An interview with Bobby Lehane

Position: 
Chief Operating Officer, Asia Pacific – General Insurance, Zurich Financial Services

FST Media: As Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Zurich Financial Services (Zurich) what are your key priorities for the next 12 - 18 months; and how do you feel your previous role as CIO can give you a competitive advantage in this position?

 

Lehane: My priority is to work on defining and delivering an operations landscape for our businesses that will improve operating efficiency, enhance customer service and facilitate continued growth opportunities throughout APAC.

FST Media: As Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Zurich Financial Services (Zurich) what are your key priorities for the next 12 - 18 months; and how do you feel your previous role as CIO can give you a competitive advantage in this position?

 

Lehane: My priority is to work on defining and delivering an operations landscape for our businesses that will improve operating efficiency, enhance customer service and facilitate continued growth opportunities throughout APAC.

 

Because of the work I have done in my capacity as CIO at Zurich (Australia and Asia Pacific & Middle East) there are many advantages: the business strategy is very clear to me; and the implications from an IT perspective are understood as are many of the opportunities for improving our operations.

 

From a stakeholder perspective, relationships are already in place and provide a great platform from which to drive significant operational transformation across the business. Had I come to this role from outside I think there would still be many advantages to the CIO background, such as the ability to develop a strategy and to mobilise large programs of work with the necessary skills and discipline; things that are critical to success as a CIO would be directly applicable to the COO role.

 

Finally, there are many common themes that equally apply to operations, leverage of scale, consolidation of platforms and customer service.   

 

FST Media: Traditional insurers are focusing on online-only subsidiaries for attracting and retaining Gen-Y customers. Do you foresee this as the future of insurance?

 

Lehane: There are numerous ways to attract and retain Gen-Y customers, and of course online is a very significant option. I’m not sure organisations should limit themselves to online-only subsidiaries. In fact any proposition should form part of the end-to-end insurance value chain.

 

We have a range of different business models across the APAC. In Japan we have enjoyed sustained success in appealing to the tech-savvy and discerning Gen-Ys. Mobile phones, online and even traditional telemarketing all contribute to a multi-pronged strategy. We’ve recently brought out a new product in Japan specifically targeted at Gen-Ys which recognises that their buying behaviour is different. It’s important not to lose sight of the product; Gen-Ys are aware of the many product choices they have so any proposition needs to be compelling and priced correctly.

 

FST Media: What are the business objectives and deliverables of Zurich’s newly implemented funds automation platform?

 

Lehane: We recently implemented pControl and pQuant for our investments business in Australia. The first objective was to address a fairly significant risk associated with the legacy platform and the many manual processes and workarounds. We wanted to reduce the probability of errors related to this. There were also some clear customer service improvement objectives.  The platform now enables superior performance reporting for our customers and a far more streamlined and efficient unit pricing process. It has also freed us from the many constraints of the old platform.

 

FST Media: How is Zurich’s smartphone channel evolving; and what new mobile-based initiatives can we expect to see in the next year?

 

Lehane: As mentioned earlier, you can’t look at this part of the market in isolation and anything you do needs to be as part of your insurance value chain. We are aware of the market evolution and have been positioning ourselves to take advantage of the changing smartphone landscape.

 

LifeXpressMobile was launched in the second half of 2010; in fact Zurich was the first life insurer in Australia to offer a feature-rich life risk quotation application on the iPhone. LifeXpressMobile seamlessly blends into our insurance value chain offering and continues to leverage our very successful LifeXpress platform; it was well received in the market. In 2011 we continue to evaluate our position and also progressively make richer functionality available over the emerging mobile platforms.

 

FST Media: The volume of insurance claims is tipped to increase due to natural disasters across the country. How are you ensuring systems are kept abreast of sophisticated techniques used in fraudulent claims and identity theft?

 

Lehane: Being part of a large global organisation we benefit from the group investment in fraud detection systems and processes. Zurich has been investing in predictive modelling for fraud detection and we will leverage this investment where possible across the region. Clearly with this as with other opportunities to leverage group capabilities, it is important for the region to have a flexible architecture that allows for inexpensive local integration.

 

FST Media: How is Zurich responding to the increasing customer demand of real-time interaction with insurers?

 

Lehane: This has been a significant focus in Australia across both the life and the general insurance segments. The investments in LifeXpress and Z.StreamXpress over the last couple of years have enabled rapid change of our product offering to respond to market needs and changes. It has also enabled more timely and responsive services to our intermediaries.

 

FST Media: As COO, how involved are you in formulating Zurich’s ongoing IT strategy?

 

Lehane: In my previous role I was heavily involved in formulating our regional IT strategy. With my transition to this role I will continue to be responsible for its execution and evolution, albeit at a level further removed. This is quite a positive as I believe the chances of delivering successful and sustained change increase through continuity of strategy and message.

 

I would also add that as CIO I oversaw the formulation of IT strategy, but people far smarter than I am devised the key components of the strategy. I anticipate that going forward these thought leaders will continue to play a critical role in developing and enhancing the Zurich strategy to ensure we continue to enjoy competitive advantage through wise IT decision-making. 

 

FST Media: How is your recruitment strategy changing to incorporate the budding Gen-Y workforce?

 

Lehane: We continue to have very positive Gen-Y experiences and to recruit them into our teams. As I’ve said before, the secret to attracting and retaining them for a useful amount of time is simple: provide them interesting, challenging work; treat them with respect; and understand that they are unlikely to be looking for a job for life.

 

We have an excellent cadet program in Australia which has delivered some exceptional Gen-Ys into our workforce. We assist them in completing their third level education and they provide a rich vein of talent to the group. This program has been running for a number of years now and has proved real value-add to our business. One of our Australian IT cadets is currently undertaking a semester of study in Singapore and will then work with our Singapore operation before returning to Australia. Taking advantage of our regional and global footprint and the associated opportunities this provides to work across the globe is also something that makes us an attractive proposition to Gen-Ys.

 

FST Media: Every leader, particularly at your level, has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?

 

Lehane: As someone on my team pointed out recently, legacy is not always a good thing, especially when one talks about technology. One of the things I’m most proud of following my time as CIO at Zurich is the development and progression of people within my team. Most of the original team have progressed to more senior regional and group roles and are making a significant contribution. This reflects very well on the Australian business and Australian talent as a whole.

 

Is for my new role, it’s too early to say, however continued focus on building a strong team that delivers industry best business results is likely to be key.

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