An Interview with John Brisco, Chief Information Officer and Chief Operations Officer, Manulife Asia


FST Media: What are your business and digital priorities for the next 6 months?

Brisco: A major focus for Manulife in Asia is to continue the digitization of our capabilities which is vital if we are to deliver an unparalleled customer experience. 

FST Media: What are your business and digital priorities for the next 6 months?

Brisco: A major focus for Manulife in Asia is to continue the digitization of our capabilities which is vital if we are to deliver an unparalleled customer experience. The world is changing and our customers are becoming more digitally active so we need to digitalize the whole process of buying insurance from start to finish, making it an end-to-end paperless process for the customer.

Over the next 6 months we’ll continue to roll out a fully integrated point-of-sale solution for our distribution workforce in Asia. It will create a unique experience in the selling process, by providing a digital solution that supports needs-based selling, ensuring our sales processes are focused on our customers achieving their dreams and aspirations. Our advisors can reduce the number of meetings per customer as well as speed up the underwriting claims process. A key priority is also to keep extending our eco-partnerships we have with disrupters and with major and technology companies. These partnerships are essential for our business to evolve.


FST Media: What technology or innovation is proving to be the biggest game changer across financial services?

Brisco: The revolution in Big Data is something I believe has acted as the major catalyst for technology and customer innovation over the past few years.  The ability to now provide insights into concepts, models and industries allows genuine shake-up of the ‘norm’ and provides opportunity across value chains for new solutions and continuous disruption.  Additionally, it also acts as a part of the core foundation for supporting new tech concepts such as Bots, Quantum Computing, Augmented Knowledge and Artificial Intelligence. The computation and absorption of data is key to all of them.

If I look at the life insurance industry, linked to this revolution is the explosion in medical/health technology innovation that really has material impact on improving the lifestyle and health of customers. The data analytics and new experiences being generated by emerging medical technology will provide revolutionary opportunities to create more tailored and personalized solutions for individual customers and thus enhance customer satisfaction and trust in the industry. Data analytics is only going to become more sophisticated, and the further it addresses customer friction points the more it will benefit the insurance industry.


FST Media: How is innovation changing talent and risk management?

Brisco: Manulife is becoming an increasingly digital company and our talent mix is expanding rapidly to stretch the boundaries of what is possible in the company and for our customers. The organization is proud to embrace a ‘question and innovate’ culture and we encourage existing and new talent to learn new skills, techniques and insights so that we can develop our digital expertise. On top of this, we have brought in new skill sets and created roles that are needed to succeed in this changing world.  Over the past year Manulife has hired Digital Engineers, Innovation Directors, UX Designers and Data Scientists. The new capabilities they bring help us progress quickly in our innovation and digital journey in Asia.

Nevertheless, execution excellence and managing business risk remains the core foundation of any stable business. At Manulife we try to maintain the right balance between innovation and ensuring that effective business disciplines are embedded across the organization.  


FST Media: How do you encourage a culture of innovation in your team?

Brisco: Ideation and the mindset of continuous improvement is a behaviour I actively encourage across the company.  Innovation will only be truly achieved if teams feel they have a freedom to experiment, and if they know they will be supported to ‘fail fast’  (realize quickly what’s not working and move on) in new concept/solution roll-outs. 

Another important area I am passionate about is encouraging teams to broaden their personal networks to better understand the relevant local tech and start-up ‘eco-system’. This will enable individuals to build and develop their idea exploration capabilities as well as provide greater insights into how people are actively challenging the status-quo in industries across Asia and beyond.  Continuous learning and networking benefits both the individual on a personal level, and Manulife.


FST Media: How can fintech platforms engage with their traditional counterparts for mutual benefits?

Brisco: Insurers have built up years of rich customer data and deep insight into customer behaviour, which if used in the right way, can enable them to deliver an unparalleled customer experience. At the same time Fintechs can identify opportunities quicker and can move faster with the right technology. This engagement and the achievements together can lead to great opportunities for disruptive innovation.


FST Media: How does your work influence Manulife’s competitiveness within the Asian financial services sector?

Brisco: Our vision for Manulife in Asia is simple: “We help our customers achieve their dreams and aspirations”. This spurs us to use technological innovation to redesign how we create delightful customer experiences in the modern digital world. As such, we have developed an internal obsession to simplify customer experiences across our traditional value chain to reduce their pain-points and turn traditionally negative experiences into positive ones. If we take underwriting as an example, this has traditionally been a ‘black box’ for customers in the insurance industry, offering little in terms of personalization and transparency in the services provided.  However, technology advancement and the new information revolution have presented Manulife with the genuine opportunity to transform underwriting from a negative experience to a positive, seamless one for both customers and its own employees. We have grasped this opportunity in Japan, where the majority of people go for annual health check-ups. At Manulife, we’ve introduced an innovative approach in using the data from medical visits that was not previously used, to bypass the often burdensome traditional underwriting tools of questionnaires. As a result, we’ve made the underwriting process simpler and more efficient. 

 We are also investing in automated underwriting engine capabilities across all our markets in Asia that will enable ‘instant’ notification of the underwriting status to customers. Furthermore, we’re improving our customer servicing solutions (Contact Centre, Chatbots and Live Chat are examples) to help customers regardless of the outcome of the underwriting decision. Similar innovation and transformation initiatives are underway across our business in areas such as new business applications, claims, investment advice and self-servicing that will make it simple and personalized for our customers, and, in-turn drive competitive advantages for our organization.


FST Media: Where do you look for emerging technology trends?

Brisco: Understanding systematic society, human behaviour and business industry changes is absolutely critical before assessing the true value of emerging technology trends. Technology that can satisfy a genuine friction need in the future is a ‘sweet spot’ that all entrepreneurs and businesses want to focus their experimentation and radical conceptual designs on. However, this can only be harnessed via a deep understanding of the changes that drive friction.

As a result, I challenge my teams and myself to understand from both an ‘experimentation’ and ‘practical’ mindset, how new emerging technology may offer opportunities to address external trends we believe are occurring. We can then determine the realistic nature and timeframe for adoption of such technology. 

It isn’t a perfect science and no one can say they have the optimal framework or model. However, by constantly questioning the friction needs technologies will address for expected changes in both business and customers, we can build in a fundamental reality check to determine whether to pursue investing or experimenting in new technology.


FST Media: What is the ideal innovation ecosystem?

Brisco: I really love how we have seen an explosion in entrepreneurship and disruption experimentation around the world over the past 2 to 3 years.  Traditionally, Silicon Valley was the only hub, however, new eco-systems have emerged in Asia — in China, Singapore and Hong Kong in particular — as well as in Israel, Australia, Europe and Africa, that provide incredible insights and opportunities to network and learn from.

I truly believe that creating internal disruption and experimentation is important in an optimal innovation eco-system and that you need an equal balance of an outside-in versus inside-out perspective. If managed effectively, this can accelerate ideation, enhance business intelligence and drive change in culture.

On the inside-out perspective, Manulife has established our Lab of Forward Thinking (LOFT) in Toronto, Boston and Singapore which is designed to bring internal innovation concepts to market quicker and in bolder way than before.  Additionally, it provides a tangible and real environment to experiment on new technology and customer concepts and expands Manulife’s customer knowledge and insights. On the outside-in perspective, at Manulife we actively develop partnerships across the globe with a range of different entrepreneurs, start-ups and firms and organisations that will enable our business to deliver at pace, evolve in capabilities and challenge us to improve  how we differentiate with our customers.


FST Media: How do you maintain a good work/life balance?

Brisco: Promoting ‘health and wellness’ to both employees and customers is a major focus for Manulife and we believe in the value of having a healthy and optimal work-life balance.  On a personal level, I get the best of both worlds as it gives me the excuse and opportunity to constantly experiment with different health apps and technology!!  This in turn provides me  with valuable  insights into how I can  improve my lifestyle and fitness and consequently  continually improve  my  work-life balance.