Photo: the Managing Director of Santalucía, Andrés Romero. Credit: Courtesy of the interviewee.

By Cristina Sánchez

Offering the best client experience exclusively through a screen and in times of uncertainty has been a challenge for companies from all sectors in the coronavirus crisis (COVID-19). However, companies that had pushed for digitalization of their services before the pandemic have had an easier time adapting to the new scenario in an agile way.

Santalucía is an example of this. The insurance company had already achieved that “the office could fit on a tablet”, according to its managing director, Andrés Romero. As a result, workers continued to serve their 7.5 million clients remotely during the confinement. After almost four decades of career in the company, the executive considers that this has been one of the periods in which the insurance sector has shown to play a key role in society. “What was never going to happen has happened, and this industry has responded,” he says.

Video call services experienced a spectacular boom following the confinement. In the field of insurance, these channels have made it possible to manage claims remotely and offer online attention to policyholders. How has your company adopted them?

In the case of Santalucía, the video expert has been possible thanks to the fact that we had devices that allowed us to maintain a direct relationship with the client for the verification and valuation of damages. The mobile phone and tablet have also been very useful for providing medical telecare services not only to clients but also to suppliers: we have offered medical, financial and legal advice to repairmen, plumbers, builders, carpenters…

Now that remote expertise has become popular, do you think it will continue to gain ground over face-to-face damage assessment?

Virtual technical assessments already existed, but were used in a marginal way. During the crisis, it was the only way of expertise and from this moment on, surely the person who has tried it will repeat it because it will give him guarantees and the assistance personnel will feel much more comfortable directing the clients towards an expertise of this nature. In addition, it makes the work of the professionals more efficient.

Will you eliminate face-to-face expertise?

No, because it will be necessary to assess complex risks or damages. But to assess a moisture stain, a damaged table and a broken glass [virtual expert assessments] can be a substitute. It is here to stay, it will bring a high value to the relationship we have with our clients and will allow professionals to dedicate themselves to value-added claims.

How has having these remote care services helped clients?

We had in the nursing homes [Ballesol, a company dedicated to the management of residential geriatric centres for the elderly, is part of the Santalucía Group] elderly people who were confined and the risk was that they might feel alone. Contact with your loved ones is necessary and video call technology has become a salvation for these groups.

Offering a service as simple as a mobile application so that the family could see that their relative is well has been tremendously satisfying. With no futuristic technology, a remote service and a brilliant experience has been offered to families.

This [the coronavirus crisis] has changed the way we work, relate, shop, live and die. Many people have died alone and it has been terrible. It has also changed the Mediterranean cultural habits of accompanying family when they are having a hard time. But there has been technology that has allowed us to organize digital wakes where they could have a form of mourning and a meeting at a distance to remember.

We live in the world of data, a revolution that is being made possible by the devices of the Internet of Things. How is your sector and your company adopting this technology?

Very cautiously. The big barrier is the high cost of the devices and the speed of renewal of this technology park, as well as the ability of those who are manufacturing these devices to make them much more efficient.

We have contemplated alliances with third parties to share information between different players to make the investment profitable. I don't like very much the formulation that was given at the beginning that the client will end up financing it or that the company will finance it conditioning the permanence.

Is there any area where the benefit does exceed the cost?

They make more sense in home care for people. The [connected] devices allow a person to be calm because they can check that their parent, who is older, is taking all the medications that need to be taken, is not falling… Behaviours that can be measured remotely to intervene when necessary.

Without a doubt, the so-called silver economy will be key to the development of many sectors in the future. In fact, anti-aging drugs are one of the emerging technologies that could change the world by 2020 according to MIT Technology Review. How is your company addressing this trend?

We will have to generate products and services for these elderly in the area of health, but also in leisure, culture, entertainment, etc. The elderly are going to live longer, and therefore they are going to have access to the use of more goods and services, but they are also going to age longer and have to deal with situations of dependency.

We will have to innovate in the remote assistance services because people will delay their moment to go to a centre where they will be attended and cared for, there will be an interim in which they will not be in conditions to live alone. This situation of average dependence will make these services gain value and technology will be key.

Beyond collecting data from connected devices, are they using the big data to study the information they already have about clients?

We have a digital transformation plan in place to provide us with the technological capabilities to do so. The use of artificial intelligence, predictive models and the appropriate exploitation of the client database to personalise the service is one of the issues we are working on most strongly.

In the world of insurance, it is essential to have mathematical models that help us to personalize the offer, the service and the relationship model with the client. This is pre-COVID, what COVID-19 has done is to show that this is the way.

Current business trends and global challenges such as coronavirus focus on collaboration. In his company they promote cooperation with start-ups in the insurtech ecosystem through the Santalucía Impulsa corporate acceleration program created in 2016. To what extent has your company improved thanks to the alliances with these new actors and by turning your employees into intra-entrepreneurs?

We must be permeable to collaborative environments and create ecosystems where a financial entity, allied with a technological entity, can make things different. It is a path in which we continue learning.

A first stage of innovation was related to the need to generate a favorable reputation environment for Santalucía. It has been four editions and little by little we have focused on what we wanted and now we have an ecosystem that works for the development of the solutions we need, with very concrete projects of what we want to do to improve.

We have grown a lot, among other reasons because the enterprise has pushed the intra-enterprise: we have made each employee leave his comfort place. In the future, Santalucía and the world of insurtech will come to do things together in a natural way.

Companies will need to adapt to face the coming months and the post-COVID-19 world. What new capabilities do you think leaders need to address the changes?

Until now, the capacities of any leader were conditioned by technical knowledge, experience in the line of business, the management model and the trajectory in the promotion of strategic projects.

I believe that this has demonstrated as essential the capacity to communicate, to lead people more than projects, to resist and be resilient in the face of such an adverse situation, to convey that everything can be done and nothing is impossible. And even the impossible must be tried. This is the new attitude of the leaders.

Before [the capabilities] were tangible and more measurable, now it is a question of whether you have been able to manage the crisis in your environment, including familiar environment, in a balanced, prudent and calm manner.

What trends do you predict will be key for the insurance sector in the new normality?

The biggest change will come from the set of technologies for product customization and customer service. Also, to be able to attend each worker in a personalized way according to their needs and skills with digital and face-to-face workspaces, as well as to offer an important range of training.

[During the pandemic] in Santalucía there was already an ad hoc treatment: there were employees in contact with each of the families, we had to give support to those who were working face-to-face and remotely, we had to provide each company in the group what it needed… That's the way to approach the future: technology has to allow us to discern different realities and apply different solutions.

Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition