Why agile delivery is a critical success factor for digital transformation
Lombard International Assurance’s head of IT, Renaud Marquet, outlines how the wealth-structuring solutions company has built a digital platform that is perfectly aligned to its users’ needs.
The digital revolution is not only spawning new business models and disrupting markets; it is dramatically changing customers’ expectations of the digital user experience (UX). Whether shopping online or performing work tasks, users expect to engage with digital platforms that are mobile, intuitive and attuned to the activity they are undertaking.
At Lombard International Assurance, head of IT Renaud Marquet and his team are putting great user experience at the heart of the company ambitious digital transformation journey. He is convinced that this is only achievable through the rapid, agile development of both processes and software that are informed and driven by business users.
During the second half of 2016 the Luxembourg-headquartered company, which has more than $80 billion of global assets under administration, worked with global IT company Fujitsu and specialist UX design agency Nvision to create a new digital platform for the partners who sell its unit-linked life insurance solutions for wealth and succession planning purposes to high net worth individuals.
Launched in January, Connect was conceived as a customized platform that would eclipse standard unit linked life insurance servicing capabilities. Key to that was the use of business-centric prototyping, where partners and business stakeholders could review and feed back on multiple iterations of the platform as it took shape.
Co-creating a compelling user experience
“We want to give our customers all the benefits of digital transformation — Connect is just the first step of a journey that will deliver superior services,” says Marquet. “But it was clear from the start that if we wanted this to be a success it would have to be designed by our customers.”
After a series of Vision and Design Thinking workshops run by the company’s business and IT departments, together with the technology partners, the different needs were translated into a working prototype. That functional design was then tested extensively with partners, whose multiple rounds of input on subsequent iterations allowed the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP) and, in a matter of months, a full-feature platform.
As Marquet highlights, Fujitsu brought expertise to the project that was outside of Lombard International Assurance’s core IT competencies. “We are an insurer so our IT development capabilities are more on back-end systems, on products, in implementing financial regulations — much less on the front-end.” Such user interface design is not only a fast-moving area but is also an increasingly significant part of any application build.
“To make sure the platform meets the expectations of the user, we need that expertise in mobile, front-end and user interface design,” he says.
The agile approach helped both partners and internal stakeholders appreciate the concept and the value it would deliver, says Marquet. “Because they could visualize the ideas they were able to advise on the user journey, content, branding and so on — and select what best fitted their requirements.”
The prototyping also served as a live communications tool. “We used it to share ideas with the business, to make sure that everyone had the same understanding of what we were trying to achieve,” says Marquet, “as well as prove the value of the benefits to the board and get approval for the project.”
Intrinsic to the development was the ‘fail-fast’ aspect of agile. “This process is a great way to test ideas. It allows you to make mistakes and correct those in a simple, safe and inexpensive way rather than in the middle of a large project,” he says.
Optimizing a portal with design thinking
The feedback from early users has been instrumental in its successful rollout, says Marquet. “Those who were along on the journey from the start have been extremely positive. That experience and the fine tuning we were able to do along the way made sure that the final project matched expectations. And that meant that partners who were rolled out later also gave the portal a very positive reception.”
But the benefits flow both ways. “With a clean, smooth, seamless front-end interface it is now much easier for a partner to use the platform to access policy and investment information,” he says. And that has the additional benefit of reducing the companies’ call center overheads. “One of the ideas from the start was to make it so easy to use that partners and end customers would realize they could simply spend five seconds on a mobile device to get the information they needed rather than 10 minutes on a call.”
Future drivers of digitalization
This is just the first phase of an ongoing digitalization at Lombard International Assurance designed to meet changing customer demand. “Today, the demand is largely coming from our partners who want to be more efficient and scalable, and to interact with us in a more digital way. But that is shifting,” says Marquet.
“In our segment, you may think that high net worth individuals traditionally sit down with their private bankers and advisers to discuss wealth planning, life insurance and so on. But the truth is that more and more millionaires and billionaires are actually under 40 and they are used to new mobile digital technologies.”
That represents both a threat and an opportunity, he says. “The threat is if you just don’t offer mobile, digital solutions you will eventually lose customers. But it’s also an opportunity. In this particular segment, we want to be a thought-leader, to be the first in digitalization and to provide additional, better and faster services. So we really want to anticipate that new demand to make sure that when the majority of the customers will request advanced digital tools we already have them available.”