Peter Huber, CEO, details Zurich International’s digital transformation journey and explains why maintaining a strong customer commitment today is crucial
Established in 1982 as a registered arm of industry heavyweight Zurich Insurance Group, Zurich International has since developed into a bona fide success in its own right. Based on the Isle of Man, with branches also located in Argentina, Singapore, Bahrain, Hong Kong, Qatar, the UAE and a life insurance entity in Luxembourg, the company currently manages approximately US$13bn worth of assets and serves over 600,000 corporate and retail customers worldwide.
“I joined Zurich International because it's very multifaceted, very international, and there's a lot of opportunities for growth,” explains Peter Huber, CEO. “I've been with Zurich for a long time, and so I've performed many different roles across multiple locations.” Indeed, Huber’s journey began in 2013 as CEO of Zurich Life Singapore, then running the Zurich business as President Director in Indonesia and subsequently taking on his current role in 2017. Prior to this, he built an impressive résumé of executive experience at several premier global insurance institutions.
That Zurich has managed to create a reputation for its diverse portfolio is hardly surprising: now approaching its 150th year, the company has committed itself to reinvention and adaptation throughout all that time, which Huber claims it can afford to do because of strong capitalisation and a customer-centric focus. “We do what we say on the tin and deliver what we promise,” he states. “The insurance industry generally has always been more introverted rather than extroverted, but Zurich has dedicated a lot of its investment towards consumer engagement, always focused on delivering against evolving customer needs.” To this end, the company has also been pursuing maximum transparency by publishing annual life and disability claims payment percentages, which Huber notes have consistently remained >90% for years.
It has been Zurich’s adherence to portfolio diversity and its culture of support for both customers and employees alike that has seen it weather the COVID-19 pandemic with aplomb. Far from being a time of disruption, the last 12 months have served to reinforce the values that Zurich holds true. These same qualities, Huber claims, will continue to guide it throughout 2021 and beyond, “We’re obviously still living through a health crisis; getting through that will be our first priority, but the second will be to continue our efforts of being a strong partner to customers, employees and distributors alike.”
Technology will have a decisive role to play in Zurich’s attainment of this goal. In line with its vision for greater customer engagement with its products and services, the company has developed its Global Business Platforms (GBP) unit. At Zurich International, the digital transformation started as a response to fast changing customer expectations as well as regulatory change, mainly in the Middle East. “Crucially, we didn't want to just digitise paper processes, that would be to miss the point entirely. Instead, Zurich looked at processes end-to-end and asked, ‘What is it we’re trying to achieve?’ The answer was an experience that delivers against customers’ needs, is intuitive and engaging.” Inadvertently hastened by the pandemic, which saw the insurance industry embrace digital to maintain continuity, this served to boost Zurich’s transformation of its global business and meet the fast-changing needs of its customers.
Launched in 2020 as a global unit, LiveWell offers mobile health solutions to inspire positive change and provide impactful services that encourage customers to improve their mental, social, financial and physical health.
Helene Westerlind, CEO of LiveWell, “Our objective is to provide personalised, evidence-led and innovative services and solutions to empower each individual to take charge of their own health and wellbeing, leveraging our digital capabilities to offer them easy access.”
With regards to its efficacy, Huber reports that Zurich International’s focus on digitisation has proven “very fruitful” so far. “We redesigned the end-to-end process for getting a product quote, how it’s priced, underwritten, and ultimately even the way customers can pay. The results speak for themselves: a process that previously might have taken 20 days from enquiry to receipt of policy has been shortened to potentially three days. “Simple solutions can be enacted instantaneously,” Huber continues, “and our transaction net promoter score, which measures whether our customers would recommend Zurich to their friends and family, has seen a big increase.”
Striking the right partnerships that can enable this and future aspects of Zurich’s transformation is paramount, “the future is about being able to connect different partners and solutions within your tech stack.” Cloud, Huber says, cannot be overestimated in terms of its importance to agile and flexible IT infrastructure. Other tools such as 360F’s ‘ProVestment’ use artificial intelligence (AI) to remove human bias from data by processing millions of scenarios in mere seconds and then advising a holistic solution based on the customer’s investment needs. Notably, one of the company’s key partners during this time has been St. Louis, Missouri-based tech firm RGA. Using RGA’s underwriting engine, AURA, Zurich has been streamlining its customer experience even further. “During our medical underwriting, for example, we'll ask some very personal but relevant questions and, depending on how the customer answers, the tool will dynamically add more or fewer questions. It’s a very smooth, interactive process and customer uncertainty has really diminished, that's why Zurich loves working with RGA so much.”
Fundamentally, Huber makes it clear that Zurich understands a vital truth about digital transformation: it is only by fusing technology with a culture that businesses can achieve optimal outcomes. Moving towards a fully digital way of thinking has also transformed Zurich’s methodology for product design; whereas before it employed waterfall project management, the company now opts for faster, sprint-driven agile delivery using ‘pods’. “Pods deliver two-week sprints, and in working in this way we’ve become ruthless at prioritising things,” he explains. Essentially, if a pod doesn't deliver its target within the time period it will be ‘retired’ and Zurich’s focus will shift to another. This allows the company to maintain momentum and innovate on a larger scale within a ‘learn-fast’ environment. “Everyone in the insurance industry has been very shy at experimenting. I always remind people, ‘We don't fly planes; we don't do open heart surgery. We don't need perfection, because if something goes wrong it can be fixed easily. Funnily enough, not many things go wrong at all; I guess it’s in Zurich’s DNA to go for getting it right the first time.”
What Huber is alluding to is a general change in consumer attitudes, which are now far more tolerant of ongoing updates and improvement, such as the Android / App Store experience. Bug fixes and improvements are pushed to the users on a daily basis and the acceptance of these has become normal. Gaining a better understanding of customers has allowed Zurich to innovate in a new way, and this is an advantage it intends to use continually. The implications of COVID-19 on service have also reshaped the company’s approach, “We retrained some of our staff to become virtual agents so that we could offer our customers an additional access point to get in touch with us.” Taking his cue from the convenience displayed by e-commerce innovators, Huber’s philosophy is that Zurich’s customers should be able to communicate through any means they see fit, “It's not up to me to tell them, that's the old way of thinking. Today, insurance needs to be present wherever customers want it.”
Zurich: Serious about sustainability
Although COVID-19 is still dominating headlines around the world, Zurich is aware that the greatest threat (and insurance’s biggest challenge) remains climate change.
Natural disasters caused $76bn worth of insurance losses in 2020, a 40% increase on 2019’s figure. In response to the increasing incidence of weather-related catastrophes, as well as their dedication to build a brighter future, the company has developed a robust policy on sustainability.
“Finding a sustainable business model is so important and we all don't have much time. Zurich is really leading the way and I think it's great to work for a company that has made such a strong commitment to sustainability. The plan itself comes from our Group CEO Mario Greco, who has been very vocal about this for a number of years already. Everyone in our organisation is keen to support it.”
Zurich’s enduring legacy throughout its long history has been to improve the lives of its policyholders and deliver brighter futures for all. Although the method for achieving that ideal may change through the decades, its commitment to positive customer outcomes remains undiminished. It is ultimately Zurich’s culture that Huber identifies as its key competitive differentiator, an advantage that it carefully directs towards its employees, too. “Throughout the pandemic, Zurich didn't furlough or dismiss people. We paid them as usual, including bonuses, and stood by them. We will continue to do so,” he proudly states. As the ‘new normal’ becomes ever clearer, Zurich International stands ready to use its trademark mix of technology, partnerships and culture to bring customers the cover they desire.