For the second year in a row insurance business RSA Group has announced good results. During 2017 RSA Group, which in the UK is better known for its More Than general insurance (GI) brand, recorded profits of £322 million after tax, up from £20 million in 2016. The good results of 2016 prompted CEO Stephen Hester to state that the international insurance business was out of recovery.
In late 2016 David Germain joined RSA Group as CTO working alongside stalwart RSA business leader Darren Price and a year later became Group Chief Information & Technology Officer.
Germain invited the Horizon CIO Podcast to the RSA Group headquarters in the Walkie Talkie building in central London to discuss the turn-around story of RSA, his career, diversity and how technology is reshaping general insurance.
“We have around 13,000 employees and we deal with what we call core GI products, so anything like home, pet, business and on the commercial side, developments, property, schools and hospitals,” Germain says of the RSA Group business that also operates in Canada, Scandinavia and the Middle East.
Written by Mark Chillingworth Photographed by Matt Gore
“Our profitability in 2017 and our operating profit was £660 million and our net written premiums was £6.7 billion and our combined operating ratio was around 94%. We have come to the end of the recovery and we have made it clear to the markets. We have three strategic pillars to focus on; one is our service to customers, second is our underlying service results and the third is the cost efficiency across the organisation. Those pillars have kept us honest as we have gone through the recovery,” Germain says.
“I think technology was, has and will continue to be integral to how we look at our cost ratios,” Germain adds of how technology played a key role in the turn-around of the business. Since RSA Group found itself in difficulties in 2014 the business has been reshaping its operations and as Germain reveals, modernising and rationalising the technology estate. Germain reveals claims platforms have been centralised, data platforms have been unified in an effort to provide better insights to the business and the latest wave of technologies are being adopted.
“We need to continuously industrialise what we do, everywhere and continuously educate and learn with our people about how these technologies work and figure out where these technologies can take us,” Germain says. But despite two years of reporting good results, competition is fierce in the insurance sector and challenges to the economy have a major impact to the sector.
“We have to continue to focus on our cost base and we have to continuously have to prioritise. And one of the key areas for me as we look at our cost base is robotics. What can we do with processing and automation, AI and where can we take that in our contact centres and how can we create the more ecocentric environment? At the same time, ensuring we are not degrading the customer experience, we are improving the customer experience,” Germain says.
CTO to CITO
Germain is one of a growing number of business technology leaders to have a job title that has a remit of both information and technology.
“It is three hats, the first one as a CTO was the transformation programme with multi-million pound projects happening in every region, replatforming and consolidation and new data platforms, new web based platforms and designing the digital experience, that was my CTO hat, alongside a very technically competent organisation and trying to get them to work out the right road maps.
“The second element is being the CIO and that is like going home for me, I had the opportunity to look at the operating environment, and again and what the senior execs asked was to get a good understanding of the operating environment, where we spend money, how we spend money and what are the benefits and outcomes we get for it,” he says. Germain adds that as CIO he is also looking at ensuring where RSA Group outsources IT and business processes it understands what skills it must keen in-house.
“So the CIO and the CTO hat have been tightly coupled. The further strand is about innovation. We all talk about AI (artificial intelligence) and cognitive intelligence, we all talk about connected insurance, and the key thing for me is use cases. Where can we see real use cases. We are never going to be bleeding edge as an organisation, it is not something we prescribe to, but what we are looking at, is being fast followers and we are working with great insuretech partners,” he says. Germain says RSA Group is actively looking at startups that “will that plug into our business processes”.
During his career Germain has also held COO roles and in the process oriented world of financial services Germain believes that experience has been vital.
“My historical COO hat has stood me well and it is another string to my bow and working with teams and meeting different cultures and getting close to the application end user state is part of the way forward.” Like many of his peers in a variety of sectors, Germain is working on cultural change across the organisation, including the adoption of Agile, which he says is flourishing in Scandinavia. “I am very keen to learn to how we can leverage that across the organisation.”
Germain says the adoption of a new culture using the latest working methods is crucial as the expectations of customers changes. General insurance businesses have to have a omnichannel approach he says with communications to the customer across a variety of platforms.
That approach is not only about the internal culture, Germain says that partners to RSA Group are now being tasked to “change and adapt” he says.
“We have 630 technologists across the group and an additional 170 are contractors and we have a number of SI providers, and we ask them to help us to learn and as we build out our centres of excellence to enable us to grow.”
“Our business development leaders are highly focused on connected insurance. We are looking at Bot, sensory and IoT technologies. Connected insurance is in our pipeline, we will be fast followers we have to create an architecture that allows us to create API solutions with third party providers,” Germain says of how major insurance firms have to be ready to react to challengers such as Neos in the UK and Lemonade in the USA, just two of the challenger brands to enter the market.
“We are aware that connected insurance is a disruptor, and there is a very real awareness that customers will expect solutions and services to be added to our products and service. We are constantly having a healthy tension and debate around our digital agenda and our digital operating models and our customer experience and constantly bring hypothesis to the table and what our customers will want,” he says.
As a black CIO leading a FTSE 100 financial services business, Germain is passionate about increasing diversity in technology, financial services and the top table of the FTSE 100.
“I am very privileged and honoured to be in this position. I would say to anyone, to focus on a few core things: focus on your strengths, make sure that the organisation can see them and what you are adding in terms of value. Focus on your development and ask for feedback, broaden your network.”
Most importantly, Germain advises those from diverse backgrounds: “don’t be scared to speak up, that is why those organisations have hired you”. Germain says good mentors are crucial to help gauge speaking up.
“Find ways of working with people who can help you and your career, but the starting point is always going to be your performance.” Asked if he had mentors who shared his background Germain laughs: “There wasn’t, that didn’t come until a decade into my career,” but the CIO has a confident outlook and believes business technologists from diverse backgrounds have a broader set of champions to model themselves on than he did.
“I think the world has changed and there are a few more David Germains around the FTSE 100 and globally, so there are different relationships around diversity that is more than just a gender or a colour.”