Italy’s Assicurazioni Generali - or Generali, for short - is the third largest insurance company in the world, with a customer base of around 10 million and a brand awareness level in its domestic market of over 90%.
While obviously an enviable position, it is also one from which the most likely direction of travel for business results is going to be downwards. The arrival of a global pandemic would seem to make that even more probable, so a business plan that included battening down hatches and waiting it out might have seemed the best option.
This was not approach taken by Francesco Bardelli, the company’s Chief Business Transformation Officer however. Although Generali has taken an inevitable hit to its business over the last few months, this has been balanced to some extent by a reduction in the number of claims. That said, one of its biggest issues has been the knock that has been taken by its traditional, 40,000-strong sales distribution channel, such as high-street insurances sales agencies. These, of course have been shut by the lockdown, cutting off the normal flow of new business.
Customers, channel and staff – partners for life
But instead of hunkering down and waiting it out, Bardelli has used that very situation as driver to advance business transformation across Generali:
With our distribution channel under pressure we have to learn new ways to interact with our customers.
Any new approach has to fit into the fundamental philosophy of the business, which is the provision of service and high service levels to its customers, coupled with ensuring security for its 2,000 employees in Italy. The plan then is to widen the range of relationship channels customers have with the company, increasing the number of ways they can use their own data to help them get the best insurance advice and the most cost-effective insurance policies. The stated vision is to become a lifetime partner to customers, sales agencies and distributors, employees and to the wider community as well.
The transformation plan is based around three principles. The first is to get ever-closer to the customers, focusing on the core of its insurance offer. Second is to empower physical distribution channels with digital platforms and products, and third, to set these new, smart ways of working as a standard across the business, using agile operations to gain more efficiency and competitive advantage.
The company has no plans to dump the traditional sales channel and go solely digital, on the basis that this is a route that is obviously well understood and trusted by the customers. So Generali’s plan is to give the channel partners the digital tools they need to manage most if not all of the sales process directly:
Just to give you a few data points of what we are observing in this lockdown period, we increased by 14% the fully digital insurance contracts that we are closing with our customers. Right now, 62% of our insurance contracts are fully digital. In addition, the use of remote digital signatures increased by 4.5 times, up to 76%.
The company has also made a dedicated customer area available on the web and access to that has risen 55% in recent times, which Bardelli takes as good evidence that this is the way customers want the company to go. To this end, chatbots and voice interaction services are also being added, together with a WhatsApp customer channel, in collaboration with Google Cloud and its Innovations Laboratory in Italy.
A digital fix
The Laboratory has also played a role in helping Generali develop a second strand of transformation in the form of fully automated processes that provide end-to-end interactive services directly to the customer:
I’ll give you an example which is awfully close to launch into the market. This is a process that can estimate the extent of the damage caused to a car in an incident just from a photo. This enables automatic claim settlement in few hours, compared with the few days or weeks of the normal process.
Bardelli also said that the company also be making even more use of all the data available from Moto Black Box devices, which are used by a large part of the total 2.1 million-plus customers that are now connected to Generali in some way. The company is now able to ingest raw data coming from IoT devices, but the company has already got to the stage where it is working with car manufacturers to have the devices installed at assembly. That way, it can get data directly from the embedded devices connected to the vehicles.
One of the key functions here is to help drivers learn how to drive better by the simple inducement of lower insurance premiums triggered by evidence of good driving practice:
This is also good for the community, and provides a social role for an insurance policy. It also means that drivers are making their own, data-driven decisions.
A similar approach is also being developed for property insurance, where geographic and geological data is combined with weather information and other data sources that might have an impact on building structures. This data will help Generali calculate the pricing of property insurance policies through far better understanding of the risks associated with geological and atmospheric events.
One particularly important transformation Bardelli aims to make is what he calls data democratisation. Here, the company is again working with Google Cloud to use particular tools, such as BigQuery, to start providing all employees with a much richer data experience. The goal is to make data faster, deeper, scalable and, in particular, accessible by staff, even when they are working from home.
Bardelli sees the need to become a fully data-driven organization offering data-driven insurance products. This means allowing all business unit and departments to run their data exploration, data analysis and data visualisation, so they can work with sophisticated, highly granular and really deep business analysis. That’s a long term ambition. Right now, he acknowledges that such capabilities are either not possible at all, or possible only through requests to the IT department, which takes longer and is also more expensive.