Insurance Edge went to Amsterdam recently to learn about low code web development platforms. Yeah, rock ‘n’ roll eh? But the thing is, it was actually very interesting because low code allows your company to do your own thing, in real time, online. No legacy systems, no phoning tech support to add a few photos on your app and no IT crowd saying `we can’t change that page because..’
We spoke with Ashley Doody, CIO at Personal Group about how OutSystems helped them change their business to suit an evolving life and healthcare market.
Can low code really let insurers and brokers take full control of their product development, customer experience and data handling all in one package? Insurance Edge went to Amsterdam to chat with Ashley Doody, CIO at Personal Group to find out more.
IE: Not that long-ago insurers, MGAs and brokers often had an IT department, where servers whirred away and basic changes to your website often took months to accomplish – low code has revolutionised all that hasn’t it?
AD: Personal Group are an insurer in their own right, we underwrite the product and it’s perhaps unusual to find a smaller company that does everything; from soup to nuts. Our business was quite traditional, bit like the ‘Man From The Pru’ knocking on the door Friday night and collecting life insurance premiums.
In our case we did that sales process in the workplace and the products were similar, basic insurance, hospital, death and convalescence type plans. But over time it became more difficult to walk into places of work and ask employers `can we sell insurance to your employees please?’ They might say it’s a health and safety issue, then GDPR came along. We used retail discounts, books of vouchers and so on to keep our customer base interested, but strategically needed to develop our own employee benefits platform.
But we could see that there was a big risk to our business, in that the day might come when we simply couldn’t reach our core customers, we would be denied access to them. That’s where OutSystems came in.
IE: Did you have to transform the `IT Crowd’ mindset within your IT department?
AD: Yes, to an extent. Personal Group had a traditional IT department with seven or eight people there, and they weren’t used to building consumer-facing platforms. You have to re-skill because you can’t hire a load of developers to do what you need to do. I picked OutSystems for a simple reason; I could get the hang of it fairly quickly.
When we brought in OutSystems, there was some scepticism about doing things differently. But after six months watching our team of three people building our first product, that same person said, `I’ve changed my mind, can I get involved with this new stuff now?’ That person is now here at this conference today, a true convert.
Watch the live session with Ashley from the Next Step Amsterdam event here;
IE: So much software now, like say WordPress or Umbraco is fairly intuitive, but there always comes a point where you need support. How did OutSystems help with that first product development process?
AD: A team from OutSystems supported us for the first six to eight weeks, and then we were away and created the first iteration fairly soon after that. One of our first clients was then flipped over onto our new platform. We have expanded our team to about nine in-house, and a really good mix of younger developers and more experienced IT people who have seen it, done that, and got the T-shirt.
The platform now supports 800,000 users, we have our new website, and the smartphone app version. Plus, we have just launched geo-location push notifications. So, if you’re in Tesco you get a message which says `Hey looks like you’re shopping, did you know you can get a voucher that gives you four percent off instantly?
The biggest step up for us is that our traditional route to market was via big employers like Network Rail, the NHS and so on, but OutSystems allows us to reach the SME market much more effectively. It’s a platform that works at any level, and we can customise it to fit any type of customer.
THINK PAYDAY, THINK SAGE
IE: The genius thing about your OutSystems experience is that you built something better, and then you sold it to Sage! Tell us more about how you did that.
AD: Roughly 50% of all employees work in SMEs in the UK, plus we have competitors who are already in that market and spend a great deal of money marketing in that niche. We sat down with a flip-board and tried to write down a list of partner companies that we could use to tap into those companies, without old fashioned door knocking and use all the advantages of the internet. Top of that list was Sage, because they do payroll for so many companies.
We thought that we could integrate our product with Sage software. You can now visit Sage’s website and buy Sage Employee Benefits. Underneath that it’s our product and built on OutSystems, so Sage had more confidence in what they’re buying. It wasn’t something we had built from the ground up, like an old-fashioned legacy system, and that made it a good fit for Sage. Plus, because we are operating in insurance, which is a highly regulated market, Sage also had that peace of mind too.
IE: As insurance is migrating online in terms of sales, is your new platform as good as old fashioned sales people in the workplace?
AD: The key thing we do is sit down one-on-one with people and tell them how our insurance works and around 50% of them go on to buy our insurance. That is because we make the products really simple; you want a death policy or hospital cash plan and we just need a few details, and then you can pay via payroll deduction every week or month.
That 50% stat hasn’t really changed since 1984. Now, we can record the conversation on an iPad so that we are compliant of course, but essentially the product hasn’t changed much, nor has the sales pitch. Just the method of delivery.
IE: Insurance now is a utility, but it’s also a personal thing – you’re protecting assets, your health, or people?
AD: Yes, very much so. It is still a people business and you have to add a human touch online as well.
For example, we read about Mrs Lane, who was the partner of a delivery driver who wouldn’t take time off for diabetes health checks. If he took time off, he lost money. After suffering health complications, he sadly died, so we got in touch with Mrs Lane directly. These are exactly our type of customers; our mission is to ‘protect the unprotected’.
In the gig economy you have a sad situation where employers cannot give someone money because it admits liability – suddenly a freelancer is deemed to be a direct employee – and yet those employees definitely need help, need money, if things go badly wrong in their life. That’s where we can offer something traditional and affordable.
Some of our app customers are not our traditional clients, so that’s definitely brought us new customers. There are many more professional freelancers and consultants now and ultimately many of them need private healthcare cover, in case they cannot work. Those professional people still love a retail voucher or discount code too.
IE: Who doesn’t? The big advantage for all companies is that they’re offering a potential benefit, but it puts the employee in the driving seat as regards choice, and your company deals with all the admin?
AD: Yes, the UK enjoys pretty much full employment, maybe not the great wages that everyone wants, but you can get a job in most parts of the country.
In a market where employees can easily jump ship, it does help employers retain staff if they can offer something like Personal Group products to their staff. Once you make the sign-up and payment process easy using our OutSystems platform then the company has no extra costs involved in providing that benefit, and no admin time to consider.
IE: Ashley, many thanks for your time.