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Innovation 'not just digital'

New Zealand insurers need to be willing to completely innovate and overhaul their businesses – not just digitise existing systems and processes, says Partners Life managing director Naomi Ballantyne.

Wednesday, November 29th 2017, 6:00AM

by Susan Edmunds

Innovation has become a buzzword for insurers looking to adapt to a rapidly changing technological environment and trying to engage a wider client base.

Fidelity Life promised significant innovation, including digital capability and new product lines, after the injection of an extra $75 million from the NZ Super Fund. The fund took a $100m overall stake.

Partners Life received its own boost when Blackstone committed $200m. Ballantyne said earlier this year the company was working through its plans to best use that money.

Ballantyne said insurers were struggling with the models they currently had.

But she said simply shifting existing processes to digital platforms would not make companies any more nimble or able to adapt to what their customers want.

Instead, they should forget what they currently did and instead think about what they could and should do - because what they were doing already was not working. “How can we get in front of people? Why don’t they buy now and how can we get them to?”

Insurers would have to start with a big idea and work backwards to break it into smaller chunks, she said.

“The biggest problem is making decisions and committing.”

Sometimes it was hard to get board sign-off for a multi-million dollar project of work. Projects that were too big sometimes failed, she said.

Many insurers were hampered by large numbers of legacy products on their books.

“Often they’re not brave enough to go ‘we’re going to replace everything’ so they get stuck with legacy systems that are profitable but the downside is they have to service them. More layers adds more difficulty.”

A better decision for customers and the product providers would be to put them on to new products, she said.

“Yes, you give away some margin but you’re better able to look after the customer. Customer service goes up and retention improves. There’s no opportunity for others to say ‘you’re being ripped off, let’s move you’.  It’s a big decision upfront but if you don’t make it everything slows down over time and it’s harder to launch anything new.”

Tags: Blackstone Fidelity Life Naomi Ballantyne NZ Super Fund Partners Life technology

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