Atlanta Group CIO on Digitizing Insurance Brokerage Services

(Image from Atlanta Group)

In the now long-forgotten era known as the pre-internet, home and auto insurance customers would visit or call an insurance broker. The broker had access to a range of insurance service providers and could get the best deal. Today, insurance aggregators and their love-it-or-hate-it ads have largely taken on that role.

What about insurance brokers? As is typical in internet and business history, the most successful brokers have moved upmarket, offering less vanilla services than insuring a decidedly average car or home. Brokers today provide the specialist insurance that motorcyclists, sports car drivers, businesses and caravanners need.

These distinct customer groups expect a broker to offer the same online convenience as a less specialized insurance service, but with the uniqueness of a broker.

James Fairhurst is a veteran of the UK insurance brokerage industry, having led domestic brand technology Hastings and Brightside prior to his current role as IT Director of Atlanta Group, the company behind Swinton, Autonet, Carole Nash, Paymentshield, Be Wiser, Marmalade, Lloyd Latchford and Healthy Pets.

Fairhurst joined Atlanta in 2017 as the company launched its aggressive M&A program and major digitization, which he leads. He says:

The auto insurance market is an aggregate; you usually win customers on price. Loyalty comes into play when customers receive exceptional service.

Atlanta Group is one of the largest and fastest growing brokers in the UK insurance market and part of the global Ardonagh Group. With a net worth of over £1bn, more than 2,500 staff across 10 locations, the company says acquisition growth will continue as part of its strategy to become the leading digital broker.

To enable this continued acquisition behavior and provide the more personalized service expected of a broker, Fairhurst developed a platform approach to Atlanta Group’s technology strategy and formed a partnership in the Far East . He explains:

Digitization for a brokerage firm is all about how you interact with the customer.

Atlanta Group customers typically, but not exclusively, insure a highly valued luxury purchase, such as a motorcycle, sports car, pet, or RV. Typical, out-of-the-box insurance packages and providers lack the necessary nuance. You cannot compare a VW Golf GTi Mk1 with a VW Touran MPV.

One is a popular classic, the other a square bus for dance lessons. As a result, Fairhurst and its team have developed digital technologies for its brands such as Swinton to compete with mainstream insurers, but also digital services to meet the needs of more specialist customers. Fairhurst says:

We’ve done a lot of work on the web chat feature and have seen significant growth in chat usage. Our challenge is how to deliver the experience the customer expects in their channel of choice and allow the customer to switch channels seamlessly in the process.

Conversely, for Atlanta Group, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital for many of its customers. He adds:

Carole Nash is a unique brand that has always been very sensitive, and a renewal invitation would traditionally be printed. However, we have seen a lot of movement towards digital channels such as email. There would have been more hindsight without Covid; now, customers are accepting much more digitization, including self-service.

Pandemic or not, Fairhurst says the digitization of the insurance broker industry is heavily focused on customer experience.

How can I make it easier to buy insurance, it’s like a one-click Amazon experience.

Fairhurst reformed Atlanta Group, which also reduced the company’s operational costs. Fairhurst explains:

We had over 100 websites and customer journeys, and we had to go through them all manually if we wanted to make a compliance change, for example. This slow process was like painting the Forth Bridge, and at the same time people were asking for a new bridge. So you end up with a bunch of platforms suffering from erosion. Instead, we built a new bridge that met all our future demands.

Carole Nash is on the new digital platform with all the microservices in place, and we’re working our way through all the other brands in a program over the next 12-18 months.

Along with digitizing customer-facing technologies, Fairhurst centralized technology operations into a shared services unit called ISS. Fairhurst says:

We have a cookie-cutter model for onboarding businesses or doing light integrations for satellite businesses, typically covering IT operations, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and PMO oversight. Key benefits include a single architecture to maximize the value of data and transactions, as well as common strategies for digital, data, RPA and cybersecurity.

ISS provides the entire Atlanta Group with a variety of technologies, largely based on Microsoft’s Office 365 stack, including Teams to Azure Cloud Services hosting the Atlanta Group’s digital and data services. Other technologies offered include ServiceNow, AWS Cloud, Docker, and Docker Swarm, while Rackspace provides cloud colocation and support services. Contact center operations have been consolidated into a single next-generation Avaya platform, managed by Sabio & Silver Lining Convergence. He adds:

COVID-19 has definitely boosted the use of Teams and led to the extinction of our traditional video conferencing technologies almost overnight.

Additionally, Atlanta Group will be one of the first in the industry to use LexisNexis’ LexID service to further enhance customer proposals and experience.

look to the east

To provide key elements for the digitization of Atlanta Group, Fairhurst has partnered with NashTech Global, the offshore technology arm of recruiting services firm Harvey Nash Group. NashTech was one of the first to set up shop in Vietnam and exposed CIOs to the wealth of tech talent available there.

Three years ago, Fairhurst found that Atlanta Group was struggling to maintain its digital skills and capacity in the Stoke and Manchester areas in which it operated, which have experienced a technology boom over the past decade.

Atlanta Group decided to go to market to find a partner who would take on the recruiting burden and deliver not only the people but also the required results. UK and nearshore suppliers were taken into account; however, they were unprofitable due to the increasingly competitive tech job market in Europe. With major global banks having already secured significant operations across Eastern Europe, Fairhurst realized that the Atlanta Group would not get the caliber of skills it needed.

An existing relationship with the Harvey Nash Group brought the CIO into the NashTech business, and he was impressed with the process of recruiting high-caliber development talent in Vietnam. He says:

It’s just our colleagues, who happen to be based in Vietnam, we don’t really see them as NashTech, and it’s important that they feel part of the Atlanta Group family.

Fairhurst says loyalty and skill quality put Vietnam ahead of UK and Eastern European options for him and his organization. Going forward, new teams are being created in Vietnam to further accelerate Atlanta’s digitization program.

The term business interruption is often shorthand for digitization, but the insurance market is set to see a major change in the UK this autumn, with the coming into force of fair pricing regulations from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), announcing the end of insurance renewal prices. higher than the price for a new customer. Fairhurst believes this will lead to considerable market consolidation in the broker industry and an increase in the number of innovative new entrants to the market. Atlanta Group’s response will be to pursue its digital and acquisition strategies.

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