Biz, Tech & Brains – Ep 3

We are back with our 3rd episode in our Biz, Tech & Brains series (you can read our previous episodes here).  

Another very insightful and thought-provoking conversation we had with Mr David Simons (Managing Director, Centre of Excellence, Argus Group). A quick intro, Argus Group, is a Bermuda-headquartered insurance and financial services company providing P&C, Life, Health, Annuities in Bermuda, Caribbean and Europe.  

As with other interviews, our expectation was to understand how technology can help business. But 10 minutes into the discussion, the conversation took a completely different turn. From talking about David’s take on tech being an enabler/disruptor, to building communities, to designing with people as the foundation to his vision on how Business and Tech must change to achieve Argus’s ultimate goal of supporting “Healthy Living & Sustainable Lifestyles” for their customers. It was a mind-blowing experience.

Excerpts from our interview…. 

Manomay: Argus has built a successful business in multiple verticals and territories. You are one of the market leaders in Bermuda, you have a growing presence in Europe, and obviously have the great potential and intent to grow much bigger. How do you see this journey of growth from business & technology contexts from where you are today? 
David: Yes, we have a leading brand in Bermuda in the employer benefits space, in Malta from a P&C broking standpoint, and in Gibraltar as well. However, we recognize that the expectations from a lot of our stakeholders have changed – employees, partners, and customers. We know we must evolve and modernize to meet those new expectations and technology is absolutely going to be a big part of that. But modernizing technology is secondary to the shift that is needed to our mindset and  culture. Yesterday’s mindset will not deliver the results that are expected of us today. Today, we are focused on being prudent managers of capital and that alone will not allow us to achieve the results we’re aiming for in the longer term. The economics of our business must be considered with the customer experience we are delivering. The driver of our long-term  success  is going to be customer experience and then employee experience. We need to make investments that enhance both of those, in a way that is commercially viable,  in order to remain relevant and grow in the long term. 

Manomay: That’s great. What is it that made you the market leader today? What are those aspects that are unique to Argus, those that you don’t want to change, those roots that define you?  
David: I’m glad you asked that because that is crucial. We must remember what made us who we are today, and those core strengths that we have. We are community builders. We bring people together, we make connections around shared values, and common pursuits. At Argus, we often describe ourselves as the Argus family. This ability to create affinity and a sense of belonging is what we need to continue to leverage. There’s going to be ways where technology can help us leverage and further enhance this strength. For example, as community-builders we are seeking to bring in more partners to create an even larger ecosystem that can add more value to our customers.  

Manomay: Essentially, your purpose of building communities must be the central driver for anything, understood. From a technology perspective, does your current technology help you build that? Where do you see the immediate areas of improvement? 
David: There’s plenty of opportunity for improvement in our technology. However, what really does create that sense of belonging is our employees. They enable us to build these communities. Primarily, we need to make changes to our technology such that we can further support our employees as they do this. Our customers will value positive experiences while engaging with our products, but they are not going to value the time we spend behind the scenes processing a transaction. So, for our employees to do the community building, needs identification, new product development or pursuing new partnerships, we must  minimize the time they spend processing transactions and divert that capacity to work on such higher order activities. 

Manomay: You build your employee community to help build your customer community 😊, that’s great. Moving on, what are your core business drivers today? You spoke about a few like deeper customer engagement, growing within the current and into new markets, being Numero Uno in your current market, building new products etc. Of these what are your primary drivers for the next five years?  
David: Certainly expansion, opening new markets, entering new territories that support the growth and diversification of Argus’ earnings is going to be an important driver going forward. I think another is, increasing our agility. The world is moving faster, technology is moving faster—we need technological agility, metal agility, cultural agility, and mindset agility. When we recognize a need for change, we should be able to change ourselves quickly . Agility is going to give us the ability to create new products and services quickly, create new partnerships, grow our ecosystem, identify new opportunities,  close deals, integrate new businesses or books of business etc. I think agility will be crucial to our success going forward. 

Manomay: Got it, what do you think are the common factors – your customer expectations vis-à-vis your business drivers?  
David: I guess, now, a lot of products in our space continue to be sold and not bought. We must find ways to change that. This could be through very creative things such as “embedded insurance”, a big theme of late. This represents an opportunity to enhance the overall experience of the customer by partnering with some other product that has insurance needs associated with it, thus creating a unified experience for customers. We are not necessarily changing the equation on the insurance product per se, but we’re changing the equation on the whole experience. An experience that might be bought versus sold. 

Manomay: Very interesting, David. Considering you spoke about experiences, in the markets you currently operate in, do your customers prefer more of a personal interaction rather than a technological touch? 
David:I think that question has to be explored and constantly challenged, right? You can’t paint all the experiences with a broad brush. I’m sure this applies to not just Argus, but our whole traditional financial services industry. I sometimes hear big broad statements like “our customers want a human touch”, whereas I believe reality is more nuanced. People want convenience, but sometimes they want their hand to be held and feel assured. I think people want personal interaction at the right time for the right reasons. For example, think about entering retirement and purchasing an annuity. This may be a time where a customer wants to have access to a person, to talk through and understand the structure of the product, why it can meet their needs etc. And again, tomorrow the inner workings of this product might become general knowledge, and then we respond by availing our customers of a more automated purchase experience. Going back to my agility comment, we need to constantly monitor and evolve. As an industry, we need to orient ourselves around tailoring such experiences appropriately. 

Manomay: Absolutely. But we think there is another side to this as well. A small incident that happened recently, one of our customers booked a slot for 7-8 am online, including delivery, to visit a servicing centre. But, when he got there, he was told the delivery is any time between 7 to 5 pm. The reason for this mishap was due to a human error, as there was a manual entry done. This triggers a thought – “Should the companies not focus on the way they are conducting the business first?” Because if the processes are not right then how can we ensure that we’re giving the right kind of experience for the customers? What’s your take on this? 
David:Using your example, if something went wrong and the customer had a negative experience, the brand gets hurt. My biggest concern in such situations is not knowing when those things happen, where they’re happening, or at what point in a process is the breakdown occurring. So first before building out, let’s make sure that we start with the knowledge of where we’re falling short. And then we must attack those points where our processes don’t deliver on expectations. What I’m trying to get at is, how can we put the customer at the front of so much of what we do, be it in deciding where to make investments, how we design processes etc. We have customers that would love to participate with us, in helping us make our ecosystem better, stronger and more valuable.  Let’s capitalize on that!  

Manomay: Agreed. Moving on to technology, what are your thoughts on your current technology? Do you want to replace/upgrade or add on? 
David: Of late, based on my experiences, I changed my outlook on that question. Our tech is a combination of legacy and modern systems delivering on today’s needs and expectations. Historically, the focus has been on replacing the old tech with new, but I don’t think that’s the way forward. I think we need to modularize. In my career I’ve seen various large system implementations that often failed to deliver on the full set of expectations or the business case used to justify the investment. Some benefits get realized, but these projects often run over time and over budget. If feasible, we need to shrink the usage of the legacy core systems to be just a system of records and add on new modular capabilities such as a quote engine or a data layer that sit outside of a core system. We need to create an agile architecture that enables fast changes. 

Manomay: Absolutely. Not getting the expected value (scope, time, budget) that’s an issue across the board. Based on your experience what do you think are the potential reasons for this?  
David: My perspective for this is the approach to design which is constrained by legacy mindsets. When we try to implement a new system, all the current users participate in workshops to design what they want to see in the future. But everybody defaults to designing what they already know. Instead, we need to design with  our customers who are the people we will be servicing with these new changes. We need to be cognizant of the new capabilities out there and look at how we can embrace them. Let us explore the art of the possible vs designing for the familiar. 

Manomay: We understand, that is from the company’s side. But it’s not just a one-sided problem, we (vendors/service providers) sometimes over promise and under deliver. We also come with our mindset where we push ourselves on to the companies or make a wrong pitch. What is your advice to us ?  
David: You must do the same thing – be open to change. You’re deferring to the familiar versus the possible. Truly understanding needs and opportunities and then creatively designing around that, can be the approach. It’s an open mindedness that we all need and because of human nature we’re wired to go with what’s comfortable and familiar. We must recognize that and put in place processes that avoid putting pre-packaged square-peg solutions into round hole problems. 

Manomay: Going back to your previous point, in the context of economic sense, do you think that technology vendors and service providers are also commercially oriented? Maybe they also must look at the pricing model that is tied to the value realized? What do you think? 
David: The notion of attaching pricing/fees to the value delivered is great, because we’re fully aligned, we are partnered up and it’s very much a great start to a long-term relationship versus a one-off transactional relationship. I want us to get on a path where we are measuring value delivered and we are holding ourselves mutually accountable to achieve those goals. Again, this would depend on the type of vendor, for example if you are a low code/no code platform provider, that’s one type of tech where  I would think of absolutely getting into a partnership mode. But, if you are another type of vendor with a much narrower capability with an obvious use case, a more transactional relationship could be warranted. The more capabilities and use cases your solution addresses the greater the need to partner on the value creation. 

Manomay: In conclusion if you have to talk about one key driver that continuously pushes Argus to go above and beyond? What would that be?  
David: We believe in supporting healthy living and sustainable lifestyles for our customers. That’s our goal. So, how do we do that? The answer is, we must address the physical, mental, and financial wellness  opportunities to provide solutions with and for our community stakeholders. We focus on how we can bring together all the players and partners to create an ecosystem that can deliver solutions that address those needs. We have some of the tools and continue to seek enhancements to solutions at our disposal, that we can leverage to achieve this. We are driven by a strong desire to support those who need help and are seeking like-minded partners to join us. 

“Businesses need to go beyond the interests of their companies to the communities they serve” – Ratan Tata

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