Old Mutual Insure – application of disruptive technologies and digital transformation in an evolving market

|May 19|magazine15 min read

Old Mutual Insure, a subsidiary of the historic Old Mutual financial services company, is currently in the midst of an exciting period of digital transformation. The company has been in operation for over 180 years, recently rebranding from Mutual and Federal to Old Mutual Insure, making it the oldest insurance firm in South Africa. Over that time, Old Mutual Insure has developed a laudable reputation for customer centricity and service quality which are values that form the foundations of its digital transformation journey.

Ashley Singh, Head of IT at Old Mutual Insure, spoke with Business Chief about the company’s digital transformation journey thus far, and the focus on establishing lean operations that maximise efficiency and improve the customer experience. Singh also highlights the process that takes the local economy and digital infrastructure into account at every stage, ensuring a responsible and sustainable approach.

“Digital transformation is here, and as companies we need to get on board with it sooner rather than later,” says Singh. “It's important to embed that in local optimisation, and we must ask what is fit for purpose for the company, the country and the continent.” Singh continues: “What we want to implement is a very light digital infrastructure; one that enables us to be quite nimble, yet also flexible enough for customers and industry businesses to do business with us. We try to be very light from a digital structural footprint perspective to enable nimbleness when engaging with our customer and business partners.”

Singh identifies speed to market as one of the biggest drivers behind the industry-wide transition to digital processes, meeting the expectations of consumers who appreciate the immediacy with which they can leverage new products, services, and solutions that is afforded by disruptive technologies. “The second most significant factor is reducing costs where possible,” Singh says, and indeed leaner operations ultimately benefit the customer as operational costs are brought down. “Everything we do as a business is focused on enabling a smoother and faster customer journey.”

A significant part of establishing the digital-driven approach to improving the customer experience is in the establishment of a modern operational culture. Prior to becoming Head of IT, Singh served Old Mutual Insure as the Head of Development and was instrumental in introducing Agile methodologies to the organisation, laying the foundations for a measured and precise digital transformation strategy. “A lot of what the work as Head of Development entailed was in setting up processes, establishing Agile within the organisation.” Singh’s influence has continued from there, with a pivotal role across myriad stages of the journey. “I thereafter became the Head of Solution Delivery, establishing the firm’s business analysis processes, the systems analysis, the testing capability and the integration capability back into the arm, as well as digital delivery, which was missing beforehand.” The advent of Old Mutual Insure’s modernised operations, particularly with Agile and DevOps methodologies in play, have been particularly impactful to the time to market of the company’s products, services, and solutions, as well as the establishment of digital technologies at the firm.

Looking forward, Old Mutual Insure is maintaining its measured approach to adoption of disruptive technologies whilst assessing the benefits and suitability of a wide range of exciting new options. Cybersecurity is naturally at the forefront of considerations for any firm handling sensitive data, and Old Mutual Insure has established a potent array of security-focused solutions to ensure such data is handled responsibly and securely. The level of care applied to cybersecurity practices extends to every consideration of disruptive technologies, particularly in terms of corporate responsibility and awareness of the appropriacy of installing particular solutions and innovative ideas within the context of South African infrastructure.

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“Another major trend is the Internet of Things,” Singh notes. “With regards to the Internet of Things, as much as it's growing and blowing up overseas and in Europe, we have to manage that with a level of caution in South Africa. The reason being is that the cost of data is quite high. As much as the Internet of Things can enable many new offerings that take the business forward, we have to find suitability for people in South Africa and the African continent because of the cost of data and the fact that we still have an environment where there is limited signal. There are portions of the country that do not have data coverage. That is a big consideration.” This challenge consequentially impacts the immediate viability of introducing artificial intelligence and machine learning software that rely on a strong data backbone to operate effectively. Old Mutual Insure is nonetheless working to find a solution to this challenge, leveraging the streamlining capabilities that such technologies offer to drive efficiency and positively impact the consumer experience.

This focus on sustainable operations is at the heart of Old Mutual Insure’s digital transformation journey, and Singh ensures his finger remains firmly on the pulse with the latest sustainability trends and practices of business leaders around the world. “To remain sustainable, we keep our ear to the ground in terms of what the leaders are doing, what Gartner and other research authorities mention that is moving companies towards the Magic Quadrants. We study what's taking place abroad, and marry that with local relevance before coming up with a solution that's fit for purpose,” Singh adds: “Anything that we implement, be it an application or actual infrastructure, we ensure that it's fit for the business purpose. We tie it back to solid business, or solid investment that maximises return on the investment.”

Old Mutual Insure is certainly well positioned to continually capitalise on the benefits that disruptive technologies bring, and its modern, sustainable approach offers a model for success achieved in the right way. “I think Old Mutual Insure is on an exciting journey,” Singh says. “In rebranding from Mutual and Federal to Old Mutual Insure, we have created much more synergy with the larger Group, and it also helps us reposition for success. From an IT perspective, we are looking at our entire application staff in terms of what legacy applications we have. How can we modernise operations? We're looking closely at each of our processes, and I think that in the end the business will have a significantly more competitive advantage in the market.”

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