An Interview with Avik Sarkar


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

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

Sarkar: ACE is continuously investing in analytics especially within the Asia Pacific region [and] the next 12-18 months will be very busy for the analytics team. We are currently in the process of deploying a cutting-edge database marketing system in a few key countries, which will integrate information across the customer lifecycle and enrich our data analytics. In the year ahead, we will be focusing on recalibrating our analytical solutions and embedding them in the new framework.

FST Media: What challenges have you overcome in developing analytical solutions for marketing in General Insurance?

Sarkar: The main challenge for analytics, in most cases, is data. Firstly, the data from various source systems is usually stored in silos. Integrating such information to get a customer level view is the challenge. At ACE, we have managed to overcome this challenge in our key markets with investments in state-of-the-art data infrastructure.

Secondly, like other general insurance providers, ACE has partnership programs with financial institutions and retailers, and a major part of customer behavioural information resides with the partners. A very collaborative and integrated approach is required to develop and deploy analytical solutions in this structure. ACE analytics’ strength is being flexible in engaging the partner and our skills in using any software or analytical technique that the partner team is comfortable with. This has led to a more successful deployment of analytical solutions in our programs.

FST Media: How can organisations successfully leverage data analytics to deliver a seamless customer journey?

Sarkar: The starting point is always the data infrastructure. To fully benefit from analytics, the primary focus of any organisation should be on storage, integration and the augmentation of available data. Investment in data infrastructure can be expensive so some quick wins from analytics are also required with available data to get internal buy-in.

Once the data infrastructure is in place, this is where the analysis comes in. The focus should be to identify the business problems at each point of the customer life-cycle. The next step is to convert the business problems into statistical ones and develop the technical responses. Strategies need to be formulated around the statistics to turn it into a business solution, resulting in a seamless customer journey and [prolonging] the customer life-cycle.

FST Media: How can marketers make meaningful insights from ‘messy’ data?

Sarkar: It requires additional time and resources to do an additional step of ‘cherry picking’ the information, especially if the data is unstructured, text-based data like transcribed calls. Powerful information can hide in such data and then it depends on the analyst’s ability to use a proper ‘sieve’ to separate the valuable data and translate it to meaningful marketing information. Staying with the example of transcribed calls, a ‘root-cause’ analysis of unsuccessful calls can point to words or phrases used which can then be eliminated to develop a better script for the future.

FST Media: What are the results and benefits of ACE Group’s use of predictive analytics?

Sarkar: We have developed and deployed a number of predictive model-based solutions in our programs across markets within Asia Pacific, which has led to significant increases in revenue for our partners and ACE. Recently, in Korea, a predictive model-based solution was implemented and it helped to increase the revenue from the campaign by more than 50% as compared to the business-as-usual process. It is widely used within ACE not only for acquisition campaigns but across the customer lifecycle and different business functions.

FST Media: What role will real-time data play in the insurance industry?

Sarkar: Real-time data will play a big role as the recency of information determines the predictive power of the data. We have already implemented many solutions where real-time data is used to find customers whose next best product is insurance.  While current platforms to deploy solutions based on real-time data are expensive and the span is also limited, with technological progress, we do expect to improve. Real-time data is certainly set to play a bigger role in our business.

FST Media: How do you see the future relationship between IT and marketing departments playing out, and how will this affect the industry?

Sarkar: I think it is only going to evolve and mature over time as we are truly living in an era where new business opportunities are very much dependent on IT capabilities. Traditionally, the main complaints about IT from marketing folks have been with respect to ‘Time to market’ and ‘Turn around time on change requests’. Going forward, IT cannot be complacent by delivering only on large scale projects. They have to play a more collaborative role with marketing teams on a day-to-day basis, rather than as a separate support team. This is one of the reasons why I always advocate for analytics to remain embedded within business functions, rather than as a separate support unit.  This enables us to implant analytical decision-making in the core DNA of the business.

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

Sarkar: We view this in a different way – one of the main objectives of analytical solutions is to target a prospect or customer through the ‘right’ channel.  Every customer has their own preference of channels. We try to map the right product, with the right prospect, with the right channel.

FST Media: What are the skills required to be a leader in data analytics and business intelligence in financial services?

Sarkar: In my opinion, a [mixture] of skill sets are required to succeed as a data analytics leader – a combination of business domain knowledge with natural strength in numbers and a background or training in the technical aspects of the role. It is difficult to change a fundamental decision-making process within an organisation without understanding the dynamics of the business and how analytics is going to impact it. On the other hand, without the technical knowledge and background, it is impossible to identify and deploy the optimal solutions or identify and allocate the right resources during the expansion of analytics coverage.

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

Sarkar: I would like to be remembered for a couple of reasons. Firstly, as one who championed the cause of analytics in ACE to be more cross-functional, that is, linking all business functions through it and transforming it as an engine of growth. I want to remembered as a specialised professional who pioneered ‘analytics sans borders’, developing and implementing analytical solutions across various geographies and markets, proving that numbers constitute the strongest language in the world.