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What drives innovation in your organization?
Sam Hosey, AF Group: From the top down, AF Group continues to work on “democratizing” innovation. Meaning, we know that innovation needs to come from all areas of the business — not just the Innovation team. While the team drives our innovation efforts, the culture at AF Group empowers our employees to challenge, and when necessary, disrupt the status quo — in an effort to proactively look for better ways to anticipate and solve customer needs. We use innovation surveys, host innovation contests and hackathons, and consistently meet with various teams to keep the organization engaged and to reinforce everyone’s critical role in exploring innovation.
Michael Combs, CorVel: Innovation has been a pillar of CorVel since our inception over 30 years ago. CorVel’s decentralized structure is designed to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit. As a result, our team continually challenges the status quo by creating innovative solutions when they see opportunities. Additionally, our environment allows team members to try new things, fail quickly, and advance to the next iteration.
Jessica Hamilton, Zurich North America: Innovation is driven by every single individual that interacts with Zurich — our employees, our customers, brokers, competitors, and the general public. We have a bold aspiration to be one of the most responsible and impactful businesses in the world and this starts with innovation to support the delivery of better products, services, and experiences to all our stakeholders.
Innovation is driven by all our employees with intellectual curiosity to best support our customers and brokers. Zurich North America has been able to support a culture of innovation by appointing strong leadership to drive innovation within many of our business units or functions. Our leadership team at Zurich North America supports and promotes organic innovation within each function of their respective business. The flexibility and adaptability of each of these leaders is crucial to react to the rapidly evolving risks our customers face, so we can deliver effective risk transfer, risk mitigation, and risk recovery products and services to our customers and distributors.
From your perspective, where do the best ideas for innovation come from?
Sam Hosey: While ideas often come from the Innovation team, the best ideas are generated when teammates from various departments put their heads together. AF Group has an “Innov8” group that meets frequently to ideate and brainstorm — and we have an “Innovation Think Tank” (led by the Innovation team), that focuses on specific organizational, customer or industry challenges. Experts from across the organization, agents, customers, and even insurance vendors play a large part in coming up with and helping to drive great, innovative ideas for AF Group.
Michael Combs: Our innovative ideas have come from our internal teams and working in tandem with our partners. Technology is advancing, and the market is dynamic, so we always look for opportunities to improve. Our team actively tracks industry and technology trends and works with our partners to proactively determine approaches to address their current and emerging needs.
Jessica Hamilton: I am a firm believer that we work better together. The best ideas are a result of collaboration both internally between our employees and externally with others such as brokers, customers, insurtechs, and companies in other industries. The benefit of working for a company such as Zurich North America is that we have the resources to bring ideas to life — built on creative, solution-oriented ideas.
Historically, we have sourced innovation through a mix of different sources. For example, on an annual basis, we facilitate the Zurich Innovation Championship to encourage partnership with new, innovative players in the insurtech space. For 2022, we have identified two finalists with whom we are pursuing partnerships to provide the necessary resources to support their growth.
Additionally, we support front-line innovation, as our market facing employees see firsthand the risks that our customers and brokers are facing. Within each respective team at Zurich North America, management teams foster open conversations to allow each employee to speak up regarding their ideas.
How does your organization approach innovation in serving risk professionals’ needs?
Sam Hosey: It is important for us to leverage the culture of continuous innovation we have created and also ensure there is a clear path from discovery to implementation. There is partnership with all of our business units to understand their pain points and what tools or processes they could benefit from. The Innovation team also has a seat at the table of our enterprise strategy groups which help to inform Innovation’s strategic direction, at which market insights are shared to help guide organizational direction. At the same time, our Customer Experience team continuously surveys customers and the market to generate ideas. This enables the Innovation team to match customer and internal employee needs with innovative ideas that flow in our pipeline. This holistic method allows for both an inside-out and outside-in approach at innovation. From there, it’s essential that we align the proper resources internally to ensure the success of each innovation initiative.
Michael Combs: At CorVel, we are fortunate to own our technology platform, allowing innovation to come to fruition as ideas are generated. We have also created a Business Operations team to work with our Product Managers to ensure our development roadmap addresses our customers’ needs. We can harness ideas from our teams across the country and from our end users. We are leveraging process mapping in conjunction with artificial intelligence and machine learning to eliminate redundant tasks and streamline historically manual tasks, which allows users of our system to spend more time helping employees navigate the care continuum.
Jessica Hamilton: Innovation is rooted in solving a problem. We must be clear on the business need and be flexible in how we serve these needs. It is important to create formal processes to support a culture of innovation; however, to be successful, you must also find areas to innovate opportunistically to ensure no missed opportunities.
As mentioned previously, we support the Zurich Innovation Championship which allows us to connect with hundreds of startups to collaborate on partnership opportunities to best combat the evolving risks we are seeing daily. Many of the startups present partnership opportunities with our teams such as Zurich Resilience Solutions or Sustainability Underwriting.
In addition, we have resources to support opportunistic innovation. For example, in our Schaumburg, Ill., headquarters, we have an innovation lab which provides physical collaboration space and resources to innovate together with customers and brokers.
Generally speaking, opportunistic innovation is open to all employees, but it is Zurich’s job to encourage and provide resources to make this easy and accessible. For example, our Canada business recently launched a platform where employees can contribute their ideas and receive support from both their managers and a central team to take the next steps regarding any ideas.
Beyond supporting our employees, we also support customer innovation through product offerings from Zurich Resilience Solutions. For example, we recently launched a new service called the Zurich Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Service which helps our customers strategically assess DEI in their organization and work towards the ISO standard as well as their unique DEI goals. We are proud to announce that this service recently won an award from Business Insurance as part of the 2022 Innovation Awards.
What are some myths or misperceptions people have about innovation in risk management?
Sam Hosey: Many people use large commercial innovation tactics — the disruptive or splashy products — as the barometer of success for innovation teams. Additionally, we sometimes get lost in searching for new technology solutions. But insurance is still very much a relationship business, and accordingly strives to be human where it matters and digital where it counts. Things like the invention of the iPhone or a major disruptor like Uber are continuously used as great innovation examples. However, innovation can also be found in the small corners of our industry — such as a small change in a process that gets information to the customer faster or a follow-up text on a claim status. There are so many ways to be innovative to improve customer experience and efficiencies for the business. At AF Group, we certainly explore “moon shots” to deliver disruptive innovations, but we also push the business incrementally to ensure that the change management challenges that go along with implementing better ways to get our jobs done and improve customer experience are included in our process.
Michael Combs: Many would assert that the insurance industry is slow to adopt change. However, we’ve been fortunate to have partners who embrace change and challenge us to increase the pace of innovation. Moreover, when the impact and value of change can be demonstrated, we have found Risk Managers are more than willing to adapt.
Jessica Hamilton: One misperception often made by individuals outside the insurance industry is that insurance isn’t innovative. Every industry, even commercial insurance, can provide creative solutions to better their products, services, or offerings. This is a critical mindset change that we need to see within risk management. As risks evolve, customers are going to look for new, innovative offering that support their needs. Whichever provider can service these needs first, will hold the position as a market leader.
Everyone plays a role with innovation in insurance. We often hear a general sentiment that insurtechs are here to disrupt traditional insurers and pose a challenge to companies such as Zurich North America. This is far from the truth — Insurtechs are not a challenger, but instead an enabler, focused on evolving specific parts of the value chain. Meanwhile, traditional Insurers provide the customers base, stability, and resources needed to partner with Insurtechs, making the customer experience as seamless as possible.
What advice would you offer to other organizations that want to become more innovative?
Sam Hosey: A culture that promotes and rewards innovation — including its failures — is key. It absolutely takes courage. Not every innovative idea ends up returning the desired results, but there are always lessons learned. There must also be divergent thinking at the foundation. For example, having people who think the same, look the same or have the same background creates groupthink and a monolithic approach to innovation, which is not the goal. Everyone, especially the executive staff, has to be comfortable, supportive, and involved in the ideation pipeline and vetting process. AF Group is also a big proponent of establishing and/or empowering a dedicated innovation department. Without that entity partnering and pushing business units to think differently, innovation can sometimes get pushed aside in favor of just getting the job done or doing what we’ve always done in the name of expedience or comfort. Lastly, Innovation teams should be careful to not dedicate their resources (time, money, personnel, etc.) to ideas that the customer or business don’t need, didn’t ask for or simply can’t use. It is important to communicate and stay connected to the customer and business needs and allow that help guide some of the ideas that are pursued. If there are “solutions” being built and presented that have no applicability to the business, then that becomes a waste of resources.
Michael Combs: I would encourage organizations that want to become more innovative to listen attentively. Listen to your team members on the front lines, listen to your partners, and listen to the market. All your stakeholders are expressing opportunities for innovation if you pay attention and then ask good questions. So often, people know the outcome they want but don’t know how to articulate it, which requires a bit of digging and creativity. It is like Henry Ford’s quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” To be more innovative, it is necessary to explore new ways to travel, not just improve the current method.
Jessica Hamilton: Failure isn’t a bad thing as long as you learn from it and continue to innovate. In fact, failure is at the foundation of many success stories and our ability to pivot and evolve demonstrates the resilience it takes to lead in the marketplace.
Build a foundation to allow for innovation. Innovation needs to be embedded within an organization’s values — it starts with support from leadership. Encourage small wins — a culture of innovation is built over time.
Once your foundation is built, you can support internal innovation with outside perspectives. Innovation is about creating value and sometimes the value is already in the market, and you can provide the support or collaboration to accelerate the impact.
Always remain opportunistic. Innovation can happen anywhere. Listen to your employees, customers, brokers. This includes understanding companies in your own industry and others. You should remain aware of how the world is evolving daily and be aware of how this may affect your business or your customers.
Finally, don’t be afraid to take risks. Risk is a fundamental to innovation. Most innovations begin with a risk that others were not willing to take.
President and CEO
VP Innovation and Business Development
Zurich North America