We live in a connected world, and for insurers and brokers, it’s more important than ever to check your data trails and third-party supplier chains. Knowing more about your partner companies is essential too, because your brand reputation is ultimately on the line. In the shark pool of social media, you can often be judged by the company you keep.
IE chatted with Albany Group CEO Stewart Griffiths and COO Adam Richards to find out more.
IE; Tell us a bit about Albany and how you got into the insurance sector.
SG; Both Adam I served in the Royal Marines and after leaving we both moved into Risk management for High-Net-Worth clients, private funds and fraud investigation for insurance. That inevitably led us into KYC & due diligence technology and later Compliance and Risk. It’s been a weird journey in some ways, with plenty to learn about Risk management and compliance, especially during the last year or so of the pandemic.
AR; What we have found in the last few years is that compliance has expanded, partly due to the pandemic but mainly down to the way data is connected to so many different points now. Assessing the level of risk is a complex task now, but it has to be done because of things like ESG rules in company reporting, GDPR for consumer privacy and so on.
IE; How has the pandemic affected Albany’s day-to-day operations?
SG; From a tech perspective we run an agile system where we break the teams into smaller project delivery teams who each have milestones they need to hit. As long as they meet those we don’t mind where or when the team works it’s up to them to decide. The tech support is already set up to manage different time zones, so we already had a system of communications internally, and the management is small, so we weekly stand up via team have worked well for us.
AR; In some ways the biggest change was watching insurers quickly adapt to homeworking, and to help them deal with the inevitable supply chain compliance issues surrounding that switch from offices to homes.
SG; You also have so much regulation now concerning procurement and contracts. There are lots of checks you need to do as insurers or brokers and in one way the pandemic forced quite a few insurers and brokers to really audit every aspect of their data storage and management, in an almost forensic way.
IE; Bit like an FCA visit?
SG; Yes, in some ways. But with an FCA visit people can sometimes go into panic-mode, check lots of old files and devices etc and then kind of sweep everything up for an inspection day. What we are finding now is that companies are deploying ConectÔ and working with Albany to proactively manage, their everyday supplier relationships, data, and regulatory obligations. They are automating the everyday workflows and mundane tasks and managing by exception. It’s increasing their efficiency and enabling them to really get a grip of the data that sits within their ecosystem. By default, this allows for more through and easier regulatory reporting and better governance.
IE; What kind of tech trends are you seeing in the insurance industry this year?
AR; We are managing lots of third-party supplier info right now, but another thing we have noticed is that more big insurers or brokers are setting up internal data management structures. This is partly because of the working from home default setting now, it takes longer to get everyone into particular communication loops and validate every link in the chain, as regards IT security. But if you have a big transformation project in-house, then there has to be a system of managing data flow, permissions, passwords, email addresses – everything.
SG; You also need to stress test the internal data workflow system. What happens if there is an out-of-hours cyber incident, who deals with it and how? All this stuff is being thought about and refined, tested, much more this year and we are seeing insurers proactively thinking about their operational resilience and looking to managing it with technology. Old systems that used to work in offices 9-5, are now outdated and new systems like ConectÔ are distributed across a global company, in individual homes or smaller offices, hubs etc.
Another point worth making is that in a bigger company you need to be aware of environmental & social factors, like carbon footprint, or employee wellbeing. When you have teams working in different time zones or from home all day this is really important.
IE; Do you think that ESG reporting is one of the biggest challenges for insurers and MGAs in the future?
SG; Definitely. Knowing where every unit of carbon/energy is being used across your company, understanding your partner company ethics, the administration in a claims or underwriting supply chain, is all going to become an integral part of ESG reporting. Then add-on things like modern slavery, diversity, equality and social mobility – all this means gathering data, storing it securely being able to use that data in and intelligent way and making sure that the cyber risks have been addressed will all be normal business processes moving forward.
AR; We are working with one insurance brand who are entering a multi-country marketplace for the first time, so they need to think about data chains in a truly global way. Multi-jurisdictions regarding compliance, HR, banking regs etc all needs to be built into their products and admin systems. The only way that you can scale up customer dataflow is to use tech, to automate processes and most importantly, carry out automated systems checks regularly too.
SG; We talk to IT departments in insurance brands, and they are not interested in building a new system to manage all this, they are already too stretched. But also, this isn’t IT really, because we are at the point where data is rapidly becoming its own department. I think we will start to see every major insurance brand will have a Chief Data Officer on the Board – it is that important and more so now than ever because it’s the information in the data that drives so many critical decisions.
IE; Have you found some insurers are still sort of bolting on data handling to their IT departments?
AR; Sometimes yes, there can be a temptation to add this onto the IT Management team’s workload. But it is a separate set of challenges now and we can often see a look of relief on some senior IT people’s faces when we tell them `It’s OK, we can sort this stuff out, you won’t have any extra workload.’
IE; That must be the way ahead; data & risk management partners for insurers and brokers? Brokers especially because many smaller brokerages haven’t got huge resources to constantly monitor and audit systems?
SG; Yes, and the thing to remember is that ignorance is no defence when faced with action by regulators. It is your responsibility to be on top of your, suppliers, partners, cyber risk and operational resilience. So, by understanding where you are weak and addressing it with technology and by automating so much of the standard checks and business workflows that surround compliance. It actually frees up time for brokers & Insurers so they can do the good stuff like creating new and innovative products and engaging with their customers.
IE; Very interesting insights, thank you.