Lead Forensics
New VOI Podcast


Cyber and technology – navigating a crowded ecosystem

08.04.24 AdvantageGo

The latest Voice of Insurance podcast instalment features two senior executives working together on technology in different ways: Serene Davis is Global Head of Cyber at insurer QBE; and James Orchard is CEO of QBE Ventures.

Up to now, the development of cyber insurance has been patchy for property and casualty (P&C) insurers, QBE included. Different strategies have played out across various markets around the globe, according to global head of cyber Serene Davis, based in Los Angeles, who joined QBE last year.

In the maturer cyber markets in North America, Europe and the London market, her cyber underwriting approach has been about developing cyber business cohesively. In Asia and Australasia, she described a “ground up approach”, bringing cohesiveness to markets at an earlier stage of development.

Davis has been tasked with creating a global offering for cyber at QBE – maximising the benefits of the group’s expertise, scale and footprint – for a product that works on a global scale.

“That’s something that QBE has been missing a trick on,” she said. “I think it will be quite meaningful to flex our global muscle for the first time in cyber. That speaks to bringing the organisation together across divisions. To do cyber ‘globally’ is important to QBE because it takes priorities we have beyond just a profitable product that we can grow.”

From her previous regional US roles at Beazley, Davis described the situation around fifteen years ago, when there was a limited pool of subject matter experts to partner with, such as cyber security technology vendors and forensic legal specialists. This situation has now transformed into a crowded marketplace, she described.

“It’s a lot of fun for me to see what’s in that ecosystem of new startup technology,” Davis said.

“If you fast forward to today, it’s almost overwhelming, all of the vendors and companies who want to be in the cyber space. James [Orchard]’s team helps with making sure that who gets in front of me and in front of the cyber team is worthwhile to explore.”

James Orchard is chief executive of QBE Ventures, He runs a team of ten, whose job it is to assist senior executives like Serene in realising their vision through the partnerships and strategic investments that will build up the technology providers that will help them achieve their goals. As a product at the forefront of technology and insurance innovation, Serene noted she works closely with Orchard, who works closely with the business teams.

Orchard began his career in the private equity world – useful experience for managing QBE’s insurtech ventures arm. He took up his role around three years ago, during Covid, wanting to join an insurance company with a large footprint across the key P&C markets globally.

“Particularly in commercial and specially lines where I felt there hadn’t been too much innovation yet, and it was about to explode. The chance of doing all that was too good to refuse, so I took it on,” Orchard said.

He’s keen to explain that whereas some venture capital funds are focused on investment returns over the short to medium term, QBE’s ventures arm is a strategic venture that aims to harness innovation to the group’s benefit.

“Our role within QBE is to accelerate the delivery of the group’s strategic priorities by bringing the outside in,” he said, adding that there are two pillars to this strategy.

“One is the operational benefit: how can we partner with startups to help the organisation grow, to help improve margin and achieve some of its financial KPIs [key performance indicators]?” he said.

“Then there’s a thought leadership aspect: how can we provide access to insights on new trends in emerging technologies; how can we help the organisation understand new strategic spaces; how can we shape strategy for the organisation to provide longer term opportunities,” he added.

QBE Ventures’ investments are typically in the $3m to $5m range, he explained, out of a fund of $100m, with QBE typically “an active partner”, with a seat on the board to provide support and assistance, as well as a steer on strategy.

Orchard emphasised that his approach does not start with searching for startups, but rather by looking at existing challenges within QBE’s underwriting teams – such as Davis’s global cyber practice – and then matching these with emerging technologies that can accelerate solutions, narrowing the field to find the right partners to work with and invest in.

“We find times when a number of startups don’t quite have what we want, but if we bring everything together, then we can co-create or build something that’s unique,” he explained. “It’s exciting that we have the ability to create commercial structures, joint ventures and partnerships that allow us to have a combination of build, invest and partner – all together.”

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