An Interview with Scott Watters


Zurich Australia’s Regional Head of IT Global Life for Asia Pacific speaks with FST Media about how financial organisations can harness the potential of mobile technology to reach out to Gen Y customers.

FST Media: What do you foresee as being the next big technological innovation in the insurance industry?

Watters: We want to simplify insurance through the use of data. Why must customers be asked multiple questions during the underwriting process? We should be able to pre-fill many of these questions by requesting permission from the customer to access data about themselves, whether this is for mobile, wearables, home automation, location information, medical, social, or any other area.

Biotechnology is also another key innovation for the industry. Insurance organisations invest heavily in medical research to look for new and innovative ways to battle disease and help rehabilitate people more quickly. The technological advancements in this space are continually evolving, and this will impact the insurance industry in multiple ways. 

FST Media: What are your IT priorities for the next 12 to 18 months?

Watters: I currently have four major priorities for the next 12 to 18 months. Firstly, keeping the customer in mind in everything we do. It is easy to resort to doing things because we believe this is what a customer expects, or because our organisation has always done something in a particular way, but we need to constantly ask the question: “how will this benefit our customers?”

Secondly, we are in the final year of our three year business strategy to which we have an IT strategy an  roadmap aligned. Our focus must be maintained to ensure we can deliver successfully. I am confident we will succeed, as we have made great technology choices, have a motivated and highly skilled team, and all believe we can achieve the goals which have been set.

Thirdly, we need to build the next ‘three year strategy’ which I am very excited about, as I believe the insurance industry, customer service and customer expectations will change drastically between now and 2020.

Finally, we cannot deliver anything without the right people. People with the right attitude, skills, capability, and motivation are important to me. In my opinion, having fun while still delivering is also critical to success.

FST Media: How can financial organisations harness the potential of mobile technology to reach out to Gen Y customers?

Watters: You will not reach many generations these days without access to mobile technology – and this is not specific to just Gen Y customers. Insurers should not only consider mobile as a channel for customers to access their organisation, but also perceive mobile as a device which can help you learn a lot about your customer. For example, we can now add content based on context, through beacon to geo-fencing technology. Customers expect personalised service and this can be achieved by recognising them as individuals in your transactions. 

Mobile technology and social media are combining to empower customers, amplifying their sentiments – both positive and negative. As a brand, that is exciting, because it means our positive stories can get a much wider audience, but it also puts us on notice. It means we can never afford to “drop the ball” or lose focus with our customers. 

FST Media: How will the upgrade of Zurich’s website enhance digital interactions with customers and impact on operations in Australia?

Watters: The website is an all-in-one customer service and sales channel. Overhauling the site can help drive greater efficiency for customers and distributors alike. It can also deliver an improved customer experience, and can boost sales and retention, as well as enhance the brand. Its impact will be enormous.

FST Media: How will the Net Promoter Score (NPS) system allow Zurich to deliver an enhanced customer experience?

Watters: We are always seeking feedback from customers to alert us to what we can improve. It is a process that must be continuous, and the Net Promoter Score has allowed us to do this as well as gain valuable insights. It is too easy to become inward-looking, so it is great to be able to share these insights with staff to give us greater perspective surrounding our customers and their preferences. NPS allows our staff to put themselves in the customers’ shoes and view our proposition from the outside. 

We also make a point of involving our executive team in some of our calls to customers, offering all levels of management a chance to speak with our clients. Overall, these calls are received very well and can actually turn client perceptions around.

FST Media: How will automating Zurich’s underwriting process help to simplify operations in the future?

Watters: We have had automated underwriting in place since 2008, but we will be making more improvements this year. We want to make the underwriting process simpler for customers to ensure the flow of questioning is natural and easy to complete. By automating this process, customers can get an answer on the spot. Another important factor for us is to use analytics and customer feedback to constantly improve this process.

FST Media: What have been the results of Zurich’s iPad ‘Communications Mix Simulator’, and how are you measuring success?

Watters: The ‘Simulator’ was an innovative way to help advisers create a more contemporary framework for their customer engagement. It was intended to be a trial, and we saw nearly 500 advisers put their communications through a simulation to see if it was the optimal choice for their particular client mix. It revealed that a lot of advisers still stereotype and make assumptions about client preferences, rather than asking them what they want. It was a fantastic success for Zurich, because of the engagement it drove. However, the ultimate measure of success will be the point when advisers take the messages onboard and truly tailor their communications to the preferences of their clients.

FST Media: What are your thoughts on the evolving nature of the CIO role in banking and to what extent has technology shaped its career trajectory?

Watters: The CIO has evolved into one of the most exciting roles in the organisation. It is one that not only requires a thorough understanding of how a business works but, owing to rapid technological change, the CIO has the ability to bring that knowledge of technology to drive business transformation with respect to digitisation, as well as the ability to understand an increasingly technology-savvy generation.

FST Media: What are the key characteristics of successful CIOs? 

Watters: The key characteristic of successful CIOs is a true passion for technology and innovation. Owing to the relentless pace of technological innovation, a CIO must not only enjoy change, but also be a fantastic change leader and motivator within the organisation.

FST Media: How have you dealt with challenges in your career?

Watters: I have had many challenges and some of them were very difficult. I have dealt with them openly and honestly. I am not one for politics and will argue for what I believe is right. The key lesson for me is to learn from each challenge and to not lose your confidence or motivation, even if the result does not go as planned.
FST Media: Every leader has a legacy they wish to be remembered for, what is yours?

Watters: The legacy I wish to be remembered for is a leader who delivered innovative solutions to the insurance industry that benefited customers beyond their expectations. In addition, I want to ensure my team continues to grow and develop to reach their full potential.

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.