An interview with Brendan Mills, Chief Information Officer, NIB

Position: 
Chief Information Officer, NIB

NIB's Chief Information Officer speaks to FST Media about the role of wearables and telematics in the future of the insurance industry.

FST Media: What are your priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Mills: We have significant technology projects in the pipeline that will improve the customer experience. One key project is a new, scalable customer engagement platform that will improve communications and sales effectiveness by providing a more omni-channel experience for our customers. We are also continuing to invest strongly in digital capabilities for sales, service and other opportunities to bring efficiency and an improved customer experience to elements such as claiming processes through mobile.

Core system modernisation is also a key part of our strategy as we work towards development of a roadmap to transform our core applications.

Cloud computing is offering interesting possibilities to NIB, like many other organisations, and we will continue to explore our options moving into this space.

FST Media: What technology or innovation will be a game-changer in the insurance industry over the next five years?

Mills: Over the next five years, the key game-changer will be the Internet of Things through wearables and sensors. We are seeing a huge push in the auto insurance industry around telematics. Not withstanding privacy considerations, over the coming years we will see wearables and sensors become more mainstream in the health insurance industry to better inform risk and health outcomes.

FST Media: How has NIB integrated TOWER Medical Insurance’s IT systems since acquiring it at the end of 2012? 

Mills: From the first day we acquired the business, we had a clear and detailed project plan mapped out, as well as a dedicated transaction and transitional team in Australia and New Zealand to manage the process end-to-end.

Over a 12 month period immediately post-acquisition, we built our own IT infrastructure in New Zealand with some shared services being provided from Australia. We also unbundled and relocated all IT and operational systems such as claims processing, call centre and HR systems, from TOWER to nib without any business or customer disruption. Our NPS results suggest that overall the customer experience in NIB NZ has been significantly enhanced.

That project was successfully completed in December, 2013, and since then we have continued to take a company-wide approach to improving our IT systems and constantly look for synergies across the group.

FST Media: How will you leverage and measure the success of NIB’s launch of healthcare comparison website ‘whitecoat.com.au’?

Mills: We want to empower our customers to make the best choices regarding their healthcare providers. Whitecoat does that by ensuring our customers have access to information that will assist them to make more informed choices regarding their healthcare. The value proposition of the site lies in its benefit for consumers. We believe that empowering customers and the general public to make better decisions will lead to better clinical outcomes and ultimately push down healthcare costs. 

Whitecoat is the centrepiece of our digital strategy and platform. I am confident it will become a game-changer by differentiating us in the market, helping our customers in their health journey. It will also help us address such issues as over-serving and variations in the quality and price of healthcare. 

FST Media: How are you leveraging big data and analytics to meet customer demand for personalised insurance products?

Mills: We regularly review our products to ensure they provide the level of health cover and benefits that our customers expect. This review takes into account analytics and business intelligence around the claims experience and pricing of each product, as well as customer feedback, to ensure our products remain affordable and competitive. One of the recent key learnings from these comprehensive reviews was the demand for customers to build their ideal health cover package. That is why we introduced a new range of products in 2013 that have a ‘mix and match’ design. It provides customers with the flexibility and freedom to choose a level of cover that suits their lifestyle, budget and needs. Customers can select the level of hospital cover they want and then have the option of customising their combination by bundling it with an ancillary level of cover of their choice.

FST Media: What role will wearables and telematics play in the future of the insurance industry?

Mills: We have seen the burgeoning development of wearable devices and smartphone apps to track our health information. This will continue to play an increasing role in our industry. The possibilities that these technologies provide are significant. They include improved access for patients to their own medical and health information, allowing them to make more informed choices about their health. It also provides the opportunity to display diagnostics or monitor patients from home without having to visit hospitals and doctors.

Telematics will also provide better options for people in remote communities that do not have ready access to specialist health information and services, and improve communications with patients regarding advice on lifestyle decisions and reminders to take medicines. They also provide significant opportunities for greater risk assessment and quality decisions when it comes to the insured population.   

There are, however, a number of risks with mobile technology that still need to be addressed, such as privacy and the uncertainty of regulatory adherence or compliance. Ultimately, I am confident that we will see resolutions to these issues.

FST Media: What is proving to be your most effective customer acquisition channel and why?

Mills: Our online channels are our most effective customer acquisition channel, particularly when it comes to customer service and claiming. Ongoing improvements in the service availability, functionality and accessibility of our online channels, are steadily making this a popular customer interaction point for sales.

Smartphone apps are quickly becoming a standard customer service tool across many industries and ours is no different. They are changing the way customers connect with us and also the way we speak to our customers. There has also been a steady increase in the use of mobile devices by potential customers who are researching and purchasing our products via a mobile device.

FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Mills: We constantly challenge all our business and in particular, our IT teams, to look for new and innovative ways to improve the customer experience, business efficiency and our employee working environment.

We try to hold innovation days at least twice a year with our teams where they are given a challenge or project and asked to come up with a fresh approach to solving the issue. We call these ‘ShipIt’ days where these ideas are presented to our team, which includes management, to showcase potential new solutions or projects that the business can further investigate. This drives a culture of challenging the norm as well as providing a platform for our employees to express their creativity and innovation in helping our customers.

At the highest level within the organisation we also have a culture of “status quo is death” and more generally, our teams are encouraged to think innovatively constantly.

FST Media: How will the role of the CIO change over the next five years and to what extent will technology shape the career path of the CIO as we know it today?

Mills: The role of the CIO will most definitely see significant change over the next five years. No longer is the senior IT leadership just about ensuring the technology stack is highly available and commensurate with business requirements or simply being a technologist. The new CIO is a business leader driving business outcomes and delivering value to organisations.  

The IT leadership function over the next five years will continue to be more about how do IT leaders drive businesses through the application of technology. Technology and the right leadership may create new markets or bring disruption to existing markets as opposed to technology simply solving existing business process automation efforts. 

The career path for the CIO is likely to change as the role becomes less about the technology per se and more about the business leadership. I would expect the path to a seat in the CIO chair to become less dominant in terms of technology experience in and dominant from a thought leadership, innovation and a transformational leader perspective.  

FST Media: With respect to career development, what is the best advice you ever received?

Mills: The best career advice I received was that regardless of how much it seems is ahead of you, persistence is key. You need to keep putting in the hard work, be patient and the rewards or opportunities will come. I believe it is less about luck or being in the right place at the right time, and more about being prepared to work hard and not expecting significant reward or recognition at the outset. 

FST Media: If you were not working in financial services, what would you be doing? 

Mills: I would be working in a technology leadership role in a different industry. I am less focused on the industry or segment, and more on where I think we can make a difference as a technology professional or business leader to drive better business and customer outcomes.    

FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for. What is yours?

Mills: The legacy I wish to be remembered for is that ultimately nib is in a better place than when I joined the business and that it continues to be the challenger brand that punches well above its weight in the market through innovation. Coming from a similar background early on when I joined the business, we have gone through a significant amount of change to now be an ASX-listed business. I would like to think that the transformations we have made in IT, alignment to the business and culture is remembered and continues to grow and improve.