An Interview with Bobby Lehane


Sainsbury: What are your IT priorities for the next 12-18 months?

Lehane: We have enjoyed some great success in the SME space in recent times off the back of some excellent technology investments in Z.streamXpress. This was in parallel with the establishment of our Xpress Underwriting Centre in Sydney and with a renewed broker and customer centric approach to our business.

Over the coming period we will continue to invest in extending and enriching the product offering through Z.streamXpress. We will continue to innovate, working with our distribution team and our brokers to ensure our offering is compelling and that we are easy to do business with.
Increasingly we are finding that brokers are keen to realise the efficiencies that can be derived through electronic platforms in their own businesses, and we will continue to work with our broker partners to connect to these platforms.

Sainsbury: You have recently taken up the role of Executive General Manager of SME after serving Zurich as Asia-Pacific COO. What inspired you to take on the new role?

Lehane: Having come up through the technical ranks and then through CIO and COO roles I have increasingly gravitated to market facing challenges. When the opportunity to manage one of our biggest segments in Australia presented itself I could not resist. Already I am loving the increased market facing activity and the challenge of full profit and loss responsibility.  

The SME segment is of particular interest as one of the first challenges I faced as a CIO when I joined the Australian business, was the burning platform issue and slow decline of our business in the SME segment. I worked on the original business case for Z.streamXpress and as CIO I oversaw delivery. Its impact on our business has been huge.

Sainsbury: What value do you believe an IT background brings to a forward-facing customer role?

Lehane: I understand service, and clearly an important part of our value proposition is the service we provide to our brokers and to our customers. Understanding the endless opportunities that can be realised through technology can make us increasingly easy to do business with and maintain competitiveness.

Sainsbury: What differences have you observed between the Australian approach to technology innovation, and the approaches in the broader Asia-Pacific region?

Lehane: Within Zurich, Australia has been seen as a technology leader both from a regional and a global perspective in recent years. We are early adopters but always with a clear understanding of the risks of any decision. The investments the Australian business has made since 2008 have, for the most part, been strategic and based on a clear business vision and an architectural blueprint that supports that vision. For some of our smaller businesses across the region the approach has sometimes been tactical,  meeting today’s needs in as cost effective and expedient a manner as possible.  This approach has now changed. We are driving far more standardisation across the region, leveraging what can be used across similar ecosystems. We are being far more strategic with respect to all investment decisions across the region. 

Sainsbury: Customers are increasingly looking to engage with their financial services via social media. How are you leveraging this area as an emerging business opportunity?

Lehane: At Zurich Australia we are using social media as another engagement opportunity with our intermediaries.  In the life business, we have been conducting social media boot camps for advisers which have been very well received.  The boot camps provide an understanding on how advisers can set up and use YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook for business purposes.  We use YouTube for claims testimonials, thought leadership, case studies, and business updates. Our human resources department uses Twitter to broadcast new roles and LinkedIn as a tool to both advertise new roles and source potential candidates.  In terms of marketing, social media is used as another channel to deliver the message.

We are also looking to understand how we can better meet the needs of our general insurance brokers through a range of technologies. We have released a survey to brokers, to understand what technology means to them on a range of dimensions – from mobile phone access to how they are engaging with digital media, and the expectations that they have of these channels in the future. We expect valuable insights into how we can best cater for the information needs of our intermediaries. The results will also provide a guide to the development of relevant marketing and sales tools in the future.

Sainsbury: What benefits do you see from data mining for insurance?

Lehane: We see huge benefits from data mining, for example assisting in quantifying risk and pricing adequately for it.  Data mining is used to analyse potential indicators of risk, such as analysing which factors have driven the claims experience for our clients in the past or analysing whether external factors provide indicators of insurance risk.

Another example is in using data mining to help understand customer buying behaviour.  This is widely used in personal insurance, as it is for most large retail industries.  Insurers use it to understand where to market their products, their competitive position, up sell opportunities and so on.

Sainsbury: Who would you say has been a mentor to you during your career?

Lehane: I have changed countries, companies and roles a number of times throughout my career so I have not had a single individual that has been a mentor through all that time. There have been people at different points who I have sought out and looked to for advice and guidance, and they come from different backgrounds including recruiters, consultants, former bosses and older CIOs. Most recently my former boss at Multiplex, Bob Mckinnon, who I stay in touch with has been a great sounding board and provides me with valuable advice and insight.

Sainsbury: What gadgets do you personally find useful, and why?

Lehane: I am not a gadget person, however there are two devices that have had great impact. The first is the iPod. It changed the way that I receive news and information. I download podcasts from all over the world on a range of different topics daily, and when I’m commuting or walking I always have it going. I feel better informed than ever before. Secondly, the iPad has replaced my laptop when I travel. Now I always have a browser at my fingertips – it enables me to Skype with my family regardless of where in the world I am, and I have built up a great collection of family memories photos and movies.

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

Lehane: Well it has always been more about the people than the technology for me. I am very proud of the fact that most of the management team I had as CIO Australia have gone on to more senior roles across the region and the group. I genuinely would like to be able to say the same for members of the SME segment in the future, and for Zurich to be recognised by insurance professionals as a great place to work for those seeking opportunities to thrive and develop. Finally I want to see our SME business recognised as the best in the Australian market as measured by our intermediaries and customers.

Related links:

An Interview with Rajat Taneja, Regional Chief Information Officer, Zurich