Bringing a 17th century business into the digital era - how Lloyd's of London executed its transformation

Profile picture for user Madeline Bennett By Madeline Bennett June 29, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
How Dame Inga Beale drove digital transformation at the City of London institution.

inga beale
(Dame Inga Beale at Freshworks ON Festival )

When Dame Inga Beale took over as CEO of Lloyds of London in 2013, she knew there was a huge challenge ahead to modernize this centuries-old business. Having worked in the insurance world since 1982, she was aware that Lloyd's was still trading on paper, just as it had for the previous 325 years.

However, Beale was confident she could bring the organization up to date, having achieved transformations in the past, changing the way people worked, and having given up paper herself a long time ago. But as she told me following her keynote session at Freshworks ON Festival:

I didn't realize it was going to be such a wall of resistance. So I had to look into why, and if other companies are going through this and they haven't worked in the past, they've really got to understand why. I understood after talking to lots and lots of people, but fundamentally it is because people haven't really been involved. There’s been an essential core team who as experts knew what they were doing, but it’s being forced upon everyone else.

Beale also had to reassure people who were fearful for their jobs that the project was beneficial to them, rather than a threat.

I had to start including them in designing the future. That was a critical difference, which is why my predecessors failed - spent a lot of money and failed - because people weren't designing their own future.

Beale approached the project in a different way, which was much less top-down driven and instead harnessed the people for the design. That meant at the beginning of the transformation, a bit more groundwork was required. Getting to launch day took longer than Beale had originally anticipated, and so she had to get support from the board to start in six months rather than the three months they were aiming for:

You've got to get them confident that the time invested at the beginning will bear fruit at the end. And of course it did because getting so many people involved, when you start to roll things out, the acceptance is there and people are adopting it because suddenly they've got accountability because they've actually been designing it. So it paid off.

Rationale

The rationale as to why Lloyds had to modernize wasn't clear to all in the business originally, because when an organization is successful and nothing is broken, the attitude tends to be why should we change when we’re doing so well. To counter this attitude, Beale had to explain the importance of being strategic to future-proof the business:

If you're an individual company, you're always looking at competitive landscape. Because Lloyd's is a whole market, and you've got hundreds of companies, each company operating in the market looks at the other companies as their competitor. They tend not to look outside of that big bubble, which is huge as it is.

Beale insisted that Lloyd’s shouldn't be looking at competitors within, and undertook a piece of research into what was happening in other markets and other parts of the world:

That was the way to win over people, to get them to understand we're not going to get any business from some of these new emerging markets because they have jumped to technology and we look like we're last century. People were saying that the technology is all slow, the processes take too long. So we gathered a lot of information, and then had a really good case for why we had to modernize. That was the trigger.

Lloyd’s worked with a consultant on the project and came up with a complex blueprint of what the environment should look like, comprising a total of 16 work streams. But communicating such complex plans to thousands and thousands of people was not going to work, and so from a communication aspect, Lloyds reduced the 16 work streams down to four:

Prioritizing these was really, really tough but you’ve got to do it. We put 12 of them on ice, upset some people because of course we'd gone to ask everyone what they wanted and this is what they said they wanted and then I had to go back and say, actually we're not doing 12 of them now. But that also then paid off because we were able to deliver ahead of time and within budget because we simplified everything to such an extent. And that meant the rollout was just so much more smooth.

Lloyd’s decided that from a technology perspective, one big solution wasn’t the right way forward. Instead, it chose a mosaic approach with different modules. This was on the basis that with so much rapid advancement in the sector, a piece of technology might only work for a few years – Lloyd’s wanted to be able to take anything obsolete out and replace it with a new piece.

To support this approach, one of the four key work streams Lloyd’s prioritized was data definitions, with one common language so all the applications and systems that were developed could talk to each other and there were no issues around what was this called in this system. Beale said:

You never perhaps really know if we've got it right [prioritizing the four work streams], but we did choose something that would have an immediate, very big impact on the users in a positive way, we wanted something that customers could feel pretty early on, as well as doing some of the more behind the scenes work sorting systems talking to each other.

The most critical project was replacing paper with a digital trading system - no more photocopying, no more rekeying, the data just flowing through. In the old way of working,

the contract for a piece of insurance - a building or tunnel being constructed, for example – would be laid out, and then the underwriters would each take a certain percentage. That used to all be done on paper with wet ink stamps, and once the broker had all the stamps collated, they went back to their office and would have to input the information into a system and then tell their customer:

When it's electronic, it's immediate, you have this list, no errors. And the customer knows immediately almost in real time who's on the risk, who's accepted it, what the price is.

Diversity-driven

As Beale was overseeing the modernization process at Lloyd’s, she became aware of the need to also modernize its approach to diversity and inclusion: 

When I looked at why Lloyd’s hadn't changed over three centuries, I realized that it was a group of homogenous people, who had been hiring people just like themselves for so many years, so many centuries. They'd formed this very cosy club and nobody wanted to rock the boat, wanted to challenge anyone, criticize anyone.

That realization was the trigger for Beale to push for new talent coming in with different experiences. For the first time, Lloyd’s started hiring people from other sectors that had nothing to do with insurance, like supermarkets, to get some new thinking into the marketplace:

That led to the whole discovery that not only were people hiring people like themselves, they were also perhaps a bit racist, homophobic, sexist - I was hearing all of this noise. That then led me to think I've got to do much more than just introduce a new way of working. I've got to tackle the culture as well.

We've got to make Lloyd’s look exciting, dynamic, modern. We've got to appeal to a younger generation who would look at us as a bit grey and dull and boring. We had to update our whole brand and image. That was why the culture piece and diversity and inclusion became such an important parallel piece of work alongside the tech.
 

Despite Beale’s successes at Lloyd’s, both in terms of D&I (when Beale arrived at Lloyd's, she inherited an all-male executive team; within 18 months or so, she’d managed to shift this to a team with 50/50 gender balance) and the technology update, her experience is a valuable lesson in how difficult it is to change ingrained culture.

Beale divulged how, after leaving Lloyd’s, she’d heard reports of some people in the business saying ‘thank goodness Inga's gone, now we don't have to talk about this diversity and inclusion anymore’; her replacement was the “typical white man put in charge again”.

As Beale noted, these attitudes are deep rooted, and that's a really tough thing to challenge in any organization.