An Interview with Mark Gay, Chief Information Officer, QBE

"It’s going to take a long time for this to translate into true customer-centricity. Insurtechs play a critical role in helping organisations like ours shape this thinking."
 

FST Media: Take us through some of the key priorities of QBE’s technology agenda over the next 12 months. With the emergence of nimble insurtechs as well as brand-agnostic Millennial and Gen Z customers, how is Australia’s largest global insurer leveraging technology to prepare for an uncertain future?

Gay: Like all large insurers, we have a big focus on cleaning up legacy and technical debt. Our other immediate priorities include:

  • accelerating our move to the cloud;
  • robotics, AI and automation; and
  • bringing significant technology skill back in-house, particularly where it’s close to the customer to drive robotics, AI, automation outcomes.

We need it to go fast and be agile to support the business ambitions and to deliver better outcomes for our customers.


FST Media: In a 2015 interview with FST, amidst the presumptive threat of data-rich bigtechs and CX-savvy, non-FSI players, you spoke of the “small window” of opportunity open to FSIs “to crack the customer experience challenge”. Nearly five years on, to what extent do you feel FSIs have indeed “cracked” the customer experience to the satisfaction of consumers?

Gay: I still think we have a way to go, but at least we’re talking about genuinely better customer experience now, and at QBE, we’re putting the customer front and centre of all our planning.

It’s going to take a long time for this to translate into true customer-centricity. Insurtechs play a critical role in helping organisations like ours shape this thinking.

 

FST Media: QBE is in the process of consolidating its multiplicity of websites into a single, all-in-one web brand portal. What has this consolidation process revealed about QBE and its wider digital program?

Gay: The consolidation of our many online sites into a streamlined, all-in-one portal shows us that we’ve got a long road ahead of us! We’ve grown by acquisition over the years and there is a lot of scope for consolidation and improvement. It’s important work as we move into a more digital era though, so the time is right.


FST Media: Cloud is frequently touted as a critical enabler to innovate at speed and scale. How is cloud being utilised to maximise QBE’s digital potential?

Gay: We’ve utilised private cloud for some time, but we've only really dabbled in public cloud and haven’t realised the full benefits through automation and orchestration. Our cloud strategy will enable the scale and pace required for QBE to achieve not only our growth ambition but also achieve great customer outcomes. Having said that, cloud itself shouldn’t be seen just as a destination; it is the ‘method’ which must be done right to maximize the benefits.

If you just use cloud to host the services without building automation, an integration strategy, DevOps/CI CD (continuous integration/continuous delivery) mindset and culture around it, you’re going to come up against the traditional problems fairly quickly – perhaps in an even bigger way.


FST Media: Insurers today are increasingly embracing a whole-of-life, personalised and proactive approach to their customer relationships – from customer health check prompts to individually tailored insurance quotes. How much of a priority is this customer-centric model for QBE and what will be the necessary ingredient to successfully deliver these proactive and personalised customer services?

Gay: Our vision is to be the insurer that builds the strongest partnership with customers. It starts with having the right insights to who our customers are, across all our product portfolios. It sounds simple, but in an organisation that’s grown through acquisition, this is a harder task than you’d think.

Having a whole-of-life, personalised, and proactive approach is a priority for us. We largely have a single view of our customers now, and we’re starting to use the power of data science to turn information into predictive and personalised customer analytics and outcomes.
 

FST Media: Cultural change is critical to the success of any transformation program but can meet stiff resistance from entrenched employees. As a seasoned corporate executive, how do you ensure that everyone – no matter their position or stake in the business – is on board for the same transformation journey?

Gay: Not getting this right is, without a doubt, the single biggest cause of transformation failures. The second is transformation fatigue.

If I had to summarise it in a few lines, it comes down to galvanising people at all levels behind a common cause, making sure that everyone understands their role and managing delivery at the task level. A common understanding of what success looks like during the change, and at the end, is critical. And taking the time to celebrate wins along the way is also vital.
 

FST Media: Finally, on a personal note, what is the best career advice you’ve received and how have you sought to put this into practice?

Gay: The best advice I was ever given was “focus on doing your best on the current job, and the next one will take care of itself.” ⚫

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Mark Gay will be a featured panellist on the IT Leaders' Panel at the 2019 Future of Financial Services, Sydney conference. Limited places remain. Register now!