An interview with Sharron Botica, Chief Customer Officer, Sovereign


“Trust and confidence are really fundamental for all insurers. We focus on building the right processes in from the start, with continuous monitoring, as well as being open and transparent if the worst does happen.”

FST Media: In this era of increasingly prevalent cybercrime, how does Sovereign build and maintain customer trust and confidence?

Botica: Trust and confidence are really fundamental for all insurers. We focus on building the right processes in from the start with continuous monitoring, as well as being open and transparent if the worst does happen.

At Sovereign, integrity is one of our values, and that’s all about how we support our people to build our customers’ trust in our organisation through what we do and how we do it. Adopting a conduct risk framework has also been an important step in ensuring that we continue to put the customer at the heart of our decisions.

FST Media: What’s the next big step in customer digital innovation for Sovereign Insurance?

Botica: Our Intermediary Digital Experience program of work is a big focus at Sovereign. This project is delivering state-of-the-art digital tools to assist our intermediary partners in providing insurance solutions for customers.

Our recently released SovHub tool provides intermediaries with 24-hour access, visibility of their pipeline and features, and an innovative pre-assessment tool which enables them to provide accurate information on underwriting outcomes for customers with specific conditions.

Having recently become part of the AIA Group, we’re also really excited with the opportunities this provides to continue to grow our position in the market, with the goal of making New Zealand one of the healthiest and most protected nations in the world.

In particular, I’m very excited about working to launch AIA’s Vitality program in New Zealand.

FST Media: What is proving to be your most effective customer acquisition and engagement channel and why?

Botica: Our customers come to us through a variety of distribution channels. Having strong insurance partnerships in place across adviser, bank, and corporate channels means we’re able to provide solutions to a wide range of customers. Post-acquisition, our company-wide focus on customer and intermediary experience means we’re able to support our partners by delivering excellent service to them and their customers on an ongoing basis.

FST Media: How is Sovereign partnering with insurtechs, and how is this benefiting your customers?

Botica: I think they are keeping everyone honest with rapid development and by setting new customer experience expectations – which is a benefit for all customers in the industry.

We haven’t seen a huge presence in New Zealand yet, but with developments like robo-advice knocking on the doors, we’ll continue to watch this space.

FST Media: How does Sovereign keep pushing to be more customer-led in their digital transformation and delivering a superior customer experience?

Botica: We need to always ask ourselves how an innovation or project will benefit our customers and keep them at the heart of our decisions.

We also ensure we take action off the back of the insights we gather through our listening program – and act on both positive and negative feedback – so that actions we take are always insight- and value-driven.

Alongside our customers, as we are an intermediated business, we’re conscious that our customer-led transformations and digital innovations need to help both the intermediary and the “end” customer.

FST Media: How can insurers go beyond digital to meet customer needs?

Botica: I think it’s really important to remember that digital tools aren’t a replacement for the human element of insurance. They can enable and support us to do great things (for example, improve our turnaround times or make it easier to do business with us), but at the end of the day, meeting our customers’ needs goes above and beyond a digital service.

Good examples of this are in the claims and customer retention areas. When it comes to retention – and we know we have a problem with underinsurance in NZ – the work we do to help our customers ensure they can keep their valuable cover is vital to their long-term health and well-being.

Being able to help our customers keep their cover means that, if the worst happens, we’re able to help again at claims time. Whilst technology and digital can support our processes in these two areas, ultimately, our ability to meet our customer’s needs comes down to our people. The value of a conversation and a deep understanding of customer circumstances is what we do best.

Digital is just one enabler of a great customer experience, but it is not the only thing we can do to make customers’ experience with Sovereign and AIA great. Ultimately, insurance is there to protect people when they need it most – focusing on how we can make our products easier to understand so that customers understand what they are covered for (and, just as importantly, what they’re aren’t covered for) is one area that the whole industry should focus on.

FST Media: What existing technologies would you like to see play a more prominent role in the financial services industry over the coming years?

Botica: I think the whole AI area is fascinating and there are some really great opportunities for insurers to use this technology across the whole customer value chain. Our friends at AIA have begun leveraging this technology, so we’re excited to look at how we can expand on this in NZ.

Robotic Process Automation is also a technology that we’re keen to explore. Automating those straightforward processes means we’re able to spend our time with customers on where it delivers the highest value.

We’re already exploring how we can leverage these technologies within Sovereign – and how we can utilise the scale and expertise from AIA – and it’s important to highlight the importance of getting the basics right, by having robust process and journey maps in place, and a solid continuous improvement philosophy, this sets us up well for the future, as automation on its own isn’t going to fix a bad process.

FST Media: Where do you predict New Zealand’s insurance industry will be in five years’ time?

Botica: In terms of life insurers, I think wellbeing initiatives will become more and more important. It’s simply not enough to have a great on-boarding and claims process; insurance companies will be looking at what they can do to continue to give back to communities and help make a difference in people’s lives.

Thinking about process and technology, I think in five years’ time, the impact of legacy systems on the ability of insurers to rapidly respond to changes will have significantly reduced. We’ll continue to work with our partners and look globally for ways in which to bring a ‘best of the best’ approach to products, processes, and systems.

There are also exciting opportunities in the data space. The raft of data we’re all generating these days – if able to be harnessed – provides insurers with a new challenge in terms of our ability to predict outcomes and provide tailored solutions. Obviously, the privacy implications will and should continue to be debated, and we’re conscious that we will always act in a way that benefits customers by creating better offerings and experiences for them.

Of course, I hope we’ll all finally be paperless!

FST Media: As a featured keynote speaker at FST’s Future of Financial Services Auckland Conference, what are you hoping to achieve from your presentation?

Botica: Having been a part of the Sovereign journey for over 20 years, I’m so passionate about what we do and how we deliver for our customers. I’m really excited to share that passion by sharing some of that story with you all.

Don’t miss Sharron Botica at the FST Future of Financial Services conference in Auckland on 9 August2018Register now to secure your place!