Episodes 1-4 Transcripts
Laura Drabik Welcome to an all new episode of InsurTalk. My name is Laura Drabik and I am the Chief Evangelist at Guidewire. In this episode, I have the privilege of interviewing Val Labarba, the Head of Digital Transformation and Change Management at Farmers Insurance. Val is a senior leader with extensive technical and digital experience. I had the privilege of meeting Val when Farmers Insurance was evaluating software vendors to support their new claims strategy. I specifically selected her for today's podcast as she has been an essential member and valued leader in the Farmer's claims transformation. Val, thank you for joining my podcast today.
Val LaBarba Thank you so much, Laura. It's so fun to be here. I appreciate it.
Laura Drabik Wonderful. So Val, with the global outbreak of COVID-19 consumer behavior has changed, how has COVID-19 affected how you've processed claims and serve your policy holders?
Val LaBarba Oh boy, this is, yeah, this is the only thing we're talking about right now. The awesome thing I would report and wallets, it's still pretty new. We're getting some really high survey marks from the policy holder, claims adjusters. I owe them huge kudos because they look for creative ways to connect with our customers who were uncomfortable meeting with us in person. And so we were seeing a naturally, 30 to 40% increase on our digital, just for the mere fact that people were just so much more comfortable not having someone come out in every instance.
Laura Drabik You said something really important, but I was reading Celent’s customer service preference by age, it highlights how closely aligned the human touch and self-service preference options are. What I found surprising is that preference options don't deviate by age until consumers are well into their sixties. So the takeaway is, it's not self-service or human, it's both. Consumers want to choose the best service option for them at the time of the transaction, which service channels are utilized the most and why?
Val LaBarba So I would say as far as channels go, we still have a big population of folks that want to talk to somebody live, via phone call. We'll eventually move those employee based to potentially more digital aspects, but the second most popular is the mobile piece of it. And that is because we have introduced a photo application where they're able to upload photos of their vehicle and we can jump start the filing of that claim and expediting the estimate process. So I would say that's a really close second, but we're still finding our customers like to call and talk to someone, even when I'm out in the call center, I do tend to sit and observe on the floor and folks just like to talk to people. I know my mom is one of them.
Laura Drabik I was reading CB Insights in the top innovation themes for this year. And conversational AI consistently rises to the top as a key industry innovation theme. And conversational AI allows the carrier to extend omni-channel service to mobile devices, provide digital assistance, delivered 24/7 customer service. And 20 years ago when I worked for a large carrier, if I had conversational AI, I would have been able to spend my time focusing on serving the policy holder, I believe better. So now that you know my favorite industry trend, what is your favorite industry trend and how does this trend better serve your customer?
Val LaBarba One that I think is really big for me is all the virtual reality training that we've been doing. That has just been going crazy and I think back when I was an adjuster and how when I was doing an evaluation, I did it via a recording of a video and I was interacting with you, Laura, and then I got critiqued. Well now, adjusters pop on a helmet and they're virtually looking at a customer sitting across from them and they interweave emotions and really watch how they handle different situations. And that has really accelerated how fast we can actually get an adjuster out in the field. It looks like it's getting even bigger as we go along.
Laura Drabik Yeah, that's a great one VR. Yes. And 20 years ago again, another thing that I could have used to better improve service.
Val LaBarba It's wild, what they're able to do. And the feedback we get, the adjusters just love it, honestly.
Laura Drabik Oh, wonderful to hear. Automating claims processing is a top industry priority, when carriers automate manual redundant activities, they free up the adjuster to concentrate on delivering better service to the policy holder. Now, how have you addressed automation? And in particular, which types of claims and processes did you target?
Val LaBarba A couple of the areas that we focused on and targeted was [inaudible 00:05:18] guaranteed replacement program, which is our preferred auto shop vendors. And then rental, another area that we really flex further on was the glass and tow.
Laura Drabik How are you reallocating the adjuster's time now? Is it more on a delivering concierge service or better serving the policy holder or how are you reallocating their time?
Val LaBarba Yeah, I would say a couple of different things. We're shifting employees around to fill other potential voids that we have. And as far as cross training them into a different line of business, but we also are able to offer a higher level of service to our customers. And that is just, as you mentioned, that concierge type service, that's exactly where we want our adjusters spending their time and interacting with the insured.
Laura Drabik Before we continue, listeners, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe, to InsurTalk on Apple podcast, 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 am talking with Val Labarba head of transformation from Farmers on their claims transformation. Val, I distinctly remember walking into Farmers University where we held our vision sessions and was incredibly impressed with how every wall was utilized to the fullest potential. It's a highlight Farmers' mission, history and customer stories in quotes. Why change what appeared to be working? What was the overall strategy behind your claims transformation?
Val LaBarba We introduced a new strategy called the single claim owner model. The single owner model is, you have one adjuster assigned to your claim. So if I'm involved in an accident, I don't have to deal with four to five different people. The single claim owner is the one who does all the interactions with the insured, and it makes it a lot more seamless for the customer and not having to remember who I actually needed to meet with on which particular aspect of my claim. And we didn't have a system that allowed an adjuster to fully utilize that strategy. Looking at a new claim system was what we really needed to fully be able to utilize the single claim owner model. So when we did the evaluation of claims center, we were easily able to see that the system was able to flex enough for us to be able to fully roll out the strategy of that single claim owner model. We also did get claims adjuster feedback and brought them in to determine that that was the right strategy and approach and also cheer leader.
And it was confirmed that really getting a new system was where we could really capitalize on the strategy.
Laura Drabik Was there any secret sauce to the approach that you just mentioned?
Val LaBarba The secret sauce I think really fundamentally was the relationship that we had with the Guidewire team as they were evaluating ClaimCenter for Farmers. And what I loved about that is they looked under the covers of our claims processes, sat side by side with our adjusters to really immerse themselves. And so when they spoke in front of the leadership team to help socialize what claims center could offer, they spoke with the authority that they actually knew our processes because they actually sat side by side and look and viewed our processes.
Laura Drabik Wonderful. So the theme of our podcast is making ideas happen. What was the most innovative idea you implemented?
Val LaBarba One of the most innovative things that we did that I'm most proud of is that we introduced a version of ClaimCenter offline. And what makes this so unique for us is that we take down the system for various, maintenance, obviously through the rollout process. And we actually have never had an offline solution where our claims reps were able to offer services to our customer during an outage time. Because we are 24/7, and so when we do need to take the system down for either an implementation or a regular maintenance window, our frontline folks are CSA. It's seamless to them. They don't even know that we go down and they continue to take claims and we're able to still offer services at that level. And I think that's fantastic.
Laura Drabik Can you share any metrics with us or quotes from your agents, policy holders, or claim stakeholders?
Val LaBarba So we've gotten a lot of different feedback through our surveys mainly from the employees on how they're feeling about the product. And I would say what we delivered is exactly what they're feeling, which is allowing them to work in a system that is not complicated, does allow them freedom to be more of that concierge type service. So a lot of really good feedback has come in through our NPS surveys. And those are the quotes, is that I love it, it's easy, it took them a day and a half to train on it. That has been a really big win.
Laura Drabik How did you involve these key stakeholders like the adjuster and the agent in the change journey?
Val LaBarba So we actually put adjusters supervisors in our work stream design sessions. And so we engaged all the way down to the frontline level and empowered them, honestly, to make decisions about how the application should be built. We gave them some guiding principles and some guard rails, but it really was the frontline folks who actually designed the ClaimCenter application for themselves. And so, as you can imagine, then they become internal change management folks, and they're sharing that with their peers. And so that actually ends up helping us in the long term because we have multiple change agents across the country supporting and promoting the system.
Laura Drabik I love that. They are not only empowered, but then they become the advocates. How did you handle any pushback to change?
Val LaBarba So we did experience push back and I would say what I would expect, honestly, obviously we don't want people just nodding in the room and no one's challenging one another. So there was a lot of healthy back and forth and conflict. And the cool thing is, is that we allowed them to resolve it within their own work stream group. The other thing that I think really helped with resolving the pushback on change is, we would ask folks that 80-20, if you're asking for something, does that happen 80% of the time or 20%? And the funny thing is, is that people will naturally get there themselves, especially when you pose it that way. And then they are able to say, you know what? It actually doesn't happen very often. I get it. So oftentimes people were pushing for the 20 and then when you restate that for them, they realize that, oh, that doesn't make sense, I'm more designing something for the smallest amount versus the bigger piece. And I think that was something we use continuously, but I really love that book.
There was a healthy conflict and pushback, because it meant folks were really passionate about building an application that will be sustainable for the future.
Laura Drabik Just a reminder, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe, to InsurTalk on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Let's get back to our conversation with Val Labarba, Head of Transformation at Farmers. So I was listening to a podcast. Yes, I listen to other podcasts as well, not just my own. With the former head of GE Innovation Beth Comstock. And she said, you need a different type of person and team to innovate. As the change management lead, how have you addressed team, talent, and culture, on your initiative?
Val LaBarba One of the very first thing that we did as a team was that we, we being IT and business literally became one team. Now, it seems like that's a no brainer, but that should be done. But we have never done that at Farmers since I've been there in my 20 plus years. But watching the teams become one, the co-located together was a huge part of our change management. The other part was leveraging the system integrators and bringing them in for that level of expertise. The third thing that we did, I think was we celebrated our successes often, but you truly do have to have a change manager who is leading that effort and is sensitive to the fact that you need to keep feeding those teams that can burn out on a program of this magnitude and celebrate successes often. And then the last thing is we have leadership modeling that same behavior. So the change manager, wasn't just coaching the teams on the program, but they were also coaching our leadership team.
And so when the leadership team was interacting with the folks inside the program working day to day, it was one consistent conversation. I thought that was fantastic. And so we're continuing that change management piece.
Laura Drabik I love that. Lead by example, it seems obvious, but it is an incredibly important principle and celebrate your successes often. As a former change management consultant, I would rate that as one of the top methods for keeping your team involved and engaged.
Val LaBarba We had very low attrition on this program. And I would say it's attributed to the fact that we were very deliberate and made sure we were taking care of the employees who were relentlessly working eight plus hours a day on this transformation.
Laura Drabik Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Val, what is the one critical bit of advice you would share with carriers panning to launch their own claims transformation?
Val LaBarba The single piece that I thought was critical was establishing guiding principles before launching the program. And I think that just helps baseline everyone that's coming onto the program.
Laura Drabik I love that idea of having the change principles blown up, printed and hung on the wall. Now it takes me right back to Farmers University and seeing all that wonderful mission and history, et cetera.
Val LaBarba Yeah. I think people visually need to see that, right? And then it needs to be top of mind all the time. You can't just bring it out quarterly, you really got to enforce it and stay true to what we actually signed up to do with the implementation.
Laura Drabik I was really impressed with your response to COVID-19. My agent has reached out to me on numerous occasions, very empathetically. So I'm really appreciative of your response.
Val LaBarba Yeah. Farmer's was able to react so fast, honestly, for a company, not really everybody wasn't prepared for this. I'm very proud of the way they've handled the situation of dealing with the COVID-19 issue.
Laura Drabik So Val, you just brought, raised a question for me then. Would you have been able to have handled the way that you seamlessly handled COVID-19 without having done this transformation?
Val LaBarba Because the digital piece is so connected to our claims transformation, because the systems talk to one another, I feel like we are able to be a lot more nimble and implement things that we normally wouldn't. So change in the system does not take nearly as long as it used to, to be able to modify our systems or make a change. And all that stuff is, you have to be able to easily program and go. And that the claims transformation has really enabled us to be able to be a lot more nimble than we used to be.
Laura Drabik I'm glad to hear that. So Val, thank you very much for your time today and for your incredible insight into transforming claims processing. You showed us it's not just about ideas, it's about making ideas happen.
Val LaBarba Thank you so much, Laura. I appreciate it.
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 Samantha Liscio, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at the WSIB, Workplace Safety Insurance Board. Samantha is a senior executive leader, responsible for digital transformation and modernizing the business. I specifically selected her for today's podcast because she led the digital transformation of the company, enabling seamless customer journeys. Hello Samantha, thank you for joining my podcast today.
Samantha Liscio Hello Laura, how are you?
Laura Drabik Very good. So why don't we start off by telling our listeners a little bit about who you are, your roles and your duties.
Samantha Liscio Sure. So you introduced me and gave my title, the Chief Technology and Innovation Officer. So as you would expect, that's all of the technology that's behind the scenes for a large insurance organization and then the innovation portfolio. So, essentially, re-imagining solutions to our customer problems.
Laura Drabik So the WSIB is a $4 billion provincial agency that provides insurance for workers injured on the job and in your market, Ontario, Canada, your consumers cannot change carriers. You don't have any competition. So why would you engage in a digital transformation?
Samantha Liscio That's a great question, and one that we get asked a lot. But when you think about being a monopoly, being a government organization, we actually compete with Amazon and Netflix and online banking and every great digital experience our customers have, because that's what they expect now from everyone. So even though we are a government entity and we're mandated and we're a monopoly, we can't have an experience that's different from everyone else's, because our customers aren't satisfied with that anymore. Our CEO talks about wanting to be the insurer of choice. So even though he knows that we're mandated and that we're a monopoly, he understands that we must be providing those services to the people that we serve in a way that they expect.
So when he talks about being the insurer of choice, we all get behind that and think about, all right, how do we deliver those great digital experiences to our customers? And that means that we have to transform the way that we work, because as a big 103-year-old insurance organization, many of the systems that we have are older and are interfaced in with newer systems. So we've got to make sure that all of that is seamless, and that the services that we deliver to the people of Ontario, when they get injured or they become ill at work, need to be when they need it, how they need it and how they can consume that. And that drives everything that we're doing from a transformation perspective.
Laura Drabik I love that. And I'm just going to say it again for our listeners. CEO goal: to be the insurer of choice. That is quite admirable for a monopoly. So many of our carriers are beginning to use digital factories as incubators. More agile ways of working, of course. You created a digital factory. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the new ways that you're working within the digital factory?
Samantha Liscio For sure. So the digital factory is more a way of working than a physical space, although pre COVID-19, we had a physical space that was associated with that. So we set it up to be very much of an open plan, that we were able to do stand-ups and scrum-based approaches to problem-solving. But more than just the physical space, and obviously we're not in that physical space anymore, we're entirely virtual.
The digital factory is a way of working. It combines three key elements. A service design approach; so looking at that human-centered design, the customer journeys associated with how people consume the products and services that we provide. A product ownership component; so making sure that the individual that owns that product manages the lifecycle of that product and how it meets those customer needs. And then an IT dev ops component; so an agile way of being able to use technology to be able to address those customer needs.
And all of those three things come together to produce production-ready MVPs: minimum viable products, that are iterative and collaborative. And they're all created with members of each of those key responsibility areas who are working collaboratively together to come up with what those products look like. And then to be able to test those directly with the customers. Are these meeting the needs? Are they solving the problems? And then iterating on those.
Laura Drabik So the digital factory can be a place where some people go to work every day or a virtual place where they go online every day to work. Alternatively, you can have people from the larger organization do a rotation through the factory. This way the factory can be used, as you know, as a tool for the broader organization to transform itself over time. Okay. So how will you be using the digital factory as a vehicle for change within the WSIB?
Samantha Liscio That's an excellent point because there are lots of innovative approaches that you can take and you can apply, but unless those are sustained, it's really difficult for the culture of the organization to change, to be able to sustain that digitization, that modernization approach. So we've been using the digital factory approach as a way of getting digital quick-wins done. So one of those quick wins was being able to provide an opportunity for digital document upload. So if you've been injured on the job, you've had a fork truck accident, and you've blown out your knee. You've had some physiotherapy and the WSIB then needs information from your physiotherapist so that we can process that claim. Typically, in the past, the way that we asked you to provide that to us was to fax that. So imagine this: you're an injured person, you don't have full mobility, and we're asking you to go out and find some kind of postal outlet or UPS or a Staples where they can fax us something. That really isn't good customer service.
So a digital quick-win for us was getting that digital document upload tool developed so that people could snap a quick picture with their phone or send a digital document directly to us. And then once we received that, that could be ingested directly into the Guidewire InsuranceSuite that we have that runs all of our claims business. And that happened almost instantaneously. So quick things like that, being able to allow customers to access their information, has been a way that we've used the digital factory to truly transform. And it's been hugely successful for us to date, but it is a challenge because it is a cultural change. Thinking about things in terms of a minimum viable product means you're not going to solve for everything out the gate. So that collaborative, iterative approach is very, very different, from a cultural perspective in a company like ours.
Laura Drabik Before we continue. Listeners, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on 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 Samantha Liscio, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at the WSIB, Workplace Safety Insurance Board. And we are talking about enabling seamless customer journeys. So Samantha, we left off with you talking about cultural change and it being a potential impediment to an MVP approach. I'm wondering if you could tell our listeners a little bit about how you address this cultural change in order to get this MVP mentality across the goal-line.
Samantha Liscio It was a little bit of a shock to people, I think. So my colleague, Jennifer Anderson and I, Jennifer, is the Chief Operating Officer with the WSIB, got our teams together and they were having difficulty with a key problem that we were trying to resolve. And the fabric of our organization, the culture, means that people immediately want to go and gather information. They want the best possible data to be able to make decisions. And it's very difficult to call an end to that because you never have enough information. You can always have more. So after about a week, Jennifer and I got the team together and we said, "Look, we need different innovative ways of doing this. We need you to take accountability for actually driving this to conclusion and experimenting a little bit. Think about a quick-and-dirty way of being able to get it done in a way that we can address the customer problems in a seamless kind of way."
So the team struggled with that a little bit because everybody wants to have the PowerPoint deck that they can put the business case together from. But they started to work together, and they went through the process of storming and norming and then to performing. Around those collaborative sessions that were actually developing the MVP solution as they went through. So rather than a typical waterfall approach to development that gathers all of the requirements, then solutions against those requirements, and then tests whether or not the solution met the requirements, it's iterating at every instance along that process as to whether or not that minimum viable product is going to work and meets those needs.
So I think within a matter of days, and we were actually seeing prototypes and wireframes get developed, that the team really got its legs and then started to push and push and push. And within 12 weeks, we had our first minimum viable products. If our regular culture had applied and we had used our typical waterfall methodology, that would have taken probably months, maybe even a year. But it was enough to make a substantive difference to our customers. And when the team saw that, that was something that really energized them and the people around them, who then also wanted to be part of the next team and the next MVP.
Laura Drabik So I'm a business person. I appreciate that customer journeys help the business gain insight into customer pain points, improvements in the customer experience, and also help to define what customers need to complete a purchase or a service. How did you identify key processes that would streamline your customer's journey?
Samantha Liscio Well, Laura, this is interesting because we had been thinking about customer journeys and personas and developing those specific to the business that Workers' Compensation does in Canada, that the WSIB does in Ontario. And then we went and visited you at Guidewire a couple of years ago, and we took our CEO so that he could see the actual software being developed. And his reaction to seeing the personas and the customer journeys actually displayed in the developers' workspace was a bit of an epiphany for him, a big recognition that the software was being built specifically to address customer needs and that the WSIB was not unique in those needs. So in being a large insurance organization, essentially, the work that Guidewire was doing to build the software specific to those insurance customer needs was exactly what the WSIB needed and that we shouldn't necessarily be doing that for ourselves, separate from the work that was happening with the software development.
So that was something that really seized him. And when we came back to the office to talk about how we were going to start our modernization journey, how we were going to change our underlying claims and account system of record and how we were going to be able to engage our clients through a digital format. We started to think about how we needed to work on the customer journeys and the personas that had already been developed, and then be very specific to those areas of the journeys that were specific to the compensation business. So it wasn't trying to do soup to nuts ourselves. It was thinking about how do we leverage the software out of the box and then iterate specifically to develop the personas and the journeys related to the Workers' Compensation journey, and identify the pain points there and to fix those.
So the key processes that we followed were those that are typical to a service design approach, and then the engagement of the customers directly. So doing deep ethnographic research with the customers about not only what they were telling us, their experience was related to our products and services, but actually watching them in situ trying to use those products and services when they needed them. And that was really informative and illustrative to us, too, that the pain points that we thought before we had gone through the customer journeys, and before we had done the ethnographic research, weren't exactly the pain points that our customers were experiencing. And being able to address the pain points that customers are actually experiencing versus what you think they're experiencing is where the magic happens with digitization, because then it truly meets a need.
Laura Drabik Any improvement metrics from your digital transformation that you could share with us?
Samantha Liscio Well, we talked about the time to production. It was 12 weeks to the first MVP versus what would have been probably months or close to a year. The year 2018, I think the WSIB received more than two million pieces of paper. The digital document upload tool means that we've significantly reduced that incoming paper. And now we're getting between 40 and 50,000 digital documents per month. And that's representing, I guess, back in April, when the most recent metrics were taken, that was about half of our total documents. And it's growing. That's especially important for us during COVID, because now we don't have people in the mailroom that are receiving those pieces of paper, but the digital document upload tool doesn't care about COVID. We can get those documents in and they go right into the backend systems and get ingested right into Guidewire.
So it's a huge benefit for us. So we're seeing, without actually doing hard launches or public outreach, the people are starting to use those tools and prefer to use those tools. We have login for business now. So we deal with employers as a key customer group, and they're now able to log in through a secure portal to be able to conduct their business with us. Before the login for business process, the overall customer satisfaction with that process was about 27%. Terrible. Awful customer satisfaction. After we introduced the login for business, that satisfaction score jumped to over 66.6% and it continues to grow.
Laura Drabik We need to take another break. Just a reminder, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Let's get back to our conversation with Samantha Liscio, Chief technology and Innovation Officer at the WSIB.
Samantha, what's one critical piece of advice you would share with carriers planning to launch a digital experience?
Samantha Liscio Narrowing it down to one critical bit of advice. You're going to make me work hard, Laura. I think it all comes down to knowing what the customer needs are and what their specific pain points are in your processes and services. And to do that, you can't just guess. You won't know if you're just thinking about what you think those are. You actually have to do the heavy lifting on the customer focus groups, on those journey maps, on those customer personas. That whole service design practice needs to kick in, so that you can truly understand those customer needs and the pain points, and then be able to fix those. But then, also check back that what you're doing is actually addressing the customer needs.
Most insurers are traditional. Hundreds of years old. But nowadays we see more and more insurtech firms that are maybe less than a hundred days old. Whether you're a traditional insurer, whether you're an insurtech firm, whether you're somewhere in the middle or trying to take the best elements of both, the need to understand the problem that you're seeking to solve is the key critical piece of advice that I would provide. And then solving it, but then experimenting and learning and re-imagining to continue to iterate on that because once you solve for it once, it's not one and done.
Laura Drabik I can really appreciate your statement here. It all starts with the customer and the problem they're seeking to solve. Thank you for sharing. So we are connected on LinkedIn, and I recently saw your LinkedIn post, which read, "We are currently not processing any hard-copy mail. Businesses can still update and submit via the portal." Clearly, this is one way that the pandemic has affected how you do business: digitization of documentation. How else has COVID-19 affected how you do business at the WSIB?
Samantha Liscio Well, as you've pointed out, we've had to digitize any paper-based processes because we can't handle paper anymore. We can't have people going to the facilities, the mailrooms in our locations. And we've had to find alternative ways of being able to support things like virtual healthcare, because people aren't traveling to health appointments the way they did before, too. So we need to be thinking about, how can we enable that same seamless means by which people are accessing virtual healthcare. And to do that back-integrated into our own systems. It means that we've re-looked at our whole business and that we've had to rapidly address gaps.
So I'll give you an example, things like access requests. If you have been a customer of the Workers Safety and Insurance Board, you're a Workers' Comp customer, you can access all of your information and those access requests come in periodically. Typically, those would be, we could get them in the mail or someone would come in and ask. And then we put together all of the paper files related to that particular claim and ship those back out to the individual. Sometimes that's boxes and boxes of files. We've been able to digitize that at the front-end, so you can request that through the portal and then we can get that sent to you in a digital format through secure FTP. So being able to do that rapidly, address those gaps quickly, has been a key focus for us during this epidemic. But it's made us think a little bit more about people. We have whole sectors that are badly disenfranchised service sector that can't go to work, or hairdressers aren't getting to work. Hotels. All of those places that really are impacted significantly.
So while people are working differently, we've deferred premiums for employers until August. But in the uncertain economic times that we're in, we need to be thoughtful about how do we continue our business beyond that. So more than ever, we need to be thinking about that responsibly and with empathy. So it's been challenging.
Laura Drabik But you've pivoted it really well. Would you have been able to do all of this without doing your system modernization?
Samantha Liscio I don't think so. If we hadn't have things like our digital document upload tool, our online login for business, we wouldn't have been able to continue to develop and to pivot based on those. So having that gave us certainly a jump-start. It would have been much more difficult had we not been there, but it also gives us a great opportunity to accelerate all of that digitization work and all of that modernization work, because, really, we need to accelerate that, to address the challenges that the current situation's forcing us to deal with. So always take advantage of a crisis.
Laura Drabik Samantha, thank you very much for your time today and for your incredible insight into enabling seamless customer journeys. You showed us it's not just about ideas. It's about making ideas happen.
Samantha Liscio Thank you, Laura. It's been my pleasure.
Laura Drabik Welcome to InsureTalk. My name is Laura Drabik and I'm the Chief Evangelist at Guidewire. In this episode, I have the privilege of interviewing Alice Keung, the Chief Transformation Officer at Economical Insurance. Alice is well-recognized in Canada and globally for building and leading high performing change teams. I had the privilege of meeting Alice when Economical was evaluating software vendors to support their new strategic direction. I, specifically, selected Alice for today's podcast because she led the digital transformation of the company, most notably the development and launch of Sonnet Insurance, Canada's first digital direct channel in the property and casualty sector. Sonnet has revolutionized the insurance buying experience by making it simple, easy, personalized, and accessible. And that will be our topic of conversation today, launching a digital insurer. Alice, thank you for joining my podcast today.
Alice Keung Thank you. It's nice to be here.
Laura Drabik So, Alice, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about who you are, your role and your duties?
Alice Keung I am the Senior Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer at Economical Insurance. I lead major transformative initiatives that cut across the entire enterprise. My passion lies in leveraging data and digital technology to drive innovation.
Laura Drabik So, I'm so glad you decided to join our show. Since 1871, Economical Insurance has been providing very personalized broker service. But with the launch of your new brand, Sonnet, you went all digital, direct to consumer. Why did you launch a new brand, and way of doing business in the Canadian market? What was the strategy behind it?
Alice Keung Well, five years ago, we noted that customer expectations are shifting. Based on advancements in technology, the P&C industry was ready to disrupt or be disrupted. And Economical Insurance chose to leapfrog the competition. We believe we could deliver a unique value proposition. The goal of the creation of Sonnet what's the rewrite underwriting for a specific segment of the population. Those folks who were really comfortable with technology and those with relatively simple insurance needs. So, we targeted this demographic, and we created a brand with a distinct name, identity, and purpose.
Laura Drabik If you don't mind, I'm going to carry on with this target market that you just mentioned. We, typically, see new digital insurtech startups like Metromile or Lemonade, focusing on a millennial buyer. According to Pew Research, that's a buyer between the ages of 23 to 38. But you went after a different market, a more mature market, which may seem unusual to some. Tell us about the market and why you selected it.
Alice Keung So, for us, it's not about the age, but about a digital mentality. Now, prior to the launch, Economical Insurance invested a lot in market research. We wanted to understand how Canadians want to buy insurance, and discovered that while a portion of the population value the advice and the guidance of a broker there is a totally different market segment who actually prefers to do it themselves.
We first identify customer pain points and we set about to resolve the top three in building our offering. First is that insurance is time consuming and cumbersome. At Sonnet, there's simplified quoting to make it possible to quote and buy online in as little as five minutes. Second pain point, customers feel treated like a number. The Sonnet customer experience is built to provide a customized journey, whether quoting online, or connected with our customer service team for consultation. Third, insurance is difficult to understand. So, we have completely rewritten the policy documents, and redesigned a quoting experience that breaks down language like deductibles. We want the consumers to understand our policy language. We don't really want them to guess what this is all about.
Laura Drabik I love it. So, I'm going to continue on with your point number three. I've led a few focus groups myself, and the focus is on the end consumer being the policy holder. And across age groups, we hear policy holders commenting on the large amount of insurance speak. So, as an all digital brand, you have done a tremendous job, if you don't mind me saying, of banishing insurance speak. So, breaking the how it's always been done can be difficult. Why and how did you do this?
Alice Keung Well, transparency is one of the key components of the simplified experience we work very hard to give our customers. What we want to do is that we want customers to understand our policy language, and their coverage option, and it needs to be personalized. Each person is unique, and deserves to understand and choose that's coverage for their needs. We, basically, have asked our underwriting team to work together with our communications folks, so that the policy will be written in language that ordinary folks who never have to deal with insurance actually could understand. And that was really one way for them to work together. And I think by having folks with different backgrounds, different perspectives, working together to solve the problem have proven to be very effective.
Laura Drabik I love that, having underwriting work with communications, I think that was a brilliant idea. So, another finding from focus groups that we hear is, "I want an Amazon digital experience." And what that basically means is they want the quote to be quick, exactly what you said, personalized to their needs. How did you accelerate and personalize that Sonnet digital quote process?
Alice Keung Companies like Amazon have set the bar in terms of expectations for customer experience. So, from launch, our goal has been to meet and exceed modern, digitally savvy consumer expectations for insurance. Our customers are looking for a simplified insurance experience from end to end. At Sonnet, a customer just need to answer a few straightforward questions. And they can see the quote, they have the option to buy it right there online. And this used to take days and weeks, but now it takes five minutes.
So, for an instance, to get a quote for a home insurance policy you typically have to ask many, many questions like the age of your home, the type of wiring you have in your house, and the distance to a fire station or a fire hydrant. That information is actually available. Either available in your own systems, or they are available through other sources. So, we have all of that pre-fills, so that the consumer doesn't even have to think about it. It seems very, very easy to go. Unlike some of our larger competitors, who are very entrenched in legacy processes. We have kept Sonnet as a separate company, so the smaller size coupled working technology and innovation makes Sonnet able to respond to the consumer needs that continue to evolve and change rapidly.
Laura Drabik Before we continue, listeners, if you're enjoying this podcast be sure to subscribe, to InsureTalk on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And you can rate and review this show on Apple Podcast. 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 Alice Keung, the Chief Transformation Officer at Economical Insurance on launching digital insurance.
Alice, which digital lines of business do you currently support with Sonnet? And why did you choose those lines?
Alice Keung Well, Sonnet offers personal home and auto insurance. We also, recently, started offering pet insurance. These are the type of businesses that we are very, very familiar with and specialize in, so it was very natural for us to offer that. But I would also add that, and I'm very pleased to share that, Sonnet, recently, launched group insurance, as well.
Laura Drabik I can understand the home, auto, pet that's a really great multi lining opportunity where you can cross sell to a consumer that buys one of those lines. Why not the group insurance?
Alice Keung Actually, we have been approached by some of the businesses that already are insured with us, they are very much interested to make sure that it benefit their employees, or benefit their alumni. So, in reflecting over that, we felt that we already have a very good foundation, and that seems to be a natural adjacent space to move into.
Laura Drabik Oh, wonderful. Great idea. Let's talk a little bit now about your brokers. So, in Canada, we will use the term brokers to refer to independent agents. So, in the US independent agents, in Canada broker. What has the broker's response to Sonnet been? Did you find them to be at all feeling threatened? And what did you do to neutralize any threat?
Alice Keung So, first of all, our consumer research before we launched Sonnet has indicated to us that there were actually distinct behavioral segments of Canadians. Those ones who prefer their services from a broker, and those ones who actually prefer self service. So, Sonnet was created and launched to serve this segment of Canadians that Economical was missing. And even, today, we still find that the two customer segments and their needs are distinct. But, naturally, we spend a lot of time making sure that brokers actually understand some of these research, and understand what we are trying to do, and it is not to cannibalize their business.
So, after launching Sonnet, we set out to deliver innovation to our broker partners with an offering that we called Vyne, an industry leading platform for economical brokers. Not only we offer new and competitive products across Canada, Vyne also streamlined workflow for the brokers. So, that way they could actually spend more time providing useful and valuable counseling to the customers and provide faster service to them. So, in both instances, we leverage Guidewire as a core platform to support them.
Laura Drabik Oh, I'm glad to hear that. And, I must say, I feel very proud that you are running both distribution channels on one core system, being Guidewire. So, thanks for sharing that.
Okay, I'm going to brag on you now. So, Sonnet has won an Insurance Canada Technology Award, and a People's Choice Award for your elegant online consumer experience, and advanced use of technology. Now, you could measure success based on the awards that you've won, but how do you measure success?
Alice Keung Well, it's nice to be recognized, and we are very, very proud of the awards and accolades that we have earned. Our customers are very vocal about how much they like our user-friendly experience. Actually, they often contact us directly just to tell us that they totally cannot believe how easy that we have made the insurance buying experience. So, we are also very pleased to see that our strategy actually does work in that we have achieved significant growth. Sonnet's premium had 200 million Canadian dollars in 2019. And, in Q4 last year, the Sonnet growth in GWP, growth written premium, was 46% over the same quarter in the year before. So, we are very, very happy with the results.
Laura Drabik So, McKinsey in its report, The Making of a Digital Insurer, highlights that successful digital firms are distinguished by more than just their technical expertise. A corporate culture, a certain approach to talent, and a certain organizational model that create the conditions for digital excellence. So, Alice, I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind sharing how you addressed culture, talent, and the organizational model that created the conditions for digital excellence.
Alice Keung Laura, I would agree with the observation. To truly create a culture of innovation we knew at Economical that collaboration was the only way to get things done. We hired leaders who are experts in their fields across marketing, communication, customer service, technology, analytics, and innovation. These leaders collaborated with our experts in insurance, claims, underwriting, so we could create an unparalleled experience.
Laura Drabik We need to take another break but, when we return, we're going to talk about that one critical piece of advice that you would share with other insurers looking at launching a digital insurer.
Just a reminder, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsureTalk on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Let's get back to our conversation with Alice Keung, the Chief Transformation Officer at Economical Insurance.
So, Alice, what is the one critical bit of advice you would share with carriers planning to launch a digital insurer, or digital experience?
Alice Keung Based on my experience, it's not all about the technology. Most important is that you must have a fierce and obsessive customer focus. You need to have a highly collaborative corporate culture with small self-sufficient team empowered to deliver innovations. Waterfall approach will never get you to the innovation destination. We were able to pair Economical's deep industry experience with technology and strategy partners, who enable us to continually adapt to evolving customer expectations. In our case, our collaboration with Guidewire and Deloitte has been a crucial component to our success.
Laura Drabik I couldn't agree with you more. You won't get to your innovation destination on waterfall. Thank you for sharing those. That's really helpful. How has COVID-19 affected how you do business in a digital world?
Alice Keung That's a very, very good question. The COVID-19 has, certainly, impacted everybody globally. In our case, over 90% of our employees across the Economical brands have successfully transition to working remotely within days of the country, and the provinces' shutdown. And we are supporting our customers and brokers without any interruption. However, implementing never before, neither relief measures has required ingenuity for individuals we have offered flexible payment options. For our business customers, we have also measures to help them out. We are adapting our rating approach to acknowledge the challenging circumstances that the businesses are faced with today. We are also supporting the community that we live in, and we are helping our employees to actually make decisions to donate to local charities by matching their donations. So, we do take social responsibility, also, very seriously.
Laura Drabik Oh, that's wonderful. I applaud your efforts. And if school would actually engage again in bricks and mortar, I would be very happy to stay working at home. I think the homeschooling is killing us. And I'm actually surprised she hasn't walked in during this podcast.
So, Alice, I want to thank you very much for your time today, and for your incredible insight into launching a digital insurer. You've showed us that it's not just about ideas, it is about making ideas happen. Thank you.
Alice Keung I thank you. It's been a pleasure on my part.
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 Vittorio Giusti, the CEO General Insurance and Country COO at Aviva Italy. Vittorio is a senior executive leader with extensive insurance and operations experience. He's recognized internationally, as well as in Italy, for his strategic leadership in Aviva Italy's digital disruption initiative AvivaPlus. Aviva Italy won a Guidewire innovation award based on their accomplishments, including radically redesigning the customer experience and creating a digital paperless workflow tailored to the consumer, creating a Netflix insurance experience. Hello Vittorio, thank you for joining my podcast today.
Vittorio Giusti Hello Laura. Thanks for inviting me.
Laura Drabik Why don't you start off by telling our listeners a little bit about who you are, your role, and your duties.
Vittorio Giusti Yeah. I've been working in insurance over the past 25 years. I'm currently responsible for all operations at Aviva Italy, including life and GI operations, including insurance and non-insurance and technical operations. So claims, underwriting, but also transformation and innovation. With this role, I can have quite a broad view across many different functions, and these have been very, very useful for us to then drive our innovation program.
Laura Drabik I think it's absolutely exceptional that you started your career as an agent. You've walked in the shoes of your sellers. I think we're going to explore some of those ways that you were able to provide input into the Aviva initiative as we move through our questions. So thank you for sharing. As you know, your AvivaPlus initiative stood out because you were able to create this Netflix experience for your end consumer. It's fast, it's convenient. Can you provide us with an overview of the AvivaPlus initiative and what you deliver to your brokers and your consumers?
Vittorio Giusti Yeah. I think we have been able to deliver an outstanding proposition, specifically in terms of offering and these make our agents very happy. We made radical changes in customer experience. We try to disrupt the way customers were phrasing insurance business. But the most important thing is that we gave to both agents and consumers, the highest level of freedom. So for agents, there's a no phrase experience. Very simple, very easy to configure and flexible products and the opportunity to get connected to that customer wherever they are with any device. So for consumers, certainly want to have them free to choose how and when to manage their policies and to us for service. But above all, we adopted a Netflix-like model. So switch on, switch off, no constraints at any time. They can do whatever they want with the policy. They can buy more, reduce, integrate, up-sell and so on. So this has been a radical innovation and disruption for our market where offerings are very rigid and very complicated, very difficult to manage both for intermediaries and customers.
Laura Drabik To understand the policyholder's perspective, you did market research which highlighted negative consumer sentiment of traditional insurance. What did you learn from your market research and how did this influence or guide your innovation initiative?
Vittorio Giusti What we found in our market research is that the lack of simplicity is strongly connected to the lack of trust in customers, because insurers, as we all know, over the past decades have always been hiding themselves in complicated jargon. Our terms and conditions are very difficult to understand propositions for customers. There's a sentiment of mistrust against the insurance industry. It was our key point to address with our proposition. So the real innovation is not just about technology, it starts from trust between the customers and the insurance companies. So our vision is to build the relationship with customers through the simplicity approach. No complex words or no insurance terms. We also translate the insurance wording into the customer wording, keeping at the same time compliance with regulation. This is also something that has made a great difference.
Laura Drabik Let's explore that translate insurance wording into simple policyholder wording. Could you give us an example of what carriers need to invest in this type of initiative?
Vittorio Giusti So we engaged with a specialized company that delivers customer-friendly wordings across many sectors, including insurance. The concept is that you prepare your terms and conditions, all the wording we want to deliver to the customer, but before embedding it into the product to give it to them. Then they have focus group with customers. Then they ask, "Do you understand the concepts of premium of insurance coverage, excessive deductible, et cetera?" So from that point of view, they collect all the customer findings, then they checked it with compliance that we don't have any risk of discussion and then create a very, very, very simple product documents for customers. Customers also have in their policy, only those clauses related to the items that they have both in their coverage and not anything else, to create a very compact wording, a very complex document.
Laura Drabik It sounds like it's going to be an investment, certainly an effort, but it's well worth it. So you took a greenfield approach to your AvivaPlus initiative by launching a new small business line. For our listeners, greenfield equals development from a clean slate, not using existing technology. So Vittorio, why did you take a greenfield approach instead of targeting existing lines?
Vittorio Giusti We wanted to start from scratch because we did not want this to phase upfront of the typical constraints we have been facing in the past. When you want to adopt new technology with the old legacy systems, then you spend a lot of time in temporary interfaces in integration, and a lot of staff that clearly don't make you fast in delivering the product. Having no bindings, we were free to design the system we wanted and around the proposition we wanted. So we decided to start with a target niche to minimize risk. Then as soon as we had positive to following, then we started delivering a new product. We had a massive adoption of the Guidewire APD, advanced product development, tool. We started delivering new products, and now we have the vast majority of our new model products on our AvivaPlus platform. By the end of the year, we will complete the new model site of our portfolio. Then last, we'll bond with Excel, with some new disruptive ideas that I can't disclose now, but stay tuned. We'll have a better disruptive product in model.
Laura Drabik Oh, you've piqued my attention there. I really like what you said about start from scratch to describe a Greenfield initiative and avoid the typical constraints. For our listeners, I'd also like to define the term APD. What that is, is a digital line of business mapping tool to empower an end user, the business, to be able to define a new line in the Guidewire software. So Vittorio, which lines do you currently support now?
Vittorio Giusti We now have almost 70% of our app online and commercial line. No motor products already on the platform. Home insurance, personal accident, small business, all the relevant products but now have something like 90% of our new business out on the platform. By the end of the year, is a normal to pave with surety credit, specialty lines. Then the next year we will deliver more of the platform.
Laura Drabik Wow. That is a wonderful accomplishment, especially the 90% of new business on the platform. Thanks for sharing. So you leverage an MVP approach. Let me define that for our listeners. It's minimum viable product. Can you talk about the benefits of taking this approach and how you continue to evolve the MVP line of business?
Vittorio Giusti Yeah. The concepts of MVP for us was fundamental in terms of timing. The point is that a complex program with a number of local and global stakeholders. A multi year journey needs to have some proof point to make sure that we keep our stakeholders connected because a project that takes too long to be delivered with something that is touchable will be discussed before you even launch it. So we did a short run delivery. It really reduces the risk of abandonment. It is probably the key reasons why we adopted this approach. So we went live in less than a hundred days with the MVP when we started the journey. As soon as we went live, we went beyond the point of no return.
Laura Drabik Before we continue, listeners, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Now, I am talking with Vittorio Giusti CEO, General Insurance and Country COO at Aviva Italy, about creating a Netflix insurance experience. Vittorio, how did you involve the agent in this initiative?
Vittorio Giusti Italy is an agent dominated insurance market and so agents were key for us to jump onboard and help us to deliver this new innovation program. Then they are somehow the owners at the end of the relationship with the customer. In every development phase we had dedicated workshop with agent in order to share approaches, in order to collect their points of view, constraints, and all the continuous improvement we are doing on a day-to-day basis to the platform but couldn't be successful without their engagement. Also, I have to say that our agents were comfortable with the agile methodology. This was unexpected. With the participation to the program, they really feel this is their platform and they're happy with this feeling. We want them to be protagonists of this innovation program.
Laura Drabik Make them feel like it's their platform. You did a tremendous job of making that a reality for them. Let me just ask you one more question here. Did you get any pushback from them on the initiative, and how did you address it?
Vittorio Giusti Oh, we had a lot of pushback because the original operating model was tremendously direct and digital. There was some uncertainty between the highly digital platform and that traditional way of working. We had to adjust some of the massive decision we made at the beginning, but at the end, they are now very comfortable, for example, with paperless documents, digital signature. Aviva agents in Italy probably now are one of the most advanced network in terms of digital propositions.
Laura Drabik Most digitally advanced network in Italy. What a great accomplishment. Aviva is a global entity. How did you leverage input from the other countries within this initiative?
Vittorio Giusti The whole project wouldn't have been at this state if we were not able to reuse some selective solutions that were already built by the group and also leveraging of the group expertise. To give an example, we have group standards in digital signature, document management, electronic payments, and all those standards were adopted and configured in the guideline in final measurements. We worked very closely with our UK and Canadian colleagues to make sure that we have a one view, one governance, a very high conformity across Guidewire implementation in the broader Aviva group. This is really key for us to leverage as much as we can and to have also cross-country interaction to also share a lessons learned, trials battles and to make sure that moving forward any of these accounts we can leverage on the initiatives we have done across the firm for Guidewire implementations.
Laura Drabik So what you say makes a lot of sense to reuse. It's great not only for accelerating the speed of the implementation, but also for increasing the quality of what's delivered. What measures did you take to proactively create an innovation culture and recruit an innovation talent pool?
Vittorio Giusti We acted as a startup. Probably, we are the biggest startup in the insurance industry in Italy. But we are a startup. We have a digital hub where innovation leads to increase the effectiveness of the agile deployment. This has been an enabler to spread a new way of work. People were very, very engaged to join the program. We didn't want to have the "old company and new company." We wanted to meet them and now we have 70% of the Italian employee that contributes to the implementation. Now, given that the different expertise it can bring to the table, engagement, that is unprecedented for operations and IT in insurance in Italy.
Laura Drabik Great. A digital startup as an enabler to spread a new way of working. I really like that statement. What is one critical bit of advice you would share with carriers planning to launch a digital insurer or digital experience?
Vittorio Giusti I think that there are some soft aspects that we needed to consider when we started down the road like the one we have done here. It is what I mentioned of the dream. We have to make people dream. We have to expect them to believe that they can do that. With a dream you attract talent. You get out of the perception of insurance, that old style, slow and ineffective. Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream." He didn't say I had a plan. So people that can dream can really change the things can really make a consistent innovation.
Laura Drabik You are correct. He did not say we have a plan. I think that really hits it on the head, how important it is to dream. We need to take another break. Just a reminder, if you're enjoying this podcast, be sure to subscribe to InsurTalk on Apple podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Let's get back to our conversation with Vittorio Giusti, the Country COO at Aviva Italy. Vittorio, what do you wish you had known when you first started out on this initiative?
Vittorio Giusti If I knew that it was very important to have strong internal expertise, I would have invested more at the beginning with internal team. It is really key and fundamental to the culture to have people with Guidewire certification with a very, very strong agile approach. These, at the beginning, was not considered in the right way. If I would restart it, I would do it more than I did.
Laura Drabik Okay, good to know. Now you mentioned the term agile. Were people taking a waterfall approach and how did that affect this innovation initiative?
Vittorio Giusti When we had the idea, we were in the concept phase, I introduced the concept of agile given my previous experiences in other insurance companies. I was amazed with Aviva Italy at the beginning, nobody knew what agile was. Then we started the right training, the right walk with them, and now agile methodology is completely used, not just with AvivaPlus but across all the programs at Aviva Italy. So no more waterfall.
Laura Drabik Well done. I have one more question for you, Vittorio. How has COVID-19 affected how you do business in a digital world?
Vittorio Giusti Well, it was an unprecedented situation and even before the Italian government started with the lockdown, we started remote working for all our employees and all our consultants. I think that all the work we had done last year, now we have an advantage. We have still a lot to be done, but we have the opportunity to restart with a clear view and with all the priorities and all the capacity in place, that there's no delay. There's a very, very high engagement we’ll look at to deliver and to finalize the innovation program.
Laura Drabik I like that statement. All the work you did last year gives you an advantage. Pausing for a moment, it also gives you a chance to restart with a fresh perspective. Thank you very much for sharing. Vittorio, we have really appreciated your time today. Thank you very much for sharing your incredible insight into creating a Netflix insurance experience. You showed us it's not just about ideas, it's about making ideas happen.
Vittorio Giusti Thank you. Thank you very much. It was a blessing for me.