An Interview with David Gillespie, Chief Information Officer, TAL Life


“Companies have grown through acquisition or by implementing point-to-point solutions, which, over time, slow down a business’s capability to deliver. We’ve been unravelling that over the last few years…”

FST Media: What are your digital and technology priorities over the next 6-12 months?

Gillespie: Our top priority is to accelerate the delivery of our customer- and partner-facing capabilities. We are investing  in upgrading our platform for alliances, advisers, and group partners, but effectively utilising the underlying technologies we’ve already built.


FST Media: What has been the key to your personal success through your career trajectory?

Gillespie: I’ve been very fortunate to work for some fantastic companies across the world with great experiences in each of them. I went straight from school to a technical apprenticeship at Motorola, where my final placement was in the quality department, which gave me visibility across the entire organisation. It also embedded in me the need to get the basics right with repeatable processes, but also a much larger focus on continuous improvement. I then spent eight years at Compaq, both in Scotland and across Europe, where I undertook a major transformation of their service organisation. Following this, I spent four years at Zurich with EDS, a couple of years at BUPA, and then eight years at Fidelity in London and India – all fantastic experiences.

I never set out to be a CIO and I’ve always been fortunate to be on the boundary between business imperatives and technology, where the latter enables the former. For me, it’s about creating an environment that enables you to constantly push yourself and your teams to deliver things that will make a difference.

FST Media: What day-to-day challenges do you face as CIO, and how have you sought to overcome these hurdles?

Gillespie: I believe I share many of the same challenges that other CIOs face: knowing how to run the business in a way that ensures stability, security, and efficiency; supporting change within the business, ranging from small-scale enhancements to major change initiatives; and ensuring alignment with our customers and partners in what they are trying to achieve.

Personally, one of my biggest challenges is prioritising the initiatives we invest in. We have a strong but relatively simple process with our investment committee, which meets once a month to review progress on key initiatives and approve new ones in the pipeline.

FST Media: What technological challenge is common across the organisations with which you have worked?

Gillespie: For me, it’s about simplification. Companies have grown through acquisition or by implementing point-to-point solutions, which, over time, slow down a business’s capability to deliver. We’ve been unravelling that over the last few years and building out enterprise data, services and digital capabilities. I’ve described it as ‘moving from spaghetti to lasagne’, creating very clear layers that allow us to reuse those capabilities across multiple channels and to accelerate.

FST Media: How has the insurance industry progressed in its technology capability? Has it kept pace with the rest of the financial services sector?

Gillespie: Rather than technology capability, I prefer to think of it as business and customer capability. Life insurance, in particular, has fallen behind in customer engagement, with a sense that you shouldn’t talk to customers for fear they may leave. TAL has taken the opposite approach, which is to engage with customers much more and show them the value of life insurance.

We have invested significantly in improving the experience for our customer-facing staff and for our customers, providing a number of choices on how they wish to engage with us: via the web, mobile or contact centre.

FST Media: How has technology served to enhance TAL’s customer service program?

Gillespie: TAL’s philosophy is to protect customers’ choices, options and freedoms, guided by the maxim of “putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes”.

Our aim is to improve every touchpoint – whether that’s directly with us or through our partners. We’ve also built a customer experience and design lab, allowing us to prototype and test new capabilities with customers before they are deployed.

FST Media: How has TAL been inspired by the customer service initiatives of start-ups or organisations outside the financial services sector?

Gillespie:  Everything we do is driven by what it means for the customer and their experience. I’ve spoken previously about travel and financial services in the UK being transformed by customer behaviour; eventually, it will impact us as well, so we’re keen to learn best practice and innovations from these sectors.

A notable example of a pioneering a customer-first initiative is Amazon Prime, which is a key competitor for Netflix in movie streaming. If customers experience buffering when streaming an Amazon Prime movie, they will receive an automatic refund. Looking at our claims process, we’re seeking ways to simplify that experience for customers during very difficult times.

FST Media: What’s the next big innovation or technology rollout for TAL and how will you measure its success?

Gillespie: We recently launched CoverBuilder, Australia’s first digital, direct-to-consumer life insurance offering. This includes a large element of education, requiring integration of marketing automation, content management, new products and customer self-service, but also a major investment in data transformation as well as a new service layer.

We have seen strong demand from consumers, so it will be driven by sales and customer feedback. We’re also measuring Net Promoter Scores across our touchpoints to better understand what resonates with our customers.

FST Media: How do you inspire a culture of innovation within your team?

Gillespie: It always starts by asking staff “what’s stopping you from doing a great job?” and then “what processes, tools or training will enable you to focus?” Our job is then to identify roadblocks and to help eliminate them.

A recent example of this was where our change process was inhibiting more frequent agile releases. To correct this, we adopted a new process called Expedited Changes, which reduced our release time to within two days. At a wider change level, we run a program called OptimiseIT, where technology staff, either individually or as a team, can work an idea to pilot within a couple of days.

FST Media: Do you have a quote or guiding philosophy that inspires your professional life?

Gillespie: I really like the marginal gains approach adopted by the British cycling team. The key is to apply an incremental change model when introducing a new toolset or capability, which ties in nicely with our own continuous improvement objectives.



David Gillespie will be part of the Technology Leaders Panel at the FST Media Future of Banking & Financial Services Conference on November 10th. Click here to read more…