Cultivating innovation in insurance

Joel Agard, Senior Innovation Manager at Zurich Insurance and Terry Luciani, Vice President of Innovation at Metlife, spoke about creating true cultures of innovation at their respective companies.

Publish date: 09 March 2020
Author: Zurich Insurance Company
Theme : Innovation

Both Metlife and Zurich Insurance have had incredible success in recent years when it comes to innovating in the insurance space. Each company was recognized by Efma and Accenture as a 2019 Global Innovator Award winner. Joel Agard, Senior Innovation Manager at Zurich Insurance and Terry Luciani, Vice President of Innovation at Metlife were guests on the most recent Innovation in Insurance Awards webinar series hosted by Efma and Accenture. They divulged a number of key insights into how they have managed to foster a culture of innovation and bring about real organizational change across business units and geographies.

With the introduction of the Zurich Innovation World Championship, Zurich Insurance has identified attractive startups such as Chisel and zesty.ai. Said Agard, “We realized that beyond internal innovation, we needed inspiration from outside the organization. We wanted to collaborate with startups instead of competing with them. A key to success was that business units and local IT teams worked very closely with startups to create something together.” Zurich didn’t limit their collaboration to winners of the competition. In fact, they are currently working with 10+ competition entrants to bring along further technological innovation. It is a prime example of a major player in the industry recognizing the importance of collaboration in order to keep producing new value for customers.

The Swiss insurer also started the “Make the Difference” program which takes employee suggestions and executes on tangible actions. Each quarter they choose 30 new people to enter the program. The cross-functional teams work autonomously on key projects sourced from Zurich’s employee survey and crowd-sourced ideas submitted by employees.  The company now has 150 program alumni back in their jobs, working and inspiring others to follow the movement.

Why has the company instituted such major innovation initiatives? “There is no doubt that new technologies are here and will change our industry massively. The change is happening now. If we don’t adapt, we risk becoming irrelevant for consumers. We encourage everyone to be open minded enough to embrace new ways of working,” said Agard.

And how is the company ensuring that the momentum from these initiatives is sustained over the long-term? “I believe it is critical to involve employees early on in the process. They engage with the startups, learn from them, coach them, and help them better understand the needs of their customers.” By doing this, the company brings employees along during the process and everyone feels like they are involved. It pushes the business forward through the next generation of problem-solving technology.   

At Metlife, they are also incorporating employees from throughout the company to create a bottom-to-top focus on innovation. They have an internal crowdsourcing ideation platform with over 15,000 employees participating. “We realized that we had to build the right structure and framework around the process. And that starts with commitment from leadership,” said Luciani. Interestingly, they learned that what was motivating employees to innovate was not extrinsic rewards. “We tried the gift card route but found that it wasn’t worth it. Our employees love working for our company. Metlifers actually found intrinsic value in solving problems for the company, more so than some external reward.”

This structured approach to innovation also applies to Metlife’s venture capital relationships. Each year they undergo an organization-wide process where they collect requirements from top business leaders. They take these requirements and then collaborate with their different venture capital partners to mine their portfolios for potential partners to connect with the corresponding business owner at MetLife. Through very detailed relationship, data, and program management, they are able to gain incredible value from these venture relationships. Metlife has clearly benefited from a structured, process-based approach to realizing value from new partnerships.

These innovative structures and cultures at Metlife didn’t happen overnight. So what is Mr. Luciani’s best advice for getting projects off the ground? “Don’t waste time trying to convert non-believers. Get some wins and build from there. Build a set of metrics, stick to them, and develop a proven track record. When you start, there will be a lot of activity that isn’t producing immediately visible results, but over time you will be able to convert that into real results.”

One thing is abundantly clear: with the initiatives both Zurich and Metlife have launched in recent years, they will be continuous fixtures in the Efma-Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards.

Check out the full recording here

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