Finding a silver lining in the midst of the Covid cloud – Dan Taylor, TAL

Dan Taylor

“Among the many changes Covid-19 has imposed upon us, there are some positives to be found… This situation has effectively fast-tracked the need for fast technological solutions and the industry is mobilising behind that challenge.”

FST Media speaks with TAL’s GM for member engagement and innovation, Dan Taylor, a year on from the insurer’s feted launch of its Continuous Delivery model, exploring TAL’s executive-led approach to whole-of-business innovation, and how the life giant is supporting its workforce through the Covid-19 shutdown – and even finding new innovation opportunities in today’s fractured operating environment.

FST Media: Speaking with FST last year, you alluded to TAL’s recent implementation of its ‘Continuous Delivery’ model. Give us a bit of a snapshot of the model and how it has transformed the business’s operations and innovation environment over the last year.

Taylor: The recent implementation of TAL’s ‘Continuous Delivery’ model has been a cultural shift as much as anything, with the focus now placed on products rather than projects. With this new model, we’ve seen great progress in terms of thinking more about the sustainability of our digital solutions. What’s more is that this has led to reduced tech debt, smaller and more incremental releases that create less risk and, most importantly, much greater transparency to the business.

FST Media: In the midst of pandemic, it would be remiss of us not to address the impact of Covid-19 shutdowns on insurers’ operations. How is TAL enabling flexible – yet still productive – working arrangements for staff during this time, and what can be done to ensure that long-term business objectives are still being met?

Taylor: The health and wellbeing of our staff is paramount, as is the ability for us as a business to continue to be there when our customers and partners need us most. We are following the guidelines of all relevant government and health authorities and have all staff working remotely and effectively.

I am extremely proud of our teams who have worked incredibly hard to rally around our critical services to continue to deliver our service standards despite peak volumes in our contact centre, underwriting, and claims functions.

During these unpredictable and changing times, we are faced with new challenges, in addition to the social distancing requirements. At TAL, we have adapted to be more flexible in terms of the hours our people are working, and heavily adopted Microsoft Teams so that communication between staff is ongoing and meaningful social connections are maintained. We have maintained productivity, and even increased in some instances, and I look forward to seeing how these new practices continue to be woven into working processes in the coming months.

FST Media: As Covid-19 exposes vulnerabilities in healthcare and welfare systems, not to mention communities and economies, how is TAL manoeuvring its resources, and particularly its digital resources, to better serve consumers through this challenging time?

Taylor: Among the many changes Covid-19 has imposed upon us, there are some positives to be found. Digital is proving to be more important than ever. This situation has effectively fast-tracked the need for fast technological solutions and the industry is mobilising behind that challenge.

A key example of this is how we have designed alternative webinar options for our industry-leading education program, TAL Risk Academy’s face-to-face classes, and reviewed and updated our training courses to ensure that we provide relevant support for advisers at this difficult time.

FST Media: The Royal Commission exposed systemic misconduct by FSIs, increasing the trust deficit between customers and the industry, and likely exacerbating a decline in policy uptake. How do you feel ‘trust’ between insurers and their customers has been redefined today?

Taylor: Life insurance has a special role in our community, and trust in the life insurance industry tends to be based on whether customers believe life insurers will pay claims.

Delivering on our promise to pay valid claims promptly and support our customers’ return to health is the most important thing we do. In 2019, we paid more than $2.3 billion in claims, providing significant help to Australians and their families when they needed us most.

However, beyond that, there are also other ways to further build trust with customers, and we aim to lead the industry in delivering an outstanding claims experience.

At an industry level, life insurers need to continue investing in improved customer experiences to build trust. Through our Innovation team, we are working together with our partners to research and understand the current trends and challenges within the industry and form a view on the types of capabilities we will need to continue delivering exceptional customer outcomes.

FST Media: Perhaps more than any other financial services organisation, insurers have a deep and vested interest in customer relationships. What, to you, defines a successful customer engagement for insurers today? In designing digital engagement platforms, how can we ensure that touchpoints retain a sense of ‘humanity’ and augment customer relationships?

Taylor: Key to successful customer relationships is the management of customer expectations. Customers don’t always look for engagement from their insurer, and at times no engagement can be best. However, at key moments, such as applying for cover or submitting claims, it’s so important that the experience is simple and enables human interaction.

A great example of this is TAL’s Claims Assist – a digital claims service that complements the human interaction and services and expertise of our claims team, making lodging a claim, completing the process, and tracking its progress as simple as possible.

FST Media: Insurers have become vast repositories of valuable, potentially highly sensitive, customer data. How is TAL leveraging this data to – in a principled and compliant manner, of course – create more value-added customer engagements?

Taylor: While we do collect data in order to underwrite customers, this is typically “point-in-time” data rather than ongoing customer data that larger corporations or technology companies would have access to. Although we don’t have access to that richness, it’s still important that we tailor our products and services based on what we do know. As an example, there is an opportunity to create more personalised preventative health programs that will both improve the health of our customers as well as their engagement, based only on their age and gender and the medical data and advice that is broadly available around health and chronic conditions.

FST Media: Protection of this data is also a critical concern for customers. How is TAL ensuring data is not only used responsibly but also secured against cyber threats (particularly as more and more data is accessed by third parties through APIs)?

Taylor: Naturally, we are doing lots of work to protect the data we hold, both from a technology and cultural perspective but also to be compliant with tightening legislation in this space. However, one of the best things we can do is avoid collecting and storing data we don’t need in the first place. A great example of this is in a recent pilot we ran to help our customers take action to support their mental health; by conducting the pilot anonymously, we both gained greater take-up with the extra reassurance of privacy, but also took away many risks associated with protecting that data.

FST Media: Preventative healthcare, suffused with predictive AI, appears the next major technological leap for insurers. What technological barrier must insurers overcome to effectively deliver a proactive customer engagement regime?

Taylor: As with so many things, technology isn’t a barrier – it’s an enabler. Data is an obvious challenge to overcome; however, the real challenge is a cultural shift in getting consumers to take preventative health actions rather than waiting until it’s too late and they become ill.

TAL commissioned research in 2019 that revealed that whilst 86 per cent of Australians believe that having a preventative screening test to detect disease early is important to their overall health, the majority (73 per cent) of those admit to not having a test they believe is relevant to them.

With that in mind, it’s clear that we need to invest in ways of shifting attitudes and behaviours and technology can be of great assistance here.

FST Media: As an innovation leader, you not only need to continually satisfy and ‘wow’ customers but also meet the demands of your board. Yet, blue sky innovations can often lack concrete ROI, despite potentially adding enormous intangible value to the business. How do you effectively communicate innovation opportunities to the board whilst also supporting an innovation-friendly culture within the business?

Taylor: We are fortunate at TAL that innovation has an executive-led focus through our chief information and innovation officer, and we also host an annual Innovation Challenge which is aimed at tapping into the innovative thinking of our people to solve problems for the benefit of our customers and partners.

But we all know the risks of business cases for new innovations, and as an Innovation Team, we work hard to focus on the assumptions that drive value and how we can test and prove them in the pilot phase before investing heavily.

This gives confidence in our approach and combining this with ‘purpose-led innovation’, where we work on ideas that will deliver on our overall ambition rather than purely commercial ones, we can develop a portfolio of new initiatives where our stakeholders and teams can all see the value being created.