Q&A: Ant Middle and Adam Beckett, Ageas

Adam Beckett and Ant Middle Ageas

Ageas CEO Ant Middle and chief distribution officer Adam Beckett spoke to Post about the insurer’s intention to grow its intermediated personal lines business and plans to invest in what it calls its ‘technical engine room’.

What’s the strategy for Ageas in the UK going forwards?

Ant Middle: I set out a heightened ambition for our business last summer, which was founded on three things that we wanted to focus on. We wanted to make sure we can compete harder in the areas where we really can win and achieve top quarter positions. We wanted to make sure that we build the differentiating capabilities that we need where it matters to enable us to win, in particular deep technical insurance skills and supporting data and technology. And we wanted to deliver better, more consistent results.

The headline for the new strategy to deliver on that ambition is that we want to bring a much sharper focus to Ageas in the UK in terms of where we’re going to place our time, investment and growth ambition for the next four years or so.

Our focus is going to be to double down on our historic heartland, growing our personal lines business, via brokers, particularly where it is an electronically traded business. We’ll be focusing our investment on growing our technical engine room, underwriting, pricing and claims in particular, and making sure that we’ve got all the right technology we need for the future to support that ambition.

We’ve got to make sure that we’re cost competitive, which is incredibly important in our market, but we want to grow and we believe that by focusing on personal lines via brokers, we have real opportunity to do so.

We also have a complimentary focus on growing our aggregator personal lines business as well. It’s a small feature of what we do today, but it’s got a lot of synergies with our broker personal lines business.

What opportunities do you see in the aggregator business?

Adam Beckett: There are some product classes that already have established distribution in aggregation, where we don’t compete, and we believe there’s a customer need we can fulfil.

There are pockets where we can compete very effectively with our Ageas and Rias brands that [are] well established and we’ll sit them alongside what we do on personal lines broker. But we’ll be careful not to compete too heavily with ourselves and to find the discrete and unique opportunities.

What will happen to the parts of the business that do not fall into your personal lines focus?

Middle: For our commercial lines business, our non-standard schemes and our affinity business, it’s business as usual. But we will be creating a dedicated business unit to look after that aspect of our business making sure that we’ve got the right focus and skills applied there, making sure that we’re driving the right value and improving performance where that is required.

How has the strategy been received in your conversations with brokers?

Beckett: We’ve been talking to them about the strategy, and about leaning in to the personal lines broker marketplace, and as you would expect, that that has been warmly received. There is a desire for insurers to partner with them to really back the entrepreneurial broker landscape that we that we work with, particularly in the times we’re in at the moment.

The focus on lowering the cost of the business and becoming more efficient has also been well received. That does a couple of things: it puts money in the back pockets of customers ultimately, and it also allows us to be keener in terms of the trading conditions that we can work with brokers on.

We will continually look to refine the costs that we have, and there’s a number of levers we can pull to do that, one being that we’ll automate the business where it’s sensible to do so. We’ll still very much have a human touch, but we’ll also automate and digitise things where it’s sensible to do so.

We’ll also need to make investments in our business to hone the skills of our people and the capabilities we need going forward.

Besides cost, what else are brokers looking for?

Beckett: During the pandemic, they want us to turn up and to be supportive of them in difficult trading conditions. We’ve been doing that through delivering sensible rates out to the customer, but also giving them flexibility and the way they can trade during the period.

They’re seeking a Swiss clock level of consistency. One of the things that is we are hearing is not just the desire for support, but the desire for that support to be there on an ongoing basis.

The pace of decision making and being able to react quickly as things change around us is also increasingly important, as is the desire to seek competitive advantage through data. I’ve heard an awful lot.

What capabilities are you investing in?

Beckett: We like to talk about our technical engine room, and what you’ll see as do from that perspective is increase technical expertise, through pricing sophistication, fraud, detection, underwriting and risk selection, claims handling, as well as making real investment in data optimisation. Machine learning, data science, and the use of artificial intelligence will become continued fundamentals of what we do as a business.

We have already been investing heavily in in that space. We’re already working with Data Robot to effectively embrace AI and machine learning across the business. You’d expect that to be in places such as underwriting and fraud detection, but we’re extending that out to claims, and it’s making its way into places like marketing in terms of selections and targeting. It will dramatically reduce the amount of time and resources we need to get to the outcome that we need in order to be able to deliver the right rate and the right underwriting to a customer.

We’ve also been developing the use of a speech analytics tool that’s helping us understand cause and effect on customer pain points, which has been very helpful for us in shaping what the service model will look like for the future.

We also recently launched a chat bot that is supporting customers with the frequently asked questions, and that’s gone down very well.

On top of that, we’ll use some of the investment money to simplify our technology landscape, which will make us faster and more agile to deal with.

Will cultivation of those capabilities be an in-house endeavour, or will you also look to work with insurtech partners?

Middle: It’s a blend of both. We’ve definitely got ambition to continually grow our internal capability. Making sure we’ve got career paths for our technicians is really important to us.

Often that technology is interesting to look, in partnership with a range of third party firms, insurtechs and more established players.

We’ve got a great track record there, with partnerships like the one we’ve got with Tractable. That’s gone from being proof of concept, small partnership to being just a core part of how we work now in our claims function.

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