An Interview with Jovica Mrkela, Chief Technology & Projects Officer, AIA New Zealand


 “Emphasis needs to be on predictive analytics that will lead into adoption of artificial intelligence as a means to not only understand customers, but to be able to anticipate their behaviour and expectations…”

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

Mrkela: AIA New Zealand is focused on growth and that remains our key priority. On that journey, we are actively seeking ways of employing technology to help us work smarter. Generally speaking, the push into the digital space is very high on our priority list and we will continue to explore ways to harness technology in ways that improves the customer experience.


FST Media: What technology or innovation is proving to be the single biggest game changer across the finance industry?

Mrkela: The insurance industry is embracing the use of mobile technologies to improve its customer service propositions and to engage with younger people. Wearable devices are also coming more and more into play to enhance product offerings and create a whole new level of engagement between insurers and policy holders. 


FST Media: How will technology shape the future of how insurers can interact with customers?

Mrkela: “Internet of things” will greatly enhance that interaction by providing new ways and new avenues for organisations to engage their customers. We can see examples of that today. The emerging “blockchain” technology is also showing a true transformational potential for the entire financial industry and beyond it as well. Further, we might see something that I call ‘Internet of People” coming along that would further transform a wide business landscape. The early signs of that today are peer-2-peer concepts such as “crowd funding”, P2P lending and emergence of P2P insurance.

Artificial intelligence or machine learning will also have a huge impact in the not so distant future as it will open up a whole new frontier. Having said all of this, [AIA] believe that nothing will replace the value of face to face interaction with our customers and we continue to invest in our people accordingly.


FST Media: How are you leveraging big data and analytics to create customer-centric services?

Mrkela: I think the emphasis needs to be on predictive analytics that will lead into adoption of “Artificial Intelligence” as a means to not only understand the customers but to be able to anticipate their behaviour and expectations. An excellent example of emerging technology in this space is NuPIC, an open source AI platform capable of learning patterns from temporal or spatial data streams and “predicting future” based on those patterns.   


FST Media: What is your most effective customer acquisition channel?

Mrkela: Our largest distribution channel is IFA retail. Insurance products in New Zealand are complex with many options that need to be considered and that requires sound financial advice that is provided by the independent financial advisors. 


FST Media: What specific insight does AIA bring to New Zealand’s insurance sector?

Mrkela: AIA brings learnings from 17 other markets to New Zealand. This includes products and technologies that have been tried and tested in those markets. AIA NZ has the full backing of the very significant strengths of the larger AIA group to which it belongs. These include very strong financials, a trusted brand, a broad portfolio of products and deep insurance expertise derived from serving many generations of customers.


FST Media: What is the next big thing for AIA NZ and how will you measure its success?

Mrkela: AIA New Zealand is in a growth mode and we will continue to build on that. We are working on number of exciting initiatives to further enhance our engagement with our customers but I cannot go into details on those just yet!


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

Mrkela: Emerging technology trends are best discovered by looking into start-up companies around the world. Who is getting significant crowd funding? Who is being acquired by big players?  What are they doing? How different that is to what exists today? Is it transformational?


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

Mrkela: Innovation culture is one of people empowerment combined with lots of listening, underpinned by an appropriate level of risk appetite in an organisation. Innovation is not a prerogative of the company management or its leadership nor any specific group in the organisation. This culture can only be built by firmly believing in those fundamentals and by “walking the walk”.


FST Media: What is the best career advice you have received?

Mrkela: In the infinite wisdom of an animated fish: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming….”