An Interview with John Brisco


QBE Insurance’s Chief Operating Officer, Latin America and CIO, Emerging Markets speaks with FST Media about what skills aspiring technology chiefs should invest in to help build future success.

FST Media: What is the ‘holy grail’ that technology and innovation are yet to deliver in financial services?

Brisco: I do not believe a ‘holy grail’ exists, for the simple reason that technology and digital innovation will be perpetually improving, particularly as more people become connected socially and have accessibility to technology across the world. It is still staggering to think that over 3 billion people across the world still have limited or no access to technology. When this eventually happens, then it will breed new concepts, new innovation and importantly, even better connectivity and collaboration across the planet.

For financial services, this means that over the next couple of years the key is achieving the right balance between strategic technology choices as well as technology and digital bets. Those who are able to flex idea combinations more quickly than competitors, whilst not being afraid to discard or change solutions if the market dictates such a change, will be the winners in achieving market-leading customer experiences.

FST Media: What skills should aspiring technology chiefs invest in over the next 12 months to help build future success?

Brisco: The key skills are talent acquisition, talent development, and talent satisfaction. QBE places great focus and pride on the importance of acquiring new talent and retaining existing talent, because we truly believe in the human capital value across all our divisions, business units and functions.

Given the pace of change in the technology and digital arena, the quality of talent that I have the great pleasure in working with is what I will continually focus on to build successes.

Understanding new technologies, security management and improving delivery pace and practices is always going to be important. However, one of the key underlying factors in a successful technology business executive is talent management – making sure that our talent find QBE the best place to work in as well as the best place to develop their careers.

FST Media: How is QBE’s Asia Pacific growth strategy progressing?

Brisco: Our strategic journey is progressing well. As a group and a division we have been extremely pleased by the business growth and brand enhancement we have achieved in Asia Pacific. 

The QBE Group has recently announced in its full-year financial report, showing that in Asia Pacific, the underlying gross written premium, in local currency terms, recorded a strong growth of 20 per cent to US $785 million in 2014, while the net earned premium increased 15 per cent to US $593 million. We also recorded a combined operating ratio of 93 per cent. Our Asia Pacific business has achieved a 16 per cent compound growth in gross written premium in the past two years.

These results reflect the fact that our Asia Pacific profitable growth strategy has been on the right track. We will continue to bank on this profitable growth strategy to drive our organic growth in the 15 operating markets across Asia Pacific in 2015 and beyond.

FST Media: How is QBE Insurance identifying and overcoming operational bottlenecks to create an end-to-end seamless customer experience?

Brisco: Across our group, QBE is already significantly involved in programs which are focused on delivering outstanding customer experience and propositions in the markets where we operate.

Insurance carriers and the intermediary market have taken longer to embrace the importance of customer experience compared to banks or retailers. However, we sense a shift across the industry is occurring and QBE is ready to be at the forefront of this.

The latest example is the new underwriting and operational workflow platform that we have recently released in our Asia Pacific business this year.  Named ‘SmartQ’, the new platform allows our underwriting teams, marketers and operations teams to follow a highly digitised and intelligent workflow that will accelerate the capture of data and assignment of activities, with straight-through processes across our underwriting and operational process chains.  Also, being fully multi-device and multi-browser compatible, SmartQ allows our teams to perform such activities ‘on the go’, significantly enhancing the efficiency of our operation and service delivery.

Another feature of SmartQ is that it changes the customer experience from a very paper- driven and high hand-off touch-process that could take several days to complete, into a dynamic, interactive and fast-paced experience that can be managed in hours or even minutes.

SmartQ will also be rolled out to other markets in the Emerging Markets Division this year or next, so that more customers can enjoy the benefits.

FST Media: How has the launch of QBE Asia Pacific’s ‘Qnect’ digital platform deliver value to the business and customers?

Brisco: Our innovative insurance portal Qnect is a source of pride among the QBE Group and our Asia Pacific business.

If we look back approximately two years ago, it is amazing to think that we started with a blank sheet of paper in a kick-off room with 20 or 30 QBE staff members and external customers. We embarked on a journey with the aim of designing a market-leading digital and eBusiness experience for our intermediaries and customers within Asia Pacific.

Today, we have a multi-channel and multi-product platform that is deployed in our two major markets (Hong Kong and Singapore) and is generating significant new revenue for our business.  The positive feedback from our customers and intermediaries has been extremely gratifying and we are continuing to work closely with them to ensure they get the most out of the platform while we continue to learn and embrace  their ideas for improvements.

Achieving success has not been easy. Nevertheless, it has given all our teams and management confidence in our ability to make digital and technology change possible across our business — anywhere and at any time.

Qnect will continue to grow and improve in 2015, with additional new products, countries of adoption and functionality being released across the year – we cannot and will not rest on our laurels, and will continue to invest in driving new innovation and improvement wherever we can in the platform.

FST Media: How will you leverage data analytics to improve how QBE does business in the future?

Brisco: Challenging our existing data insights and knowledge base across all our businesses will continue to be a core focus within QBE.  The group is making exciting investments in data analytic technologies as well as new talent to develop leading-edge analytics capability.

As a group we are confident this will provide value across both our business levers and for our customers, via the implementation of new analytic insights and assumptions into our business model and product and service offerings.

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

Brisco: Innovation is a mindset. Among the functions I lead, we have a motto that says, “Nothing at QBE is somebody else’s problem.”  

Having such a mindset means we have a highly collaborative team who interact and problem-solve with all types of internal and external stakeholders, to not only deliver outstanding successes, but to push the barrier to see where else we should explore improvements, both internally and for our customers.

QBE takes great pride in collaboration and pushing boundaries. It is something that really energises our staff and teams across all the regions in which we operate.

FST Media: How will the role of the CIO change over the next five years and to what extent will technology shape its career trajectory?

Brisco: The role of the CIO is linked to the perpetual pace of change and disruption in the world we live in today.  Predicting how the role will change over five years is likely to be fraught with mystery and global society trend-assumptions.

However, I do believe core skills and behaviours surrounding digital connectivity and partnerships, user and customer experience designs, talent management centric, strategic visioning capability, whilst becoming educated regarding continual changing technology and security best practices will be needed for a CIO to be successful.  

FST Media: How will QBE leverage the power of social media platforms to build customer engagement?

Brisco: Our Latin American business has been a great prototype for us to trial ideas and capabilities in social media customer experience management.

In Argentina, many of our customers interact with our in-house digital social media team via Facebook and messenger apps (such as WhatsApp) and this has proven to be a successful engagement mechanism.  Supporting this is the advanced analytics we have at our disposal, so we know what our customers are expressing and feeling about QBE, based on social media interactions. We have learned a great deal about what we are doing well and also about where we should focus on improvement.

Additionally, in Brazil, we are one of the market leaders in affinity, and leverage several local and global social media platforms, in alignment with our affinity partners, to improve customer penetration and cross-sell. This has proven to be a great way to target and then acquire customers who truly need insurance, via an affordable offering that we can tailor specifically for them.  

Brazilian society is also very expressive online.  Outlining memorable or poor customer experience that they receive is a common behaviour via country-renowned ‘feedback’ social platforms. Our team actively monitors such platforms to ensure that our business can learn from customer feedback and also so that we can compare customer perceptions and rankings with our market competitors.

Across the group we are collaborating on ideas regarding social media interactions and I believe we will increase our presence in a strategic and planned manner over the course of 2015 and beyond in the markets where we operate.

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

Brisco: Since I joined QBE, nearly four years ago, the organisation has been continually striving to facilitate improvement. This really motivates the executive teams and QBE teams across all of our Divisions to focus on the exciting future we believe the organisation is heading towards.

I would like to think that my role will provide strong direction and leadership and assist QBE’s ongoing transformation of operations, claims, digital and IT  from being traditional and sensible, to providing unique and differentiated solutions that unlock the potential for greater connectivity, relationships and growth. This will be greatly beneficial for all our customer segments and our own staff as well.

This interview first appeared in FST Media’s annual magazine The Who’s Who of Financial Services Asia Pacific which launched at the Technology & Innovation – the Future of Banking & Financial Services conference in Melbourne on 3rd June, 2015.