Ageas’ CIO speaks to FST Media about how to foster and encourage a culture of innovation.
FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?
ten Bos: Our first general priority is to ensure that we continue to align our IT capabilities with the evolving needs of our business. Based on our expected business growth and new strategic initiatives we will assess whether changes or upgrades to our IT infrastructure are required, and we will implement changes to our application environment as part of the projects that are managed by our Change Management Office, on behalf of the users.
More specifically, one of our key initiatives for the coming period will be an upgrade of our core insurance environment for sales and operations, to ensure it is ready for the coming three to five years’ business.
FST Media: What technology or innovation will be a game-changer in the insurance industry?
ten Bos: I do not think there is one single game-changer, but it will be the combination of cloud, social, mobile and analytics that will enable a lot of insurance companies to innovate in ways that were not possible before.
As an example, for car insurance the black-box technology that provides a significant amount of information about the car and the driving behaviour of the owner, will help to better manage claims and create a more personalised approach towards premiums. We will see a similar approach in the health insurance industry, using the wearable devices that can measure and track all sorts of statistics about our personal health.
FST Media: How has ‘Ageas FNA’ (Financial Needs Analysis) delivered value to the business, and how will you measure its success?
ten Bos: Our groundbreaking Financial Needs Analysis (FNA) app, which is used by our insurance agents on their iPad, has helped them to engage in a much better, personalised way with their customers, compared to the traditional approach of going though endless, boring Q&A forms.
The FNA app is visual, entertaining and, to a certain extent, fun to use. Although there are always many different factors that can influence the productivity and the sales of agents, the app will definitely contribute to their productivity.
Besides a better-supported sales process, the app also helps our agents to ensure that the sales process is compliant. These days there is a lot of focus by the regulator on ensuring that the advice that customers receive matches their needs and risk-appetite. With the FNA app, our agents can ensure this is the case.
FST Media: What were the challenges in creating a sound IT governance framework at Ageas HK?
ten Bos: I think the main challenge has been to convince the staff of the benefits of implementing such a framework. It obviously looks great on paper to implement a full Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) approach, which ensures that all processes are defined and documented, but I must admit that it was a challenge for staff, as it required a lot of additional work.
To manage this perception we took our time with a phased approach and, where it made sense, we have implemented tools to support the framework. We also tried to highlight the benefits to everyone on a regular basis.
FST Media: What were the results of integrating mobile applications with advertising campaigns, and what role has SMAC played in the success of this integration?
ten Bos: Our marketing and communication team has been very innovative in this area and have won a number of awards for using modern technology in their campaigns. The team has used QR-codes to link advertisements to videos that customers can watch on their smartphone.
Some time ago they used Augmented Reality in a campaign, to make the traditional posters hanging in Hong Kong truly ‘interactive’. I think this approach to add digital, as an additional channel to the traditional marketing mix, is very effective and is definitely helping our company with brand image in Hong Kong. It is obvious that such initiatives use one or more components from the SMAC-stack.
FST Media: How effective has the ‘Ageas Career Development App’ been as a recruitment tool and what other IT tools have also made significant impact?
ten Bos: Our recruitment tool called the ‘Ageas Career Development App’ has been developed to give our agents all the information they need for the recruitment process. The app is very comprehensive, uses a lot of graphical elements and provides a lot of information about our company and products, in an interactive way. Because our agents are travelling across Hong Kong and in doing so meet customers as well as potential new agents in various places, we want them to be able to have all the information they need, in a very modern, engaging way: thus the iPad.
FST Media: What role has the implementation of Google Apps for agents played in the overall customer journey?
ten Bos: We were one of the first companies in Hong Kong to adopt Google Apps for our insurance agents. Besides the benefits for my internal team in terms of maintenance and support, compared to an in-house hosted solution, all our agents now have access to a comprehensive set of very well-known tools that they can use to manage their work. When a new agent joins the company, we automatically provision an account on Google and instantly they have access to corporate email, calendar, collaboration options and all sorts of other information that we make available. These features can be accessed on any device. I believe this helps our agents to work more effectively.
FST Media: What is your most effective customer acquisition channel and why?
ten Bos: At the moment we are an insurance company that uses agents and brokers. Around 80 per cent of our business is sold via our “tied agents” and the remaining 20 per cent via independent brokers. We believe that, in the Hong Kong market, these two channels – together with the banks – are still the most important and trusted channels used by customers to purchase insurance.
FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?
ten Bos: Besides the fact that the younger generation of staff who are coming into our team have a natural interest in modern technology and new ‘innovative’ ideas, we try to stimulate staff in a number of ways. This year we have created a number of small innovation teams that have done some research and studied various areas in which we could improve our services, either within our IT department or to provide something new or improved to our users. A few of these teams have looked at new technologies. We hope that this will help the staff to ‘think outside the box’ and have an open mind to new ideas.
I also try to share IT strategies with the team on a regular basis, to ensure everyone is aware of the IT trends in the market, how relevant these are for our insurance business and how we could apply them to our projects and day-to-day work.
FST Media: What do you consider to be the greatest achievement of your career to date?
ten Bos: A particular project I am very proud of was an initiative to create a full end-to-end digital process between an insurance company and its agents. This was 15 years ago, while I was working for an insurance company in The Netherlands as an external consultant. With the technology available at that time we managed to link up the quotation system that the agents were using on their laptop, all the way to the back-end of the insurance company, where new business data was automatically populated into the system. It was seen as quite innovative at that time and we had a great team of very enthusiastic ‘techies’ and business people working on this initiative.
FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?
ten Bos: In my work I am hardly ever satisfied with the status quo, because I believe there is always something that can be done in a better way, whether it is to improve the customer experience or internal efficiency. I hope people will remember me as someone who has been focused on helping the organisation and the staff to achieve this objective with the help of new, innovative technologies.
Henk ten Bos will share further insights on the IT Leaders Panel at FST Media’s upcoming Future of Insurance conference in Hong Kong, in addition to a distinguished panel of executives across financial services on November 18. Register now to attend!