Photo: Sean Ringsted. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee.

By Marta Sotres

Losing touch with the daily reality of your business and your sector is the first step in distancing oneself from corporate innovation that is, or would be, useful for consumers. Chubb’s Chief Digital Officer, Sean Ringsted is clear on this: innovation only makes sense when it solves real, day-to-day problems. The CDO of the largest publicly traded property casualty insurer in the world analyzes the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on the industry, the opportunities it has left in its wake and how innovation and technology can become great allies to overcome the challenges ahead.

Hyper-personalized medicine and anti-aging medications are two emerging technologies that will have an increasingly large impact on society and economy in 2020, according to the prediction of the MIT Technology Review. How do you think these trends could influence the insurance sector?

In these concrete trends as well as in others that are surfacing, we can see a great focus on personalization and customization towards the client. This affects you and it affects me, it affects all of us one way or another. It’s a movement that we are seeing in different sectors such as financial services, retail and transportation. In essence, we seek to tailor the offer to the consumer for the specific goods and services that they actually need.

What occurs in our industry is that the insurance business has always been very centered around policies, and many of its infrastructures and internal strategies are designed around them and their administrative processes. As a result, this transition towards personalization that is taking place in different sectors, is evolving more slowly in our industry. However, that pace will increase incrementally until a proposal is tailored to suit the individual needs of each client.

With regard to other technologies such as artificial intelligence, Big Data, and machine learning, how is your sector, and Chubb specifically, adapting?

In the insurance industry we have always relied on the power of information and data to define our offers, but in reality, it is not the case that we depend on any single tool, because we need a combination of them to manage to achieve our many goals. It is not enough to implement just artificial intelligence or machine learning, in today’s world other things such as cybersecurity and computing on the Cloud are also crucial: to protect data privacy and the interests of clients, following regulatory guidelines.

In short, now, technology combined with knowledge and professional experience allows us to be much more thoughtful and detailed in the making of decisions when it comes to designing new products and making digital experiences for our consumers. Not only that, but it also gives us the possibility to optimize our internal processes. The real value of technology is that it allows us to offer a differential proposal to the user.

If you could only choose one of these technologies to continue with Chubb’s current strategy, which one would it be?

If I had to choose one, it would be Big Data, because in the end, all of the technologies we have mentioned are nourished by data to define their patterns and structure their products. Currently, having data permits you to be increasingly agile and faster and, without it, you do not have a foundation of analysis upon which to construct new projects.

Thanks to the digital ecosystem, it is increasingly common to see how, instead of just insuring third-party businesses, insurers are becoming the service providers of external sectors, such as mobility. Do you think that this transformation will be gradually applied to other areas?

I agree that this phenomenon is occurring. The fact is, as companies, we can optimize and increase the efficiency of our internal process, but the result of this strategy is not totally translated into added value for the consumers, which is where the focus of our improvement must lie.

To achieve that differential value for the client, it is key to count on historical data and with aggregated information that allows insurers to evolve their traditional business model (based on repair and replace) with a model of predict and prevent. In this process, the use of technologies such as the Internet of Things and sensors, in homes as much as in buildings (hospitals, companies…) will also be fundamental, because they will help locate where the damage tends to occur before it does.

Photo: The connected city of Tokyo. Credit: Unsplash.

In this world of data, the perfection of ‘wearables’ is allowing for little devises to obtain unprecedented knowledge about users. Will a time arrive where companies will have so much information on consumers that they can predict practically everything?

The ability to predict everything is very exciting, but reality demonstrates that not everything can be measured, since there are always new risks emerging. The coronavirus pandemic has been example of this. As a result of going through this crisis, and having had to work from home, the entire company has had to place an even greater focus on cybersecurity. The fact that we manage so much professional and personal data across a distance has required that everyone reinforce methods to avoid potential cyber risks. There will always be new risks that come up that will force prepared companies to adapt and design products and services that satisfy the potential needs of clients.

Photo: International airport with panels for COVID-19. Credit: Getty Images.

How has COVID-19 transformed the insurance industry and Chubb itself, and what are the greatest challenges and opportunities that it leaves in its wake?

With the coronavirus pandemic we are living a human tragedy that, unfortunately, has not yet concluded and is having a dramatic impact on the social and economic ambits. At Chubb we have adapted very quickly and with a great effort by everyone to the new situation, boosting our technological presence in processes to be more efficient.

Yet, if there is anything to highlight from this whole situation, it does not have to do with the technological advances, but rather with the commitment of all the people that manage to work through and around it as well as possible. IT is particularly interesting to put into focus the multidisciplinary teams, with methodologically more agile work processes that are capable to resolve problems with much greater speed than a few years ago.

Between the opportunities of value that open for our sector because of this pandemic there is, on one hand, the fact that there will be new physical spaces that will need to be insured and that were not previously so. For example, by applying the IoT in connected buildings inside which a greater level of control or security is needed. And, on the other hand, in the redesign of travel insurance, of home or for contractors that now have be thought of through the consumer.

In the last three years, corporate innovation has focused on creating technological platforms open to digital collaboration with external parties, like start-ups. Your insurer is also making steps in that direction with the Chubb Studio Platform.

There are different ways to make innovation and so it is only right that each company find their own model, because at the end of the day, innovation never seizes to be a reflection of corporate culture. In our case, we have a very clear direction: We focus on innovation to solve business problems and we strive to do so in depth.

At Chubb we are very selective when it comes to collaborating with start-ups because they must be very aligned with our three biggest business objectives: automate and make the simplest internal process more intelligent, make the best decisions and refine our criteria basing it on a good use of data and analytics, and to redesign digital products and services to satisfy the need of our clients and to identify the best manner to achieve them.

Photo: Chubb Studio Platform. Credit: Chubb.

As a reflection of our openness to cooperative models, we created Chubb Studio, a platform that offers open APIs that allow our partners and clients access to our services and products in a collaborative manner. We are very excited with this initiative because it is allowing us to have conversations with partners who would have been unthinkable a few years ago. We look to put all the information and answers that they need at their disposition quickly, so that they can consult them in an autonomous fashion with ease.

As an executive of Chubb in terms of leadership, what have been your greatest lessons?

Firstly, I have learned to be patient and impatient at the same time. I also see that we should celebrate errors in the same way as successes, to learn from the mistake and move on. And, of course, never to lose touch with the reality of the sector and the business because if that happens, you end up looking for solutions that do not exist. On the other hand, at Chubb another key point related to leadership is that a lot of space is given to freedom, an important environment for the team to be able to achieve the goals they set themselves.

How do you imagine the insurance sector in 10 years?

I am convinced that the future that awaits us is a vibrant and prosperous one. There is no doubt that, as a society, we will face continuous changes, such as climate change, aging, and the process of urbanization, and that through all of these, the insurance industry has and will have an important and active role to play.

Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition