Episode 15-16 Transcript

April 13, 2021

Episode 16 - Topdanmark's Thomas Erichsen on Leveraging Technology to Deliver Superior Customer Experience

Laura Drabik   Welcome to InsurTalk. My name is Laura Drabik, and I'm the Chief Evangelist at Guidewire. In this episode, I have the privilege of interviewing Thomas Erichsen, group EVP and group CTO at Topdanmark. He also leads Topdanmark's innovation initiative. Thomas is a self-described entrepreneur, building technology companies and driving technology to markets around the globe. The focus of our conversation today will be on how Topdanmark is leveraging technology to deliver a superior customer experience. Hello, Thomas, thank you for joining my podcast.

Thomas Erichsen   Thank you. My pleasure.

Laura Drabik   Topdanmark is 100 years strong, a solid company with a proven track record. Why modernize your technology now?

Thomas Erichsen   I totally agree. It has been modernizing for many years, and we've been polishing the business models. And for sure, we have been a successful company for many, many years. Right now, we're looking at a heavy modernization. We're looking at working more and more with a digitalized business model, which are very different from the one that has served us so successful for many, many years. And we are building the processes, so the customer will experience us as one Topdanmark, not as two or more companies.

Laura Drabik   That makes sense. I love that. One Topdanmark. So speaking of the customer, KPMG named Topdanmark the number one company in its customer experience excellence survey because of your excellent reputation for taking an empathetic approach to customer relationships. How does customer experience play into your modernization initiative?

Thomas Erichsen   A lot. And although I would say, we measure a lot and we listen a lot to the customers to get their honest feedback and to learn and improve based upon that. And we do that both in our customer services, where we serve the customer on a day-to-day basis, as well as we do it in our development. And then we also do a lot in our innovation initiatives where we test out a lot of things. We use a more and a more experimental approach to adapt and learn faster.

Laura Drabik   For our listeners, journey mapping is a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish some type of goal. For example, obtain a quote or complete a first notice of loss. Customer journey mapping helps insurers gain insight into common customer pain points and helps you to improve the customer experience. So, Thomas, how did you leverage journey mapping in your approach?

Thomas Erichsen   We use journey mapping as an integrated part of the way we structure our development, the tools and the approaches we take there. So based upon the customer experience with our services both as is and to be, we map out the pain points to understand how the customer perceive and experience our processes, both where we deliver pain to them and where we deliver value to them. And of course, if the pain points have no point legal compliance wise, or we have any other good arguments for having them, we'll remove them all with the purpose of giving the customer a seamless and a fast and a convenient service. So if they are pain points, and we kind of argue why they should be there, we remove them.

Laura Drabik   I really liked how you phrased that. We look at areas where we're delivering pain to them, and if there's no logical reason for them, remove it, so well done. Topdanmark offers a complete product offering to its policy holders. You have auto, home and health, life insurance and annuities. How are you creating a holistic view of your customers and their entire book of business?

Thomas Erichsen   That's, of course, a subsidy aim for, to see and serve the customer as they are and not as bits and pieces or based upon products we have. So what we do from a technology perspective, we implement Salesforce as our customer engagement platform, and we do that on top of our other systems, our platforms, and our product lines. So it's actually combined all the data we have. So we can look at the customer from one point of view, and we can do a 360 service towards the customer. That's also the big platform transformation between these years is actually simplifying the structures and the platforms and the system below the surface, moving from seven to one legacy platforms. That's what we use Guidewire for. And on top of that, we put Salesforce that combines the whole company from a data and from a customer perspective.

Laura Drabik   This is such great information. Before we continue, listeners, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Amazon, Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And you can rate and review this show on Apple podcasts. It helps others learn about and discover the show. Now, this is Laura Drabik, and let's get back to our conversation. I'm talking with Thomas Erickson, group EVP and group CTO at Topdanmark. Thomas, Denmark has one of the world's highest internet penetration rates, so your personal and commercial lines policy holders must have very high expectation when it comes to digital capabilities. Can you tell us what some of these expectations are, and how you're addressing them?

Thomas Erichsen   It's right that we have a high penetration and a high maturity of these life services in Denmark, not least driven by the authorities that have built a lot of trust in the infrastructure rollout and within finances, bank and insurances, billing, mobile banks, peer to peer payments. Insurance is taken up speed now, as well as Telco and travel and Pharma and so on has built very sophisticated data services in this region. And for sure, the customers experiences are, likewise, high. They are all super tech users in their private lives. They have iPhones in their hand. They simply expect seamless, fast, convenient, relevant services, as they like to get from other industries from other companies. So the expectation is driven both by technology, and they are driven by customers. And we are doing all we can to close the gap there.

Laura Drabik   Digital capabilities clearly are very important to your customer. How important are they to your service reps? Tell us how you're leveraging Guidewire or Salesforce to empower your service representatives.

Thomas Erichsen   We want to empower all our channels, with stronger and stronger digital capabilities. And for sure, our service reps that talk to the customer every day directly face to face or on the phone, we empower them with stronger and stronger digital capabilities like we talked about for a minute ago, our Salesforce solution. They use that in the selling process. In the service processes, they use Guidewire directly. The customers, they will use Guidewire digital when they serve themselves. So in all our challenges, we empower our service rep or salesperson and the customer themselves, so to say, with Guidewire and the capabilities that are in the platform.

Laura Drabik   Empowering all channels with digital. I love that you're also thinking about your service reps in addition to your customers.

Thomas Erichsen   Yeah, for sure. The service reps, they are pivotal in our service model.

Laura Drabik   So even with the pandemic, in 2020, global InsurTech investment was around $6 billion. Thomas, how are you integrating InsurTechs into your initiative?

Thomas Erichsen   We are working not only with InsurTech but with all kinds of tech companies that is actually supporting our business model as it is today and as, we assume, it will be tomorrow. Some of the areas where we will see some changes in the coming years is that we will see more and more of our business model moving into prevention. Prevention in both health, in what we call smart homes. And that's all driven by the availability of data, driven by IoT based companies. It's driven by supporting a more and more digital service directly to the customer. Examples of what we do within prevention, where we work a lot with health, preventing stuff to happen with us, as humans. That's a high value we can give to the customers. And when issues have happened with us, we can give a far better service and support the customer into the healthcare system and give them a good service there as well as something we are experimenting with.

Thomas Erichsen   Even though we have a high standard of healthcare system in the Nordics, what we do in the prevention area... As an example, is we're working with preventing leaks to happen in the pipes in the house. So we are putting on smart sensor technology that can sense when the leak is just about to happen. Then we can send out a service person that can fix the problem before the water is streaming out in the house. That's really, really good customer service. And it's really, really good as our business model. So IoT based sensoring technology like that, we are experimenting a lot with, and we are actually rolling that out to our customer as we speak. We are experimenting a lot with that, a hundred percent digital business model in the pension area.

Thomas Erichsen   We just formed a company called Heap, where we are actually delivering pension services in a hundred percent digital service model. We are experimenting a lot with other kinds of technology, like drones. Imagine now you can fly a drone, and you can get a fast overview of a farm. What kind of buildings do they have? You can fly down, be close to the roof, and know is there anything on the roof that doesn't look healthy? There's a lot of technology coming up now that supports us, taking better risks, giving the customer better service and setting the right price. So there's a lot of strengths, so to say, to happen by understanding how to use the modern technology that comes from all over. It's not only InsurTech. That's too narrow way of looking at it. It's simply tech.

Laura Drabik   We need to take another break. If you're enjoying this podcast and would like to review more of my thought leadership, please see evangelists.guidewire.com. Now let's get back to our conversation with Thomas Erichsen. Thomas, what prompted you to move forward with a standardized solution?

Thomas Erichsen   Actually, the standardized solution has come to a point now, where they actually are sufficient to support an insurance business and a pension business, like we have. I would say, what we saw in the beginning or 15 years ago, 20 years ago was that a company, like Topdanmark, started to build their own legacy system simply because there was no system available that was good enough to support a business like ours. That's available now. Guidewire being one of them that has still had the technology and the platform needed to support our business. So the reason for us choosing a standardized platform right now is that the technology is available. We have also learned that developing the platforms ourselves are too cumbersome, and we cannot keep up with the speed ,like you guys at Guidewire and Salesforce can do. So we've taken a strategic choice that we simply want to utilize the innovation power in the last software companies, like Guidewire, around the globe.

Thomas Erichsen   I think if you look in the ecosystem around Salesforce and Guidewire, there are three or 4,000 companies building solutions there right now. So our job is not to build the solution ourselves. Our job is to understand and adapt, being curious upon what those bits and pieces of technology can do for us. And then we need to take them home, to Topdanmark, and build it into our service model. That is what we want to become good at. It's a very different way of going from where we come from. That's a strategic choice we have taken. And that also means that we are religious about sticking to standards. We will take the out of the box processes from, example, Guidewire, and build them into Topdanmark. And only if they don't support us in critical areas, we will customize them.

Laura Drabik   That makes sense. Having a religious approach to the standardized solution, where you're allowing the solution to set the to be process and adapting to that process and where it doesn't fit, tweaking.

Thomas Erichsen   Yeah. And you can say, what I believe deeply in is that for the last many years, we have been doing business oriented IT, meaning business are capable of explaining what they would like to have built from IT. What we will do from now on is that we will do technology driven business and platform driven business, which is a very different ball game. And that's actually what I'm talking about when I say we have chosen standardized platform to stand on the shoulder point. And also we have chosen to be religious upon sticking to them. We have not chosen Guidewire to implement a solution. We have chosen Guidewire because we believe in Guidewire being a partner for us, for the coming many, many years. So it's not only the solution Guidewire provide today that is our interest, it's actually the power in the company that we believe in. It's a future in Guidewire we believe in.

Laura Drabik   So that answers my question of why Guidewire. I really like what you said. We chose a lifetime partner and the power of that company being Guidewire to deliver. Why InsuranceSuite

Thomas Erichsen   Yeah. Simply because it fits the needs we have and the direction we are taking right now. But for sure, also the pain we right now have in our existing systems in Topdanmark that we want to get rid of, so to say, that we want to take out and put Guidewire into instead.

Laura Drabik   What's the biggest barrier to success when implementing a modernization initiative, like yours, that traverses the entire insurance life cycle? And if you could give advice to other carriers that are looking at vended solutions, what advice would you give to them?

Thomas Erichsen   I think the truth about it is this is not about technology. This is about people. It's about leadership because the technology is there, and the barriers is our own ability and own courage to take the right strategic decisions. First of all, you need to commit to the journey of using a standard platform. You need to commit to the changes that it will drive in your processes and your capabilities in your culture because it's very different. We are not implementing a system here. We are implementing a platform, processes, competencies, and we're tweaking the culture of where we're coming from, where we build out the stuff ourselves and customize everything, into let's utilize what we can get out of the box and fit our business processes towards that. It's a very different organization. It's a very different set of capability, and it's a very different mindset you need to have to get the best out of that.

Thomas Erichsen   And the third area of advice is that you need to commit to the focus, investing in long-term, not in short-term, not doing business solutions that will support our business tomorrow only. We also need to invest longterm in the infrastructure, in the platforms, in the legacy system, in the data systems, and in the simplification of the products, which are all below the surface. So you need to commit to the transformation. You need to commit in creating competitive power . And I think this is why many installations, many core system exchange goes wrong simply because you lose the focus while you're underway. And with that I mean, you cannot do both core system transformation and invest heavily in that, and at the same time, they, as competitives, as you have been doing so far in the short-term markets. We will not do business development short-term and do core system transformation at the same time. You need to take a choice.

Thomas Erichsen   So the third point is about taking a fundamental choice. How do we want to create your competitive power? Do you want to do it medium-term, or do you want to do it short-term? If you're exchanging your core systems, you're investing in the medium to long-term. We're investing in infrastructure, platforms, products, processes, capabilities, which will benefit you long-term, but they will give you a pain short-term. So this is a strategic choice you need to take, and you need to stick to it. And you need top management and you need the board and everyone to understand the consequences of that. That's how to succeed.

Laura Drabik   Sage advice, Thomas. Thank you very much for your time today and for your incredible insight into how you are continuing to deliver a superior customer experience. You've showed us it's not just about ideas, it's about making ideas happen.

Thomas Erichsen   Thank you.



Episode 15 - Grinnell Mutual's Roby Shay on Positioning for Innovation

Laura Drabik   Welcome to InsurTalk. My name is Laura Drabik and I'm the Chief Evangelist at Guidewire. In this episode, I have the privilege of interviewing Roby Shay, CIO at Grinnell Mutual. Roby is responsible for all aspects of technology at Grinnell, from infrastructure and architecture through to cybersecurity. He also serves as a mentor for Grinnell's global insurance accelerator and was a Guidewire Cloud pioneer positioning Grinnell to be more innovative by implementing Guidewire Cloud back in 2018. The focus of today's discussion will be on Grinnell's cloud journey with Guidewire. Hello, Roby. Thank you for joining my podcast.

Roby Shay   Oh, thank you, Laura, for the opportunity to share our story.

Laura Drabik   Tell our listeners a little about Grinnell Mutual.

Roby Shay   Yeah, sure. Well, Grinnell Mutual has been around for 112 years now. We offer auto, home, farm and business products through independent agents located throughout our 14 states.

Laura Drabik   So, what strategic initiatives were you trying to realize by implementing Guidewire Cloud?

Roby Shay   Well, there were many drivers. I'd say foremost is we wanted to deploy a modern platform that would allow us ultimately to create competitive advantage for our business. Our initial release included an auto product that was much more sophisticated than the rating algorithm we had been using previously, and we used our first state of our launch to kind of test and learn, for not only the Guidewire technology, but also this new product.

Roby Shay   Now, we ultimately were also looking for better and more ways to integrate with third-party providers and third-party data sources, so that was a key element of our strategy. I'm happy to say that both the product and the technology is performing well. We've also had an intense focus on user experience for our agents and policy holders and we needed a technology platform that really could better enable us to deliver in these areas.

Roby Shay   Outside of these business drivers, there were many IT operational benefits we were seeking to realize. Those things will ultimately allow us to have our resources focus on things that drive additional competitive advantage versus some of those operational items.

Laura Drabik   Roby, was there any significance to naming your project Connect?

Roby Shay   Oh, absolutely. I mean, we are a very relationship-focused company. I mentioned earlier we're 112 years old and we have many business relationships that have spanned almost that entire time in terms of the mutuals that we've reinsured. So, we felt like the name Connect really reflected this and it also helped us kind of humanize the technology platform, and the role it would ultimately play in strengthening those relationships with those we serve.

Laura Drabik   I really like that, humanize the technology. Well done. Like consumers, agents want quick, simple and fast transactional processing. How did you address these business needs for your independent agents in this strategic initiative?

Roby Shay   I will say that we constantly seek feedback from those we serve and we have a number of mechanisms by which we do that. We've had our user experience team heavily involved with our program as we've rolled out the Guidewire Cloud technology. This really helps us ensure that not only are we taking feedback, but we're also incorporating it into our plan. So we have folks out in the field, adjusters, sales managers who are constantly interacting with our agents. They are very good about sharing with us things they've learned, observations or feedback they've received.

Roby Shay   We also do a number of things with what we call advisory groups. These are not only with agents, but also with the folks that are in their back office doing a lot of the work, and they're often multi-day endeavors where we do deep dives into their challenges. We also use those as an opportunity to share some of our thinking and some of our plans to get feedback.

Roby Shay   Now, I think the key with all this is that we make sure this feedback is integrated into our plans. With the Guidewire software, we feel like our ability to actually implement some of this feedback and then ultimately to tune and scale up the platform has really provided a benefit to those we serve.

Laura Drabik   You achieved significant improvement in straight through processing, 80% of all auto policies are now processed without human involvement. What other improvements have you realized?

Roby Shay   So, a couple that I would probably highlight is initially we were able to add different and more types of payment plans and options for customers to pay their premiums, and we've really seen our cancels for non-pay go down significantly. So, ultimately meeting the customers in ways that they want to pay and with the methods they want to pay, adding the ability to do some things that we couldn't do before around recurring payments and some flexibility around how that was structured. Big, big lift to the business from a cancel non-pay perspective.

Roby Shay   We've also seen a lot more platform stability. We've been riding on a legacy platform, much like many carriers that was initially implemented, boy, it'd be 28 years ago now. So over time we'd had a lot of urban sprawl around that system with websites and everything else integrated back, and our move to Guidewire Cloud has really brought a lot more stability to the platform. Ultimately, that pays dividends for those we serve.

Roby Shay   Additionally, I would say that because of some of the constraints around our legacy platform, we weren't necessarily able to have our websites up and operational as often as, ultimately, agents and customers would like, so we've been able to expand those hours. Another big thing for us has been our ability to easily integrate with third-party services and data sources and especially comparative raiders. It's something we've always done, but with the platform we've been able to integrate with more of those and see some lift from that as well.

Laura Drabik   Before we continue, listeners if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Now this is Laura Drabik, and let's get back to our conversation. I'm talking with Roby Shay, CIO at Grinnell Mutual.

Laura Drabik   So Roby, how did leveraging Guidewire Cloud help you to better achieve your imperatives over let's say an on-premise or private cloud implementation?

Roby Shay   I would say it allowed us to focus more so on adding business value versus running infrastructure. Upgrades are always a challenge, they're always hard, there's never a good time to do them, but I will say with the Guidewire Cloud platform, we were able to do this faster than at least in my experience that I've been able to do on-premises. Over the long-term, having that ability to stay current on software, take advantage of new features and functions and be able to run your technology on the devices that people want, a key, key driver for us.

Roby Shay   We believe over the long-term that will help us differentiate, and again, continue to allow us to focus on adding new capabilities, new products, new services, versus having to deal with all of the upgrade process and the underlying infrastructure. Those are the big things and some of them are obvious and more apparent, that a lot of them were actually behind the scenes and relate to our IT capability and how we deploy our scarce resources.

Laura Drabik   So, migrating to the cloud can be a profound transformation of your company's technology and talent. Roby, how did you ensure you had the right people in place to support your transition to cloud?

Roby Shay   This has been a focus of ours since we started our journey to move to Guidewire Cloud. First, I'd say we are extremely lucky with our team. They are super engaged and very focused on driving business value, so the buy-in in terms of a technology platform that could help us do more of that was really not that hard of a sell. We did spend a lot of time investing in training, not only technology, but some process training around agile. We also are big on encouraging the certifications of Guidewire training curriculum.

Roby Shay   The other thing we did and reasonably well is when we decided to partner with a system integrator and Guidewire, we use Guidewire a fair amount for our initial implementation, we made sure we thought about a mentoring model. We actually had the capacity specifically set aside to make sure that we were getting cross-training, getting that mentoring, and I think that helped us. It not only helped us short-term, because it built some confidence of our own internal people around the technology, but it's going to pay us dividends longer term as we run this entirely ourselves.

Laura Drabik   You leveraged an MVP, minimum viable product approach. Can you talk about the benefits of taking this approach and how you continue to evolve your MVPs?

Roby Shay   As you can appreciate, what is minimum is often in the eye of the beholder, and we had to fight the tendency to want to do it the way we've always done it. Overall, I think we did do a good job in this. It took us a while to get there, but we've continued to get better at it. We're making decisions based on value now, value to the end customer and or into our internal associates would ultimately be using this system, and we've got over this way we've always done it ideal and making decisions by emotion. So it's been an evolution, but I think we're doing a pretty darn good job of it now.

Laura Drabik   Before we continue, listeners if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Now this is Laura Drabik, and let's get back to our conversation. I'm talking with Roby Shay, CIO at Grinnell Mutual.

Laura Drabik   In 2020, global InsurTech investment was around $6 billion. Roby, I am so impressed with Grinnell and how connected you are to the world of InsurTech through your accelerator program, very impressive. How do you integrate InsurTechs into your cloud ecosystem?

Roby Shay   We have a number of people inside our organizations that are actively involved with the accelerator here that's based in Des Moines, Iowa, and we have numerous folks that are mentors, advisors, so we've really embraced this. We see it as a way not only to potentially take advantage of some great technology, but to further change the mindset inside our organization around innovation and exposing people to new ways of thinking and new ideas. So the program has really been beneficial for us, not only on some opportunities we've engaged in to take advantage of the solutions, but in changing the mindset and the culture of our organization.

Roby Shay   In terms of integration, we're a very conservative organization, so we take kind of a measured approach. We tend to use these solutions that we've been involved with kind of on a standalone basis. Again, test and learn, kind of prove them out before we consider integrating into any of our existing applications. So we're doing some of that right now with a number of them, and we've had some that we've tried and we've decided not to move forward, and we have a couple that we're working with now that are showing some value and that we believe perhaps long-term makes some sense to integrate more closely within our platform.

Laura Drabik   A quick call out for Guidewire. We just exceeded 100 partners in our marketplace.

Roby Shay   Yeah, that's been great to see, Laura. I love seeing how that ecosystem's grown since our relationship started. It really gives organizations like us the opportunity to jumpstart things, and we've taken advantage of a number of those opportunities from the marketplace.

Laura Drabik   I'm glad to hear that. How important is it to you that Guidewire rigorously vets InsurTech value prepositions and companies before they join our marketplace?

Roby Shay   I think it's incredibly important. As carriers, we are in the risk business, so having one of our primary vendor relationships putting their stamp of approval on it helps build confidence and ultimately lowers the risk to us around adoption. So I think this ultimately helps that marketplace ecosystem thrive, because you can trust it, there's a little more confidence in what's in it.

Laura Drabik   Roby, what events or activities are essential for preparing for Guidewire Cloud?

Roby Shay   I think primarily having a plan around people and process. Most organizations in my experience tend to want to focus on the technology, but most of the challenges I think lie elsewhere. For us, we are a very transparent organization and I think we saw that be very helpful as we started on our journey. We made things very visible, we talked about our program, not just as an IT thing, but as an enterprise thing. We brought people in, we talked a lot about Guidewire and Guidewire Cloud specifically, and really focused on what I would characterize as kind of people readiness, getting mindsets ready for those changes.

Roby Shay   Obviously a lot of changes within IT and within the business, because they're giving up some control, at least that's the perception, and how the business works with IT, and then how IT works with Guidewire Cloud. So, there was some things there we needed to do. We spent a lot of time demystifying the cloud as well. What is it, what is it not? Really making sure people understand it's really not a silver bullet for anything, there's still a lot of hard work that has to go into it.

Roby Shay   We really thought a lot about, I'll call it workforce planning roles and kind of building up the capability to not only support our implementation, but to support the run side of this after the project ends. We spent a lot of time thinking about that, building our own capabilities and intellectual capital around the platform. I think that's key to plan that early and often. We thought a lot about process integration.

Roby Shay   When you start working with a cloud provider like Guidewire, now you have to make sure your internal IT processes and support processes can dovetail and can work together. So things around change management of code and change, incident management and problem management are things we focus on. Ultimately, I think for us too was selecting a good partner. One that not only understands the technology, but one that understands people and process and considerations.

Laura Drabik   Sage advice, Roby. Also, you're an inventor, and I hope you don't mind me sharing that, but you are named on a patent that you got while working at a startup that was funded by John Deere. The company is what your team built and grew into a large business. Can you talk about your experience and what you learned from it?

Roby Shay   Yeah, absolutely. It was a great time in my career and I think I took a lot of things away from that, and probably first and foremost was don't let the past influence the future in terms of your thinking around how to use and exploit technology. This is a challenge and I alluded to it earlier and every organization has it's the way we've always done it problem. But if you work in a startup and aren't encumbered by those things, it is amazing what you can actually accomplish.

Roby Shay   So that's something as I've moved on in my career, I tried to really make sure that while we appreciate and respect and consider the past, we cannot necessarily let it constrain our future. So I think that's a key learning that I took away from that, because the power of these teams and people in their creativity is amazing and creating a culture where you can tap into that and let it go is really what all companies want.

Roby Shay   The other thing for me, more on a personal level is I've built some really strong relationships through that experience, relationships that have transcended time. We've got this network of folks now that we continue to talk, in some cases get together and really talk about ideas. I think that experience there created a different kind of mindset and a collective group or team that has really continued to work together, even though not formally well beyond that experience.

Laura Drabik   I love that, don't let your past constrain your future. Thank you for sharing. Roby, thank you so much for your time today and for your incredible insight into positioning your organization for innovation via Guidewire Cloud. You have showed us it's not just about ideas, it's about making ideas happen.

Roby Shay   Thank you, Laura. It's been a pleasure.