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Sept. 28, 2022

Driving Digital Transformation in the APAC region- Conversation with a new Leader

Driving Digital Transformation in the APAC region- Conversation with a new Leader

Q: So, this is a question that we ask all our guests. How did you get into the exciting world of insurance? And can you also please tell us a little bit about your role at Zurich?

A: Sure. No, I think it's, it's a cliche answer to begin with that. I didn't plan my career to be an insurance, but, and I think it's a topic for another discussion that why insurance is not on the minds of young minds when they're thinking of their career, but that's for later, but for myself back to your question, I actually started my journey in, in an American hedge fund. I was, I did my MBA and then I started there and when I just started with them, they, they had formed their new team on looking at CAT related alternative bonds and future contracts. So, this was this new team which was formed and they were looking at even retrocession, which is reinsuring the reinsurance, that's almost an alternate to reinsurance market was their strategy. So, it was very new for me, fresh out of grad school as well.

So, it was a lot around that was almost like a very, very high level introduction to insurance very far away from the, from what I do now or the realities of day to day insurance. But I spent the next couple of years looking into cat bonds, industry loss, warranties, and a lot of future contracts on, on cat that's. So yeah, that was the initial part. Then I kind of moved to Singapore. That was, and then I joined actually the research and cat modeling team for group I, and that was interestingly in Singapore, but they were actually supporting the Bermuda based reinsurance. So again, I got involved a lot into cat pricing portfolio modeling, so that was almost half of my career in insurance. Right. And then I moved to AIG. That was almost, I feel my first foreign into proper understanding the proper nitty integrities of insurance, quite a bit of a change from macro level to Micro and, and yeah, I think over the course of my career, I thought I wanted to kind of pivot a bit more into business side, look at some other aspects of insurance.

And that's when, when I was with Chubb, I kind of pivoted into this new team that was forming on digital and I kind of forwarded into digital product development. Again, I don't come from a digital background or tech background, so it was interesting. I didn't have much knowledge about consumer product at that point in time. So yeah, it was a total 360-degree shift for me, but did that, and then, then yes, I think during COVID, as I think everyone was rethinking about what to do their life in general, I was actually running to take a break as well, but the Zurich role came about and I found it quite interesting. I've always liked building things and looking at solutions. And I, I felt where Zurich was and where the management was thinking from the strategy point of view, it fit fitted well in terms of how I wanted to probably start the new team on digital.

So, I kind of jumped again and, and started the role at Zurich. Perfect. Very good. So, you, so you, as you mentioned, you recently sort of joined Zurich from now, at, at the level that you play. How do you go about picking the role and can you speak about, you know, the journey and the, the process that you go through when you do such a ship and, you know, it can really be helpful for leaders looking to do the same in other companies? Yeah, I think, I think it was, as I said, I think it was interesting phase for me. I was, I was asked such thinking of, you know, making, probably thinking of taking a total break for some time to rethink, but having said that, I think for me, I think on the face of it, the two roles sounds very familiar.

Similar, both are around digital. I think for me it was more of a personal thing around, I like building things, I think lucky enough, I think the journey in Chubb had been great. We had come to a point where the model was working. We were now at a phase of scaling it and I felt that's probably a point where it's for me, time to look for a new challenge. And, and when I kind of think about that when the role came about, it's kind of fitted well to the kind of challenge I was looking for also, I felt, I think I was looking for, I think culturally, I felt it very two different organizations just on the face of it. And I felt like not one better than the other is just a change of culture so far thought. Yeah, let's kind, definitely try for it. And I think the third aspect was this role had another element on customer experience, which is something I had not done before. So it was a good combination of leveraging my skillset of building something that needs from scratch and then two there's this new element of culture and new extra, additional portfolio of customer experience. So, so it kind of felt a good enough challenge for me to on the new.

Q: Very good. I think that's, that's pretty good. And it sounds very exciting and the region is also pretty wide and, and exciting as well. Absolutely. Yeah. It seems to be like a, you know, a role based kind a podcast, but you're very curious to know what your first few months are kind of looking like in terms of strategic priorities. You know, we always read that the book about the first hundred days and how to shape your first hundred days. And what do you think your, your key focus areas are in the next 12 to 18 months?

A: Yeah, I didn't read any of those books where I should have, because I think the first two months I was clueless what's happening around me because I'd forgotten what it means to change a change your organization from coming from a place of knowing everyone and, and the ways of doing things to a new place. So I think I was overwhelmed with that change once I settled in. I think, I think the very first thing in my mind was to really understand the organization and where things are as of today and where the thinking is. Because if you don't understand where, where today is, you can't really start to think about, of course I have a view around where, where I want things to be, but it needs to be aligned to where people are today. And I think the, so that's one, I spent a lot of first few, I think, first few weeks and, and even kind of continuing that I think for us of the year will be to ensuring I understand the business very well, the model, what has been the reason for their current success and where the gaps have been having said that?

I think the strategic focus for me right now is on couple of things. Very broadly. One is building a team. It's a, it's relatively new function. So in the region and in some local markets, what kind of talent we need, I think that's half the battle one, if you get the right people. So, so that's something that I'm spending quite a bit of time to, to kind of focus on whether, again, it's between hiring or getting people internally, regardless of that, it's about building the, the right team. The second thing is aligned to our own goals around distribution, what capabilities we need. So we are looking at our, our digital platform capability. And again, I think so having the right architecture in place that is fit for future, not for today. So yes, those are very, very high level, two top priorities for me at the moment on getting the team and, and getting the view on our capability. Right.

Q: Right. So Rupa, the, the market that you handle, Asia is such a dynamic, you know, sort of a market. This obviously consists of so many large and really distinct sort of countries each with its own uniqueness around it. Some are advanced when it comes to just a transformation and some are doing catch up. How do you go about designing the whole transformation agenda for each of this country? And can you talk us through, how do you, you know, do that from a market maturity point of view as well?

A: You're your spot on, right. I mean, Asia is diverse. The, the dynamics is diverse. The regulatory landscape is also very different with, with some regulators being more open, like, like the likes of Singapore, where it's relatively easier. The, the government wants to experiment and is proactive versus some other countries where even getting a simple product changes, forget about any other thing is, is can take months.

So on paper, it's fine to have a strategy, but to execute is another. So, but I think having said that, I think there's two, two things. There's some underlying similarities in the market that we see around in general, digital customer behavior and digital adoption. So you see digital payment being a common theme across all markets. Now, yes, they have a bit of a variance around which players they can be pretty localized, but their strategies are more or less. They're also looking at each other. So those underlying themes, which has an impact on, on digital adoption for insurance are similar. So I think one way definitely is to identify those common themes. You see the trends of super apps in a lot of markets. You, as I said, digital payment is another digital banking is another key, common theme that's happening across all markets. Now. Yes, they, maturity are a bit different, but what's that giving us as insurance is, is a view on, on where do we have to think about our model for fit, for purpose, for digital transformation. Of course, what we then then do is overlay should be a priority market first, just because maturity wise it's more ready or for us to, to actually go out and experiment. It makes more sense to do this market first because we can be faster in doing it. But I do see kind of catching up on those common themes as, as the way to, to start thinking for our scale point of view,

Q: Right. Maybe, maybe just a quick follow up on that. Does, does the presence of Insurtech or competition make any change or view in terms of that market maturity?

A: Yes. Yes, definitely. I think a bit of a yes and no. I think where even Insurtech are going is where you have some regulatory leeway. I think regulations plays, it's an, it's an, it has a big impact. So they tend to do that as well as they're first for where capital investment will come. So what happens is I think in insurer or Insurtech are following where capital market or FinTech is going. Yeah, you see FinTechs coming in first and then Insurtech coming in next is a, is a common kind of a thread as well in those markets. And then insurance comes in because dis digital as a whole is evolving a lot around distribution models. And, and so where you see digital destruction happening, like the likes of Indonesia, there's, there's so much capital now, wait, Vietnam is following the models. So you see those trends. But yeah, I think they kind of almost go in, in, in parallel, but there will be markets where you would otherwise feel that there should be insured insurers coming in is not happening because of just the environment right now is not ready.

Q:  Thank you. Just a question on sort of middle east and, you know, I just want to compare and contrast from your point of view. We are seeing, I think definitely a little bit behind compared to Asia and the rest of the world, but we are quickly seeing, you know, investment in, let's say the basics of business agility, like cloud adoption, beginnings of the birth of let's say an Insurtech 2.0 kind of companies. We obviously had a number of aggregators for a number of years with focus on, you know, Motor, Health, the usual staples, what are sort of industry trends you're seeing in APAC from your vantage point?

A: Yeah, I think the, the, the most common, I think what we hear a lot right now is, is around, is around embedding. I think that has taken a, a big wave in Asia as well as I'm sure that will probably pick up in, in middle east as well. And I think, I think there's, there's reasons for it, as I was saying that with more digital adoption coming in, in general from customer point of view and new ecosystem players coming in they're opening new channels of, of embedding insurance, I think, yes, we are the insurance industry as such when they kind of saw that, yes, we have to go on digital as our new distribution channel, putting products on digital was very obvious thing to do, but then very quickly they realized that that's not working. Customers are not coming there. So I think embedding is closing that bit of a gap of rather insurance being upfront in your face.

It is something that is more trigger based, more, you know, transactional, relevant, more micro in nature. So I think it's, it's coming. That is one common trend, but I do think that it has its place in terms of, you know, the smaller gaps of, or the smaller portions of the needs of the customer specific needs of the customer when it comes to more broader needs, like Life, Motor insurance or health insurance there, I think the models are typically more evolving towards omnichannel. So that's one trend that, you know, again, that happened was initially everyone went fully digital. When I said more direct channels came in, aggregators came in, but they, they don't see those convergence still happening and still people going back to traditional channels. So it's a bit of a conflict. And now where we are seeing is more convergence of omnichannel, make sure digital and your offline channels are connected in the most seamless way.

So, so you give your customers all the options on, on touchpoint, most likely, of course, you're using digital to introduce or to create engagement. And then it's okay. If the, if the customer today is, is referring still a phone call or agent to close the deal. So I think that's an evolution and that's where I do think eventually insurers will get better at digital advisory space. But to answer your question, I think, yeah, that's embedding and omnichannel are probably for me the two big trends in the digital area that I see in the, in Asia.

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that omnichannel piece makes sense as well, because I don't think very quickly the agents and the brokers are, are losing their prominence. And I think you do need them in, in many complicated products to actually explain the products well to the customer. So it makes sense.

Yeah. Yeah. You have to do other things before you can simply and, and, you know, think that it'll be all digital. You have to simplify your products. You, then you have to have enough digital advisory tools in a more seamless way for customers as, as a customer, I'll have my own life cycle. Can, can insurance be more personalized to me? So for all this to happen, a lot has to happen around both tech, product development, et cetera, till that gap is done, you need it both and you need them more seamlessly. Yeah. Right, right. So, you know, from, from your experience in this market, can you talk about the organization structure and capabilities that are required to succeed in your role? Like some companies import talent, some import and teach internal talent, what's your approach to this whole process?

Yeah. Look, I think it depends on the model, the company or the team adopts in general, I've seen four models. One model is where you'll often see digital innovation labs. Second, you see, as creating MGAs third, you see is more, very much an internal digitization. And then the fourth is more of creating an internal digital team, which is a, is a hybrid, which is where I think both at Zurich is kind of where it's, it's where I have the experience of forming. But if you look, look across those four models, the first two where it's about innovation hubs and MGAs, they tend to of course focus more on, more external than less internal. And then the latter two are of course, digitization tends to be a lot more internal. And then the third, the fourth one, which is where I've operated. And my one preferred one is as a hybrid, one of internal and external.

So, so it depends on the model that the company has… things will work for them, or they want to strategically invest in. I do feel that even they're going, even for a combination, it depends on the role, which one you want to get external, which one you want as internal, I personally, my view is that roles, which, which have okay, side of dependency. So to say on the insurance more legacy systems, it helps to get internal people who have that knowledge, so they can bring that forward and shorten the process. Whereas for everything that needs new ways of thinking, it's, it's always good to get some fresh ideas and minds as well, and even on internal, right? I think it's also around choosing the right people there as well of people who are more solution oriented. And, and I think even for external is, is, is good to align with people who are aligned with your KPIs because when companies form this digital units of whatever shape perform they would, they should. And they would have us view around whether, you know, is it to get, I not care about profitability for the first five years I want to capture market share, or I just want to create the brand presence, or I don't want to disturb my own brand. I want create a separate brand together, have a, so it's a lot depends on the strategy, but yeah. Yeah. My own general prefer is a mix is always the best of both worlds, if you can get that. Right.

Q: Which, which just an interesting approach. Yeah. Yeah. So I think kind to that question is, you know, CVC is corporate venture capital, is often used other geographies, US, Europe by incumbent insurers. And we seen a recent one being formed in the Middle east as well. So thoughts, incumbents investing in startups and actually doing a bit of equity hire in terms of talent that you about importing innovation. So thoughts on that. Have you seen that work in the past?

A: Yeah, no, actually quite like that model now, not because Zurich already has one, but I think in general, I, I quite, quite like that model. We already have something which we have a global joint venture, which actually looks actively into new start, not just new startups, but a bit mature startups as well. And I feel it's a, it's a good complimentary strategy to, to have because you cannot, you cannot innovate just on your own. And there's so much happening that it helps first to fall to diversify your own reach of innovation. Often even in the four models, we just, I just spoke about if they are too close to the legacy, they will face some other speak to market issue by kind of almost separating and only investing it. You can keep them at an arms length yet actually get quick insights into what's working.

What's not, and they can kind of be your more pilot ground. We have seen that working like with Europe, we've got, you know, of course, two, three big brands that we have invested two in different verticals in travel, cyber insurance space and health and wellness space as well. And what that's giving us is that that's becoming more our ground off test and learn it also, I think from more, I feel it gives also an ability to separate your brand versus the brand of the, of let's say the, the new startup as well. And sometimes because you may, you may have some very strong customer association with your legacy brand. So a new brand can help either redirect or just help validate some of the new ways of doing so. I think it's, it's all, it's an interesting model, definitely to, to experiment. If it works, then you can bring in and scale because often I think if it works, the, the advantage is that now you, as a bigger insurer can leverage your scale and geographic reach and give them that particular platform in other markets. Yeah. So that's kind of a win-win situation. I feel which often started with otherwise struggle to scale and whereas show big showroom may struggle to innovate. So they kind of can fill each other's gap in a very, in a most, in a better win when way as I said, yeah,

Q: No, I mean, as they say in the startup world, it's, it's a competition between when incumbents find innovation or when startups find distribution. But, but I think this model, you can just give them the chance and take small bets on innovation. Yeah,

Now switching gears to the whole web3 world and you know, what's happening around that whole sector. I mean, and, and it's probably now more evident that the whole of insurance is probably very important given the recent issues we've seen in Terra and Luna now what's, what are your thoughts on what's Zurich's take about web three and you see, especially the APAC region, you know, playing a leading role in product innovation, not even testing the waters.

A: Yeah. I think there's interest for sure. But whether, whether it is now in kind of high priority now do something about it. I, I doubt as if, as a whole industry, it's, it's that as the biggest priority, I think there's, there's more on just on the digital side, in terms of the priority or from a strategy point of view that is taking focus. I think, as I said, there is interest and there's definitely a view around testing waters, but I feel insurance in general will not lead to web three's expansion if web three evolves and becomes into more mainstream insurance will follow.

So that's my, and that's at least my view is that is what will, that is probably what will happen rather than other way round of insurance kind of taking the front around. No, no, let us kind of be the forefront of web three evolution. I think there's two categories as well within web three, from insurance perspective, there's one around ensuring just the digital assets. Yeah. And something that I remember when I, I started digital product development, we were, that was, was probably the second product that we were discussing that let's, you know, ensure Crypto of like four years back or so we were shut down and saying that, how do we even underwrite something like this? And it, we still have an answer that question. Yes. There are shows trying to do it, but there is, it's so difficult right now for insurers to, to get their head around underwriting.

And it's not because of insurance industry issues just, yeah. We have seen cases, as you said, right. It's, it's difficult to, to ensure these assets just yet, but I think that's one area of opportunity. The one where I'm more interested and I think will probably take a, has a potential to take faster lead is around using this technology as a capability in the value chain. So it's about, and I think that's where I, I hope, I think we'll probably see more startups or coming first in terms of some innovations of use cases. And if we see evolution, then we probably collaborate and see how we can go forward from, from there. So I won't rule it out. What is it? Is it the next 12 to 18 months? I doubt that it's here and now I think, yes, it will take time. Which one of those different capabilities will pick up. Yeah. We'll, we'll probably see, but yes, we are very much keeping an eye on, on where the development is going.

Q: Yeah, no, I think what you said kind of makes sense, given the, there is an aspect of, you know, privacy and, you know, portability of identity involved on the Blockchain that does make some sense in the health space where you can safely transfer information without exposing it to unnecessary third parties, you know? So yeah,

A: So it's on adoption takes is a, is a bit, is a question first. Cause if you get consumer real consumers in a big scale, adopting it, then automatically you'll see the use cases more and more use cases coming in. I think it's still, you see people who are more, you know, open on, on trying things rather, you know, first move ones rather than masters really adopting these technology yet there's even people, those who are adopting, they're not even sure what it is. Right. So, so it's so yeah, so, so I think that that maturity hasn't come in yet. Yeah. But I'm sure, I think that's in a, probably a matter of time.

Q: Yeah, no, I think, I think probably there's sort of fallen values of these tokens and, you know, pictures of monkeys is going to help us focus on the non speculative utility value of Blockchain, which is, which are tremendous. Yeah, exactly. Just the, you know, the making money quick scheme. So I expect some good changes to happen over the 18 to 24 months, but then that's just, all right. So switching gears, let's just talk about Insurtech in general and you know, multiple approaches that companies adopt, you know, build by partner and so on. So how has your outlook on partnerships with Insurtech evolved and are there any active projects that you would like to share with our audience?

A: Yeah, sure. I think, I think if I look back for five years, when started the whole start of, I guess the Insurtech insurance, it was almost like a ward between the two was not a partnership. I think it's, it's a good evolution now. And a more partnership model that, that we see in the industry, I think on both sides, it has things have shifted from insurance point of view as well. Initially a lot was around the legacy system, sucks will just completely replace it and, and go from there. And from insurance point of view, there was a lot of resistance on, on, no, not, I can't can simply just replace everything. I've got my current distribution running on it. My current business is on this. So it doesn't make sense for me to do it. I think in, in, with time that has evolved, some egos have dropped as well on both sides.

So I think that's, there is more collaboration and also I think they, they both have now, even the Insurtech solutions have become more modernized. So it's not just about the whole. So, so insurers can see what resonates with their platform and where their needs are and they can now collaborate a lot easier than before. So that's definitely the case and that same, I think with, with us, we, we work with different Insurtech across the region, depending on again, very specific use cases of where we see an opportunity where we know that we may probably be better off. And also I think there is no, I always look at that. It's interesting in insurance, it's so much about insurance and Insurtech. If you look at big ones like Apple and Google, who everyone would, you know, look at it from a tech point of view, they don't build everything themselves as well.

They buy a lot of technology. Yeah, absolutely. They collaborate as well. Yeah. So, and technology is such a wide space. So I from what's the right model, it's a combination of all. You've got to build something for yourself. You have to collaborate with others. And at some point, you find some in technology which can give you long term competitive advantage, then you sure should buy it if you have the, the pockets. Right. So, answer is, is, should be all three. It depends on where you want to operate. But so that's why I think, yes, there will be a lot of consolidation as well on Insurtech space because there is a lot of them. So, you will end up seeing which I think in few, in, in next few months and years, there'll be some kind of consolidation happening in that field as well, which will give some more power to some of the Insurtech to give them the scale that that's needed for their next space. So, yeah, so as I said, we, we work, we, we are pretty open in terms of our partnership and collaboration across space.


This is a semi-automated transcript of our conversation, so please pardon the typos, if any!