Q&A with Eugene Brien, Head of Business Development, AdvantageGo
Eugene Brien, Head of Business Development, AdvantageGo speaks about the high-level goals for the business, the main challenges and opportunities facing the industry, and what he would do if he wasn´t working in the insurance sector.
- As Head of Business Development, what are the high-level goals for the business?
The insurance sector, especially the London Market, is one of the oldest industries still in existence. When you think that Lloyd´s of London dates back to 1686, it has weathered and survived many challenges by constantly adapting to the shifting marketplace. Today is no different. Tradition is still a big part of the way of doing things at Lloyd´s and in the general insurance sector. In my 40 plus years in the industry, I still see some practices carried out that could have been modernised decades agoHowever, the market has recognised that modernising and integrating innovative technology is a fundamental strategy in order to survive and thrive. In our 2018 InsurTech survey, upgrading technology was voted the most important concern followed by underwriting discipline according to C-suite insurance and reinsurance executives.It´s an excellent time to be working in the industry as it faces the challenge of transforming itself to accommodate new risks, new business models and a fiercely competitive landscape. In my role as Head of Business development, my key focus is to help our clients fuse the traditional with the digital and embrace technology.How do we do this at AdvantageGo? We have developed a set of products and Microservices that support our clients to rapidly design innovative digital operating models via our digital platform. We have a range of cutting-edge commercial (Re)insurance software solutions that provide clients with the power, insights, and real-time data to make better-informed decisions.I enjoy meeting clients and prospects and showing them how they can harness technology to improve the profitability and efficiency of their business. It´s a challenge, but definitely an exciting time to be part of this game-changing journey.
- How did you get into the insurance industry?
It´s all thanks to my mum! A few days after I graduated from school, my mother saw an ad in a daily newspaper from a small reinsurance company looking to recruit internal trainees. She secretly called the company and set up an interview for me. When I showed up for the interview I was asked three questions – where I went to school, one question about my education, and which football team I supported (Chelsea).
I was hired (I am sure supporting Chelsea was the clinture), and have been working in the (Re)insurance industry ever since – over forty years – thirty of those working in the City. During the first three years in my first job, I worked as an internal graduate in a number of departments, among them Underwriting, Claims & Accounts. This resulted in my becoming the business analyst as the company didn´t have an IT department. I became the lynchpin between my organisation and our outsourced IT suppliers. Since then, I´ve held business development roles within the London and international insurance and reinsurance marketplace and for IT providers, therefore providing me with the benefit of working both as a client and now on the supplier side
Working in those different departments gave me the opportunity to roll up my sleeves, get stuck in and acquire a comprehensive overview and knowledge of the inner workings of a (Re)insurance company. I´ve witnessed the evolving challenges and priorities faced by various departments, and together with my colleagues, who have decades of experience in the insurance industry, we have an in-depth understanding of the expectations on both sides of the transaction. The team at AdvantageGo has developed functionally-rich core solutions that are agile and flexible to support any business model.
- What parts of your background and experience will be most crucial for you in achieving the business goals?
With over forty years in the business, there is a lot to choose from, but I think the relationships I have built up over decades contribute heavily to the success of our business today.
I rely on the insight, experience and knowledge of my colleagues and people I have worked with who have their finger on the insurance industry´s pulse. I know that experience is a hackneyed word, but a lot of the work we do and ideas we have are borne through networking with industry leaders. All of us at AdvantageGo are constantly meeting with our peers, C-level executives and with the younger generation entering the market who are generally tech savvy and intent on doing things differently.
You can´t build revenue without investing in building relationships, as long as you are honest and upfront with people. A lot of the business carried out in the insurance sector relies on meeting people face-to-face. I´ve seen multi-million projects sealed on the basis of a handshake, and trust is still one of the main currencies of doing business in the City.
I have clients that have followed me throughout my career and have bought products from the different companies I´ve worked for because they have full faith and confidence that the recommendations I make to them are the right thing for their business
- What impact do you think InsurTech is having on the industry? How do you think it might change it going forward?
I think a positive one. In our 2018 InsurTech survey, just over 80% of respondents said that they see InsurTech as a positive opportunity to improve the way that business is conducted.The barriers to entering the insurance market are high – regulation, the complexity of doing business and the changing nature of risk all present unique challenges. I don´t think InsurTech start-ups will supplant established carriers, but I do think they are acting as a positive disruptor to the marketplace. These start-ups aren’t encumbered by legacy technology and they are agile enough to quickly enter niche markets, which are experiencing rapid growth. It´s often harder for traditional carriers to move fast enough to enter new markets as most of them still have legacy technology, hierarchies and a traditional way of conducting business that holds them back.
The emergence of InsurTech start-ups gaining market share has forced large carriers who haven´t invested in technology to take a hard and long look into their IT strategy, and that can only be a good thing. According to PwC, nine in ten insurers fear losing part of their business to InsurTech firms. Although a lot of InsurTech investment has been in the Personal Lines business, usually, we see that trickle down to the P&C marketplace.I think the insurance marketplace will look different within five to ten years. According to Accenture, the number of InsurTech deals increased 39 percent globally in 2017, with the total value of deals up 32 percent, to US$2.3 billion. InsurTechs add value to the underwriting process, claims, rating risk and administration through the implementation of innovative technologies such as robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data, which are more agile in extracting information to make better-informed decisions.
- What are the main challenges and opportunities facing the industry?
From my point of view, I think it´s around integrating the new technology that is out there such as AI, robotics and blockchain. Many insurance companies still don´t have a dedicated Chief Digital Officer, who can lead on this.
Our 2018 InsurTech survey showed that of those respondents not developing in-house InsurTech expertise, around one quarter each were adopting the following strategies: using third parties; working with existing tech vendor partners; partnering with new tech companies or waiting to see how InsurTech develops.
The survey also demonstrated that insurance and reinsurance customers are looking for much more than simply an IT provider when it comes to working with InsurTech companies. Demonstrable capability was the most important attribute for respondents compared to being an InsurTech innovator, which was ranked as only the sixth-most important characteristic. Many of us at AdvantageGo have been working in the insurance industry for decades, and have a high level of understanding of the peculiarities of the business and proven track record of getting the job done.
The position of brokers may also be challenged as some believe they have the biggest opportunity because of the data they have. They have become very powerful with the data in their possession, but they are realising that a reinsurer can now not only secure direct access to data, but they can implement the tools to analyse and digest that data to give them the insight they need. Everyone in the industry is looking at eliminating links along the chain to make data more effective. The ultimate aim has to be that InsurTech can provide tools to better understand, price and write risks.
- What do you think the market will look like in ten-years´ time?
Speaking to people in the business, I have found that ´going digital´ means a lot of different things to different people. I think with a younger generation entering the market, who intuitively use technology to communicate and get things done, we will see less face-to-face interaction. Just look at how the rise of social media has changed the way we communicate today.
Many processes today will become automated, but I think this will free up people to apply their knowledge and focus on creating new business lines. Underwriters are generally the lynchpin in their organisation as they bring in the business based on their experience and knowledge. However, with advanced analytics and the depth of information we already have on risk, technology can be used to rate policies and risk without the need for human involvement. Personally, I think the role of the underwriter will change, we will seed the role becoming more specialised or focusing on niche business and innovating new products.
- How is AdvantageGo bringing strategic value to the insurance industry?
Through our digital vision, which encompasses a product platform augmented by a set of microservices. We are aiming high; to become the main tech provider to the insurance business by delivering products, micro services and data sets for any part of your insurance business.
We are currently speaking to many different providers including InsurTechs that are looking to work with us to expand our set of Microservices. Instead of having to contract with numerous various suppliers, you can easily access and come onto our platform and we will provide the required functionality and information you are looking for.
- What one thing would people be surprised to know about you?
I am a massive animal lover. At last count, I have seven dogs, donkeys, chickens, ducks and a parrots and my wife continually looks to add to the menagerie.
- If you were not doing what you are doing now, what would you like to do?
If I had the funds, I would open an animal shelter rescue centre.