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FWD begins syncing digital strategies

Ryan Kim, FWD’s new head of digital, says tech can make insurers more relevant than banks to consumers.



Ryan Kim, FWD

Ryan Kim says his newly created role at FWD is to develop a consistent digital strategy for the insurer across business units and geographies.

Beyond immediate business requirements, he believes that the right digital strategy can help insurance companies generate a meaningful, relevant relationship with consumers – even more so than banks.

Kim, FWD’s group chief digital officer, was previously head of digital for North Asia at Standard Chartered Bank. He helped the bank roll out mobile apps and build new products and services for its retail customers. He learned how to use APIs to aggregate data to overcome traditional bank silos.

Many insurance companies are even more siloed, as they run “federated” business models, in which country heads operate with autonomy. FWD is no different, but it has even more complexity, as it first began its digital transformation by setting up a separate entity, iFWD.

Kim’s first task is to put in a consistent strategy to develop a system that enables the sharing of experience across business lines, optimizes channels, and consolidates users’ points of contact with the firm. He reports to FWD’s group COO, Rob Schimek.

Kim is working first on the Hong Kong and Thailand markets, but expects by the end of 2020 to have all nine markets integrated.

Insurers versus banks: the journey

He says insurance companies in general lag banks when it comes to using digital tools to acquire and serve customers. Both industries are scrambling to adopt tech for customer onboarding, identity verification, and KYC compliance. And then to use data analytics to develop new products or drive personalized campaigns.

However, while banks may be a few years ahead, Kim believes insurers are in a strong position to compete for customer loyalty over the medium term.

“Insurance companies have more leverage points when it comes to using technology, especially data,” he said.

Data and analytics is a traditional insurance activity

Ryan Kim, FWD

Banks are trying to benefit from more regular contact with customers, with payments an important gateway to developing insight into people’s spending and saving patterns.

But while insurance has fewer interactions, the ones it has are often more significant. “Insurance is longer term, especially life insurance,” Kim said. “It’s across life stages: marriage, children, retirement. That means we have more sophisticated data, and within the same policy we can shift our product offering, and make it relevant.”

The data lake

Data is at the heart of the work Kim is embarking on at FWD. Integrating business units is ultimately an exercise in cataloguing and making accessible standardized data.

“We need to focus on building a data lake,” Kim said. “No single insurance company can have a life-stage offering from just its internal information.” A cradle-to-grave offering requires sourcing data, both structured and unstructured, from multiple sources, and having the right consent policies in place to make this happen.

Merely warehousing data is not enough. A warehouse lets I.T. teams extract data for a sales campaign, but it’s just for data scientists and tech folks. A data lake, Kim says, is a business-friendly data engine, where not just I.T. experts but regular businesspeople can get the data they need, set their own rules, and develop a digital campaign.

So, by putting a digital strategy in place, Kim’s goal is to empower FWD’s front office people to design and deploy new products and service at record speed.

This is less about changing the business to going back to insurance’s roots.

“Data and analytics is a traditional insurance activity,” Kim says, with a laugh. “It’s called actuarial science.” But the use of data means insurers can evolve from using it to transact to using it to predict. A data lake is also vital to design newfangled products like cyber insurance.

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