Covea's Simon Cooter on investing in tech for customers, not for profit

Simon Cooter Covea

  • Technology has too often been used to cut costs and improve profits at the expense of customer service
  • There has never been a better time for insurers and brokers to collaborate, and to embrace insurtechs in partnerships that focus on customer propositions
  • To keep up with the needs of brokers and end customers, insurers need to invest in technology but also cultural change, diversity and skills

There has never been a better time for brokers and insurers to collaborate and innovate but new technology needs to focus on enhancing customer experience, explains Simon Cooter, commercial lines and high-net-worth director at Covéa Insurance.

Looking forward, as I always do, to the British Insurance Brokers’ Association conference, got me thinking about this year’s theme: ‘Innovate, Evolve and Thrive’.

On one hand, I would argue that the insurance industry has been pretty good at this, evolving to the ever-changing needs of customers, particularly around risk transfer.

On the other, I’m not convinced we have been great at consistently adopting technology to innovate, particularly in a way that brings real and tangible value to commercial customers.

Both insurers and brokers, I would argue, have a dual role to play. The first is to help protect commercial customers against bad things happening, particularly things that put their business and their ability to meet the needs of their customers at risk. The second is putting it right when things do go wrong.

Innovation isn’t, to my mind, primarily about using technology to improve efficiency or improve profits, it is about finding ways to keep pace with the changing needs of customers. Frankly, if we do that better and more consistently than our competitors, including potentially disruptive start-ups, then we can expect to be more successful and more profitable.

With technologies evolving at rapid pace, we need to think differently. While most companies recognise the need to innovate, many blame ‘business as usual’ for getting in the way, but when there is no ‘business as usual’ left, it will be too late. It means we have to invest now, not just money but proper time and energy, in making sure that our businesses evolve – or we will be disrupted.

Too often in the past, I would argue that technology has been used to benefit the company, usually by targeting cost savings, often at the expense of the customer’s sanity. I still feel my blood pressure rising when I get stuck in endless phone loops being assured that my call is important.

But things are changing. There’s increasing realisation that the options for technological innovation are endless, but they have to focus on what’s in it for the customer, things that will genuinely enhance their experience.

Big data used responsibly and to directly benefit the customer by fundamentally reducing risk is one example. Others include integrated telephony, webchat, robotics and artificial intelligence solutions that make it easy for customers to contact us in a way that suits them.

There has never been a better time for like-minded insurers and brokers to collaborate, and also to embrace forward-thinking insurtechs in partnerships that focus on exceptional customer propositions. My sense is that many of these insurtechs recognise the expertise and value that we as incumbents can offer, but equally I suspect that they will want to move at much faster pace than the industry has done traditionally. If we don’t respond, there’s a strong chance some will do their own thing and disrupt.

So as insurers we need to evolve to keep up with the needs of brokers and the ultimate customer. This means engaging technology, but much more than that, it’s also about cultural change, increasing diversity, learning new skills and having the agility and ability to move at a faster pace than ever before.

I am genuinely excited about the potential opportunities for us to innovate together; those companies that invest now and focus their investment on customers have much to gain. Those who let ‘business as usual’ get in the way may find it’s disappeared.

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