Atlanta Group CIO on the Digitization of Insurance Brokerage Services
In the now forgotten era known as the pre-Internet, home and auto insurance customers have visited or called 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 advertisements that love or hate them have largely taken on this role.
So what about insurance brokers? As is often the case in the history of the Internet and business, the most successful brokers have gone upmarket, offering less traditional services than insuring a significantly average car or home. Today, brokers provide the specialized insurance that motorcyclists, sports car drivers, businesses and RVers require.
These distinct client groups expect a broker to provide 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 technology at family brands Hastings and Brightside prior to his current role as Group CIO at 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 began its aggressive M&A and major digitization program, which he leads. He says:
The auto insurance market is an aggregate; you usually win customers over the price. Loyalty comes into play where customers receive exceptional service.
Atlanta Group is one of the largest and fastest growing brokers in the UK insurance market and is part of the global Ardonagh group. With a net worth of over Â£ 1 billion, more than 2,500 employees in 10 locations, the company says acquisition growth will continue as part of its strategy to become the leading digital brokerage.
To enable this continuous acquisition behavior and provide the more tailored service one expects from a broker, Fairhurst has developed a platform approach for the Atlanta group’s technology strategy and formed a partnership in the Far East. . He explains:
Digitization for a brokerage business focuses on how you interact with the client.
Atlanta Group customers typically, but not exclusively, insure a luxury and highly regarded purchase, such as a motorcycle, sports car, pet, or motorhome. 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 class homework. As a result, Fairhurst and his team have developed digital technologies for its brands such as Swinton to compete with regular insurers, but also digital services that meet the needs of more specialized clients. Fairhurst says:
We have done a lot of work with the web chat feature and have seen a significant increase in chat usage. Our challenge is how to deliver the experience that the customer expects from the channel of their choice and allow the customer to switch channels seamlessly during the process.
Conversely, for the Atlanta Group, the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital switchover for many of its customers. He adds:
Carole Nash is a unique brand that has always been very sensitive, and an invitation to renewal 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 much more accepting of digitization, including self-service.
Pandemic or not, Fairhurst says the digitalization of the insurance brokerage industry is heavily focused on the customer experience.
How can I make buying insurance easier, it’s like a one-click Amazon experience.
Fairhurst restructured the Atlanta group, which also reduced the company’s operating 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 load of platforms suffering from erosion. Instead, we built a new bridge that met all of our future demands.
Carole Nash is on the new digital platform with all the microservices in place, and we’re working across all the other brands in a schedule over the next 12-18 months.
Along with the digitization of customer-centric technologies, Fairhurst centralized technology operations in a shared service unit called ISS. Fairhurst says:
We have a cookie-cutter model for absorbing businesses or doing lightweight integrations for satellite businesses, typically covering IT operations, infrastructure, cybersecurity, and PMO monitoring. 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 the Microsoft 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 led to the use of Teams and has led almost overnight to a sunset of our traditional video conferencing technologies.
In addition, Atlanta Group will be one of the first in the industry to use LexisNexis’ LexID service to further improve proposals and customer experience.
To deliver key elements for the Atlanta group’s digitization, Fairhurst has partnered with NashTech Global, the offshore tech arm of recruiting services firm Harvey Nash Group. NashTech was one of the first to establish itself in Vietnam and exposed CIOs to the wealth of technological talent available there.
Three years ago, Fairhurst discovered that the Atlanta Group was struggling to maintain its digital skills and capabilities in the Stoke and Manchester areas where it operated, which have experienced a tech boom over the past decade.
Atlanta Group decided to go into the market for a partner who would take on the burden of recruiting and deliver not only the people but also the results required. British and coastal suppliers have been taken into account; however, they were not profitable due to the increasingly competitive tech job market in Europe. With the big global banks having already taken care of significant operations throughout 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 introduced the CIO to the NashTech company, and he was impressed with the process of securing 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 like part of the Atlanta group family.
Fairhurst says the loyalty and quality of skills have put Vietnam at the top of the British and East European options for him and his organization. In the future, new teams are being created in Vietnam to further accelerate Atlanta’s digitization program.
The term business disruption is often a shorthand for digitization, but the insurance market is about to experience a major shift in the UK this fall, as the Fair Price Regulation from the Financial Conduct Authority ( FCA) goes into effect, announcing the end of the insurance renewal prices being higher than the price to a new customer. Fairhurst believes this will lead to considerable market consolidation in the brokerage industry and an increase in the number of innovative new entrants to the market. Atlanta Group’s response will be to pursue both its digital strategy and its acquisition strategy.