While the world of insurance is ostensibly centred around human experience, it’s amazing how often that focus falls by the wayside, particularly as technology becomes ever more of a priority. BNP Paribas Cardif, the insurance arm of BNP Paribas, is working tirelessly to buck this trend.
Joel Edgerton, COO, and Colm Kennelly, CIO, have been fronting a technological transformation of the Japanese arm of the business. With backgrounds in business, finance, and engineering between them, the pair boast a powerful grasp of both technology and economics in order to lead this transformation.
“We are very committed to the Japanese market. We have been growing faster than the market for about 14 years,” says Edgerton. “We’re not a normal insurance business – we work with partners on bank insurance which distribute our products. Facing strong competition, we realised that the best way we could compete was with customer experience. That started our transformation.”
As a result, BNP Paribas Cardif in Japan has stormed ahead of other businesses and shed competition, upgrading along the way without negatively impacting customers. According to Kennelly, the technology transformation in Japan was a mountain to climb as opposed to a hill, but the payoff has been huge.
“The real battle in Japan is generating buy-in and building momentum and trust in terms of the vision, the mission, and the direction, which involves a healthy degree of change and disruption,” he explains. “Once you get to that point, you mold it all to Japanese values and culture which results in a team player mindset. It’s a very steep mountain initially, but the wonderful benefit is that when you do, you get a conveyor belt-type delivery mechanism where you can churn out quality delivery whilst building on trust and delegation that I don’t think you get in many other countries.”
Edgerton and Kennelly worked on creating the most amount of flexibility in the business transformation whilst catering to the requirements and culture of the nation they serve. BNP Paribas Cardif wanted to introduce more products and distribution channels, leading it to deconstruct core systems and rebuild them in a more modular way, ensuring a data-driven process and infrastructure.
“We can reuse our business logic and reuse data while moving in a way that’s flexible and agile,” says Edgerton. “We’ve got the architecture mapped out for the next five years to develop, in close coordination with our head office. We’ve already started building out pieces of it that are in place, and as we add new business functionalities they’re built into the new architecture. Data is core to that, but the real impact is not so much on the technology as much as how we implement change. In particular, what is the customer experience impact of any given change?”
“We’re not a technology company, we’re an insurance company,” adds Kennelly. “We’ve got a laser focus on the fact that our mission is to deliver tailored, best-in-class and fit-for-purpose insurance solutions to improve the risk management and quality of life for our customers. Technology isn’t the be all and end all, because there will be cases where we have customers who are very receptive to and demanding of high technology, and customers who are the exact opposite. It’s very important that we have a real and accurate sense of what our customers are looking for.”
BNP Paribas Cardif utilises data to better understand customers, first and foremost. This extends from the most basic point of contact at the call centre, where BNP Paribas Cardif puts no limit to how long an operator stays on the line, to the most complex elements of any relationship between a customer and an insurer.
“We see a lot of possibilities about how we can create new and better interactions with customers,” says Edgerton. Kennelly adds: “What’s very important in Japan is trust, respect, sincerity, and commitment. Delivery of superior product is the result, but it’s about the journey for us.”
“You hear customer experience buzz words all over the place,” Edgerton continues, “but we don’t want to do the same as everyone else.”
As such, the business organises its own version of customer experience around a Japanese concept called ‘omotenashi’, which translates directly into English as ‘hospitality’.
“In Japan, the word for ‘customer’ and ‘guest’ are the same,” says Edgerton. “The assumption with omotenashi is that you know your customer so well that you’re able to fulfil their needs without them asking. There is no difference between you and your customer.”
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No longer needing to compete on price or product specifications, BNP Paribas Cardif concentrates on competing with this omotenashi concept, which is long-running and ever-evolving. Taking the time and effort to create strong relationships ensures a unique level of loyalty.
Kennelly is keen to point out that the audience any business needs to get on board first is its employees, long before customer partnerships can be forged, and that the unique way in which Japanese people work as a team is invaluable.
“The expectation is that the senior individual at the top of the organisation provides a safety net if things go south, but there’s also an understanding of a level of support from the collective,” he states. “That’s what generates the belief, the trust, and the commitment. If anything goes wrong, the team will try to solve it with transparent communication and try to make decisions based on data.”
“The characteristic I’m looking for in new employees the most nowadays is curiosity,” Edgerton adds. “Employees that are willing to ask questions: ‘why is the customer happy or unhappy? Why are we doing it this way? Why are we not doing it another way?’ In the same way, we do not want suppliers but partners that are willing to learn and grow together with us. It’s that curiosity combined with technology that’s really going to take us forward.
“For the companies adapting to technology change, the ones that will be successful are the ones keeping their core beliefs and focus on the customer, and use technology to benefit them. Otherwise you either rush to get the technology in place to survive, or get wiped out.
“We want to be in the first group. We want to be an innovator, a pioneer, and not be scrambling for survival. We want to add value to the customer.”
For Kennelly, the customers must have a “meaningful and aligned experience with BNP Paribas Cardif” in order for the business to thrive. Currently, it appears that this mindset has been wildly successful for BNP Paribas Cardif, and allows the business to bask in confidence for the future while it moves ahead with advanced technology.
“We’re looking at what we do in terms of AI, in terms of business automation, IoT, mobile, cloud, social, and how that’s all underpinned by being a truly digital process-driven company,” Kennelly concludes. “We also need to challenge ourselves naturally in terms of whether what we’re doing is adding real value from the customer’s perspective. If not, apart from the mandatory topics which we have to do regardless of whether the customer sees the value or not, we shouldn’t be doing them.”