Providing customer value in life insurance – not just science, but art

In 2019, I made the bold decision to move from a well-respected large insurer to a relatively unknown small digital start up called iptiQ which is owned by Swiss Re. After many rewarding years in retail distribution leadership, it was time to broaden my skillset. So, when a fresh challenge in a completely different context presented itself, well – I had to grab it with both hands.

With the new role came a new perspective. At iptiQ, we aim to make insurance simpler and more engaging – the lens through which I saw insurance distribution shifted from the adviser and broker, squarely landing on the customer. It was this shift that made me realise I didn’t know enough about how customers buy insurance – and for me to be successful in an insurance distribution world shifting right in front of me, I needed this new view.

With things a little quieter over Christmas, I took the time to reflect on how our industry is responding to customers’ desire for life insurance to change and my own professional evolution as a distribution SME. I’m happy to share my learnings here.

As it happens, I’m proud to say I’m now a proficient user of Slack, Miro, Jira, MS Teams and Power Bi and the conversations around the construction of tech stacks is no longer a foreign language – but I’ll save that blog for another day.

Learning # 1: There is no such thing as ‘channel’

Some people have asked me about which channel iptiQ supports – direct? retail? group? My response is that if we think like a customer, then there is no such thing as channel, there is simply access; customers with access preferences that flex based on their experiences, their life stages and their needs. iptiQ delivers omni-access solutions – our success is built on connecting customers with compelling life insurance products and services, at their chosen point of access, on any day. From the work by my colleague Dan Middleton on faster feedback loops, we know customers want agility to connect with life insurance from where they are – talking to an adviser, a referral from a mortgage broker, on a comparison website, their industry super fund app, available from their go-to insurance brands or digital financial services provider. Insurers need to adapt with the relevant technology and operational infrastructure to deliver and meet the customer needs.

Learning #2: Customer value should be an obsession

I obsess about a few things – my kids, family, a snowboarding or surfing adventure. Starting at iptiQ heralded a new obsession – customer value – which dominates my conversations with new and existing distribution partners. How much premium is being returned to the customer in claims cost? How does that compare to the cost of service? What is the loss ratio or the acquisition cost? When I discuss margin, it’s with a focus to ensure the insurer and distribution partner’s shares from the premium are a lesser proportion than what goes back to customers in claims cost.

I’m not saying other insurers haven’t looked at things this way – many of them would have; but in my previous roles I was never that close to understanding this critically important focus, and now as the leader of iptiQ ANZ partnerships team I am obsessed with ensuring the customer wins!

Learning #3: Custodianship is about being accountable for policyholder and partner outcomes

One thing that attracted me to iptiQ was a conversation with Bronwyn Kirwan, Head of iptiQ ANZ who spoke about a future of paying 100% of claims. By this, she used the explanation: the net result from an appropriately designed and priced product, sold clearly and transparently, with quality underwriting and sustainable service and support to the customers, so that when they need to claim they will, on a product they understand, can afford and keep until the brave day it is needed. Custodianship is all about being accountable for the outcomes of our life insurance policyholders. I take that responsibility seriously – not only as a Responsible Manager, but as a leader of iptiQ ANZ.

Custodianship is also about our brand partner outcomes. iptiQ provides white label solutions, or the life insurance backbone for other brands and organisations. It is a huge responsibility to be the face of a team of caretakers for some of Australia’s biggest brands, in one of the most fluid and robust regulatory environments of any mature market. I’ve generally considered myself to be a big picture guy but now I sweat the detail as much as any actuary or accountant. For me, getting the basics done brilliantly – product management, IDR and EDR, service levels, regulatory reporting, privacy and data security – is as much of a preoccupation as new business volumes and partner pipelines.

So here we are in 2021. Eighteen months ago, I thought phrases like ‘new business acquisition ratio’ or ‘straight through processing’ were all science. Working for iptiQ within Swiss Re, there is a huge appetite to amass data, derive the insights, solve for success and repeat – I work closely with data analysts, actuaries and behavioral economists like I never did before, and together we’re learning daily the new science behind distribution done in an omni-access way

But it’s not all science. It’s also an art. By this I mean the language we use in our customer correspondence, the way we assemble a digital PDS, the training of contact centre teams to identify customers that need extra help. Numbers tell us a lot, but not everything we need to know to be an excellent life insurer.

The Australian life insurance industry is undergoing greater change than I’ve experienced in my career so far. I still have a lot of unanswered questions, but my brain is firing for the conversations I’m having with partners who see the world like we do and want to do something modern and sustainable for one of the most important financial products a customer can buy.

Let’s hope 2021 is a great one for iptiQ, our partners, and all my industry peers and friends.


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