Claims Club Monthly Missive: The end of dotcom innocence


Last week Aviva announced it is to close its online salvage business, Bluecycle, outsourcing the business to Copart.

While positioned next to the recent branch closures and job losses this may not have registered the same headlines; personally, it marked the end of an more innocent era before the dotcom bubble burst when insurers were trying to keep pace with the opportunities technology offered them.

As such Bluecycle was the brainchild of something called ‘Siliconwharf'. The name will probably mean little to most, but it was an incubator company, set up by CGU and then absorbed into Aviva, tasked with developing innovative online insurance ideas to fruition.

Based in Southwark it always had an aura of something quite exciting, someithing other insurance-worldly, in that I always imagined it was not staffed by insurance suits but lateral thinkers and innovators in shorts and t-shirts who were looking to bring fresh ideas to the market.

Of course, its aim to help CGU, and then Aviva, compete in the increasingly e-enabled world is still as relevant today as it was then. The infrastructure and lingo was more of a product of its time.

Incubator innovation

The incubator company was originally headed by Caroline Whitfield who had moved over from Hasbro and later became innovation head for CGNU at Aviva. She was rightly excited by the prospects for the business declaring in 2000: "No one's doing anything like it. A few people have projects, but there's nothing quite like this."

At the time according to one article in a national newspaper, the Siliconwharf team had generated 2500 ideas and green-lighted 50 of which Bluecycle was the first.

Siliconwharf was also mentioned in a long forgotten stock exchange announcement when CGU acquired a 50% stake in online system provider IQUO with then UK executive of CGU insurance Phil Loney hailing the development: "The acquisition is another piece in our strategy to capitalise on e-commerce opportunities throughout our business and follows the formation of our e-venture business Siliconwharf of which the online auction portal is the first fruit." According to its website IQUO still provides payroll services within Aviva.

But for all those Siliconwharf ideas - the first pay as you drive pilot was also rumoured to have began life there - few came to fruition with the fanfare of Bluecycle, which later was compared to e-Bay.

But whilst e-Bay became a global phenomenon, Bluecycle trundled along, with a string of managers denying the business was for sale every time Aviva announced a non-core disposal such as RAC.

Until last week.

The Siliconwharf and CGU teams may originally have had grand aspirations for a trade sale, float or multi-million MBO for the business. But in the end its dotcom bubble burst with a whimper.

Next Claims Club meeting

On the subject of technology and innovation, at its next meeting the Post Claims Club will look at implementations, with two different perspectives on offer.

Adrian Spencer, commercial broker and claims services director, Zurich will cover the external solution option, in relation to its implementation of Guidewire (in partnership with Cap Gemini) throughout the business.

Whilst in contrast, Richard Jenner, change and delivery director, Axa Insurance will give an overview of the implementation of the Swiftcover operational platform Sandpiper throughout the combined Axa UK personal and commercial lines business.

I hope you can join us for what I am sure will prove to be an enlightening discussion. For more details of the other sessions, speakers and to sign up, click here.

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