Meet the digital crusader who is recasting the business model of Aegon Life Insurance

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

-Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Turns out there’s a lot you can accomplish with a complete IT makeover. So much that it can guide product development, result in comprehensive process improvement and take your business model to the next level. The IT makeover of Aegon Life Insurance has delivered all this and much more.

And Martijn De Jong, Chief Digital Officer & Chief Marketing Officer, Aegon Life Insurance is the change agent who’s inspiring, pushing and even backing a new wave of IT projects at the company. Going off the beaten track is a quality that De Jong has a reputation for. The IT agenda of Aegon Life Insurance, shaped by him speaks volumes of his unconventional choices. The creative maverick that he is, De Jong thrives on the urge to find newer ways of tackling the new normal- digital disruption.

In a feature interview with ETCIO.COM, Martijn De Jong lays bare the IT roadmap of his company and reveals how he is capitalizing on IT to bring a new slant to the direction of Aegon Life Insurance.

Early Mover

Quick to realize that the cloud model could rain considerable benefits for business, De Jong took quick strides to make Aegon Life fully operational in a cloud environment.

In 2016, the insurer signed up for a five-year agreement with IBM for a hybrid cloud solution hosted from IBM data centers in Navi Mumbai and Bangalore. This was also the time when Aegon Life insurance had decided to migrate to a ‘direct to consumer and digital’ model by creating an online portal. As a part of the agreement, IBM maintains continuous business operations and improves overall business resilience via the IBM Cloud through the IBM data center in Mumbai, while creating a scalable IT service platform for Aegon Life India’s infrastructure and applications environment.

“Aegon Life Insurance is the only insurer in India to go 100 percent on the cloud model. The cloud model has enabled us to reduce our time to market, scale up faster while improving the efficiency of our IT operations,” claims Martijn De Jong.

Last year, the insurer migrated 50 percent of its workloads to AWS cloud. The move came as a response to AWS launching its dedicated region in Mumbai. “This gives us and the regulator a confidence that our data is within our geographical territory,” he says.

Explaining the reason behind the transition, De Jong states that AWS is leading in the ML and AI space. So the company thought it wise to transition to the AWS platform. “We are moving our workloads in parts to AWS. First, we are moving our analytics to AWS. We have hosted our data warehouse in the AWS cloud,” he shares.

A turn of speed

The cloud model has given Aegon Life the agility to deliver business outcomes fast. The company has launched an industry first initiative in terms of issuing all policies (including even medically underwritten) within 48 hours.” This brings together efficiencies that we as a digital insurer get in deploying a pure digital on-boarding process which not only simplifies customer verification and underwriting process but also brings to customer delight. This is a digital innovation we are bringing to the industry,” proclaims De Jong.

For policies sold through our feet-on-street direct sales team, Aegon Life Insurance has launched a 15-minutes straight through issuance process where at the end of the customer journey, the customer gets a policy issuance confirmation on email. This digital innovation is already showing increased productivity for its sales team.

AI is unleashing a new wave of innovation in the insurance sector. Acting on this vision, Aegon Life Insurance is running a number of advanced ML and AI projects related to market optimization, automatic underwriting and for providing personalized consumer content. It has become the first insurance company in India to build Machine Learning in Google ad search. “We are using ML for Google Adwords and certain keywords. They are followed in real time and culminated with either bidding higher or lower, based on what is the bounce rate it gets. The higher the bounce rate, the lower the bid,” he says. This has helped the company with SEM Bid Optimization.

Machine learning is also being leveraged for churn prediction. It facilitates the life insurer in identifying customers who are not going to renew their policies or are going to exit their investments. Basis this information, it can then take corrective action with the right communication.

The company is leveraging big data for automatic underwriting. “We profile customers based on increasing number of data points available from many different data sources both internal and external to the company,” he says.

Breaking new ground

Richard Branson, once famously said that a business is simply an idea to make other people’s lives better. De Jong has made this the credo of his company. And this has helped him explore the possibilities of stretching the company into emerging areas like IoT –driven preventive health tech initiatives. He is leveraging IT to break new grounds in the insurance industry.

Insurance by definition has always been a reactive industry because the compensation is provided only if an unfortunate event takes place. But De Jong wanted to turn the situation on its head. As a health insurer, he wanted Aegon Life to get involved in a constructive and proactive way to avoid the unfortunate event from happening. He wanted to tap into structured and unstructured customer data to suggest preventive health measures for them. “We want to help them live long and healthy. That is the overriding theme we are excited about from a product point of view. We are in advanced stages of development of these preventive health measures. But we also require the IRDA’s approval on this. For such heath tech initiatives to fructify, we need to collect more data from consumers and give them health advice like doing more workout, exercise, dietary suggestions etc,” he informs.

“We endeavor to create an ecosystem around the customer to promote a healthy lifestyle. Currently, we are running a pilot project where we are testing it out on our customers in metro cities. We are measuring the policy holder’s health real-time in partnership with health-tech partners, with the help of wearables and health-related performance metrics that we reward the policyholder. For example, gym membership at a subsidized rate, coupons, access to health coaches, doctors and preventive health checkups,” he adds.

Once the pilot testing is done and IRDA approval is granted, the insurer will go to market with the initiative to help people with preventive health measures. In the first phase, it is targeting health complications like diabetes.

“Medical research has proven that Type 2 diabetes is reversible so we want to help our customers get cured of the medical condition with the help of preventive health advice, modifiable health behavior and healthy lifestyle alternatives. In the second [phase we will target heart diseases and smoking. Health tech reduces the odds of falling prey to these health problems. There is a high demand for such services. The final go – live is dependent on IRDA approval.,” he asserts.

Aegon Life is working together with a leading Healthtech provider in a pilot where a customer gets access to a wrist device that measures activity and an eco-system of coaches, dieticians, and doctors that can be consulted for better lifestyle choices that can lead to a healthier life. Based on the actions of the customer, points can be rewarded to the customers that can be used for discounts, reduced premiums or other benefits and thus creating a win-win situation for both consumer and insurer. There’s a lesson here: Sometimes creating customer delight just needs good intentions. 

Setting new standards

The conventional methods of connecting with the customers won’t work anymore. So Aegon Life has developed a new feature, automatic email routing to respond to the customers in a speedy manner: “Using NLP we can identify the customer’s reason for contacting us and route the email automatically to the right department/ person. The system can also in some cases automatically respond to the customer,” he reveals.

Life insurance is a life stage business. In keeping with this facet of its business, Aegon Life Insurance keeps track of a customer’s changing circumstances and needs to reach out to him with a policy that is best suited to his requirements. “We gather information from his previous purchases, interactions with us, third-party data providers, DMP, social media etc,” he says.

In the ‘Internet of Me’ trend, every customer craves a personalized, ‘curated for me’ experience. Delivering this level of personalization requires insurers to better understand their customers’ actions and behaviors, and to use this knowledge to target the right policy at the right time to the right customer. A cookie-cutter approach won’ t work in the digital era.

AI is helping the insurer create a personalized lead nurturing strategy to enhance conversion rate. “Once a customer has come to aegonlife.com we recognize his interest based on his behavior. We then start a conversation with him through mediums including website notifications, browser notification, web banners, emails, and SMS. We customize the message based on the customer’s profile and his earlier response to us. All of this is tied together by a machine learning algorithm that is constantly learning the best way to segment customers and communicate with them to increase our conversion from customers to insurance quotations and then sales,” he explains. The company’s intention to go the extra mile to make the customer happy wins them over.

On the website level, Aegon Life is using Data Management Platform (DMP) to personalize the website according to the customer journey. “We have segmented customer data and accordingly the best products are suggested to the customers. We leverage Dynamic Creative Optimisation (DCOS) for providing the personalized site, personalized messaging and creatives. Based on the customer’s profile and previous activity on the internet the website serves a banner with the ‘right’ creative and message. If a customer has generated a quote earlier, we help him continue his journey by recognizing him and taking him back to where he left off earlier,” he states.

To be relevant is to embrace the priority

Stay relevant, Don’t go meme! That’s the mantra De Jong’s team has adopted. It constantly reminds them to shape their strategy in a way that can help them come up with offerings that are relevant to customer needs

The company has launched a large customer-driven innovation project. Customer-driven Innovation(CDI) is a 23-week project. “The project is still ongoing and we have concluded the exploratory research part which has led to the identification of protection needs for consumers. We have put those ideas into product prototypes that currently are being evaluated by consumers. With the active involvement of the customer in the product design process we hope to achieve that we bring a more customer-centric approach to the market with products that fulfilling the real needs of the customer,” he says.

For better integration with partners, Aegon Life has developed a set of 12 open API’s that are available to its partners for quick and almost effortless integration. Where in past it needed weeks of integrating and testing, it can now be done within 24 hours. The API’s covers everything from policy setup to policy issuance status and thus making it much easier to work together.

De Jong persistent efforts at remodeling the IT function of Aegon Life Insurance has indeed expanded the role of IT in the wider arena of business.

Digital crusaders like Martijn De Jong are betting big on emerging technologies to profoundly reshape business models and stretch the contours of the competitive landscape. Meet them at the Economic Times CIO Annual Conclave 2018. Click here for more details." ETCIO ITF2018"

Source: ET CIO