for many years, but the pace has accelerated. The rise of computational power is one of the biggest improvements Ladva highlighted, with it enabling teams to complete processes at a much faster rate. However, data is the main game-changer. She said, “I often have this mental image of people sitting there with data spewing in and out of them.

“Even as we’re speaking today, each one of us has data bubbles around us. Now you multiply that by the number of people in the world, how much data does the world have? Also, what opportunities does that provide us with? Lastly, but I also think most importantly, what does the consumer and client need in their everyday lives to make the world more resilient? This final point needs to be at the heart of what we do.”

As dependence on technology increases, so will the amount of data we generate. Leveraging all of the data coming from clients can help insurers better understand their customers’ needs and provide them with services that can improve their daily lives.

Online customer experiences have changed dramatically over the past few years, with an emphasis on streamlining interactions to remove pain points. Companies like Amazon have made everything easy, which has helped change people’s buying behaviours. People now buy things online they previously would never have dreamed of doing before. This is now translating into the world of insurance.

“People want that same convenience, that simplicity, that efficiency, in the way that interacts with our insurance products – and it’s incumbent on us as an industry to help enable that to happen,” Ladva said.

Ladva remarked that from a Swiss Re perspective, the company’s goal going forward is to understand how it enables its partners to be able to sell and serve their customers in the way that people are beginning to expect.

Moving online

With the move online further gathering pace, the idea of selling and purchasing insurance online has become a stronger and stronger reality. When quizzed on how long she thought it would take for insurance to be purchased mostly online, she referenced that in some regions, things have never been done face to face – and were mostly started from a virtual environment.

She said, “In some geographies we’ve already leapfrogged the manual way of doing things and the complex way of doing things. I think in other countries it’s a habit – so once people do it time after time, it will eventually stick. Once people start trusting online, they can do things. I do think, however, we need to be careful about what channels people interact with and in what format.

“There are moments in our processes where that human contact is vitally important, however, there are other times when you just want to get the job done. For example, if you want to change your address. So, we need to be able to offer different channels of interaction based on different parts of the value chain, depending on what the need is.”

When considering what it takes for companies to hit their targets in the insurance space, Ladva cited purpose, focus and customer-centricity as key pillars of the strategy. She remarked companies need to be really clear on their goals and be focused on – claiming when people flip from idea to idea without executing and learning from it, challenges then arise.

Innovation and digitalisation

When quizzed on what she believed were the core ingredients to make innovation and digitalisation work in insurance, Ladva noted it was important to focus on what were the opportunities and challenges to make it tangible.

She added “Secondly, identify what you want to change and change it – if it doesn’t work, it’s fine, but at least you’ve learnt something. And then if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. But guess what, you’ve learned something.” A lot of the time teams will be bogged down with “analysis paralysis” and fail to act.

“The thing that sometimes gets forgotten, however, is all of this only happens if you have the right culture and right talent. There is a big war on talent right now – everybody wants the cyber people and the digital data people. So, it’s not only about putting in the right ingredients but putting the ingredients in the right order. I also think it’s through diversity of thinking that you come up with the best ideas, because otherwise you’re going to do the same old same old. The world outside is changing, so you need to bring people from different backgrounds and age ranges.” She continued to state teams need to be collective and co-create, as there is not a single way of looking at things.

Ladva highlighted Swiss Re’s success with innovation through its iptiQ platform. The B2B2C digital insurance platform was launched in 2016 by Swiss Re to protect more people and their families by simplifying insurance. The platform has over 40 established distribution partners and is active in more than ten countries.

Another example OF Swiss Re’s success with innovation is its partnership with Eyesight, a satellite imagery company. This is helping the insurer improve flood risk damage assessment, risk prevention and improve claims management. Furthermore, in the event of a flood, Swiss Re can see how to provide assistance as quickly as possible. These are just two examples of its success.

“I always think of it as a Venn diagram. So, you have the impact you’re trying to have in the middle, always have the customer and client aspects, the technology piece and then the talent and the culture. I think it is a combination of those three things. You then have to always check and balance that you are making the right progress.

“One thing we do is quite regularly is do a reflection session or retrospective session, where we honestly stop and go – are we just all being busy fools or are we really doing what we said we’re going to do? Because it’s so easy when you get into something that you know too much in three months, and you lose sight of what was the thing that we were trying to do in the first place.

“Those stop and learn reflections are really important. Some people perceive this as we’re wasting time. But if you do that what you will find is you actually go further in what you’re trying to achieve.”

That being said, digitalisation and innovation is not plain sailing. Ladva explained a lot of organisations still appear to have a not-invented-here-syndrome and as a result, good ideas just get abandoned. Another issue firms have is with accountability. While they enjoy setting up committees, they can struggle with effective accountability on individuals and ensuring execution on plans. The final common pitfall Ladva highlighted was a tendency for focusing on silos and teams, rather than the greater outcome. “It doesn’t really matter what team you belong in, it’s all about the outcome you want to deliver. Focus on that and not the hierarchy or which part the organisation it belongs to.”

Leading a transformation

When questioned on what advice she would give to others who are tasked with leading a digital transformation, Ladva concluded, “I would say recognise what you as an organisation can bring, because every organisation has its core strengths, but also recognise what you don’t have, and who are you going to partner with.

“Because, if you look at what’s happening across the world, many of the great things that are happening and changing is because of strategic partnerships. So, be true to who you are and what you can bring, but also be really open-minded about what you can’t do and who could potentially help you.”

Watch the full discussion here.

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