I recently posted on LinkedIn how children have quickly adapted to homeschooling with virtual classes on Microsoft Teams. It made me wonder how working practices will likely change as a result of this pandemic. The replies to the post were mostly hopeful of a positive change, with benefits such as a better work-life balance.
So, while some people will crave a return to regular office life and old ways of working, for others the current situation has been an eye-opening working experience. It has certainly made us at Broker Insights focus on what works for our partners and our business now and looking ahead.
At Broker Insights, we have been able to adapt more easily than other businesses to a different way of working because of what we do, how we started and how we work. With a relatively small team of just over twenty people distributed across the UK, we are in an advantageous position because our work is knowledge-based and we have an affinity for technology. Also, when we started as an insurtech, just over two years ago, we knew we wanted to do things differently. We didn’t have legacy systems or processes, or a ‘technology debt’ to pay.
With a long career in sales, building in-person relationships came naturally to me. Yet I knew leading an insurtech platform business would mean building different ways of connecting people. It’s only been in full lockdown that we have seen the benefit of this approach. And we believe it will pay dividends as we have ambitions to expand what we do internationally.
Some of it happened naturally, as we brought different personality types from different work backgrounds together. Yet for all the talk about technology and tools, we believe it only gets you so far. We have found purpose, transparency and collaboration, and an understanding of the value of data and technology essential elements. Getting this combination right has led to more meaningful interactions, in-person and virtually. And that’s aligned with what we’re striving for on the Broker Insights platform.
At the start of the pandemic about half our team were based in the office. The pandemic forced all of us to work remotely. We now like to call it distributed working – because everyone should be considered the same no matter where they work.
From the beginning of our organisation, we built-in capability – more than just having to remote access to information. It has meant we are not trying to recreate the office online in the current situation, but rather developing our existing digitally-connected way of working.
At the moment, across the insurance industry, most companies had to recreate what they do in the office online to enable remote working. But without the right culture and support, it’s hard for people to change. And I think most companies would say it’s evident in the customers’ experience.
Post lockdown, we will continue to have office space. Company days and social interaction will remain essential to build bonds and get to know people and build trust. And we don’t want to lose out on creativity and innovative thinking – working collaboratively to solve problems. We need to understand and manage working preferences within a flexible operating rhythm.
We worked with our staff to create our core company values, and this common core ideology has been crucial in working effectively now.
In particular, our purpose is to transform the commercial intermediated insurance industry with a technology-led approach and allow businesses to focus on what they are great at.
While our company values are well-aligned to distributed working, we are continually having to adapt and rethink the little things. For example, our recruitment process is primarily focussed on in-person interactions, whereas we now know the importance of virtual interaction. The interview process needs to reflect this skillset.
‘Measuring what matters’ combined with a long-term focus and short-term views of our goals and objectives has been vital. We try to make sure everyone knows what’s going on and information and data is available in real-time to help with decision-making. Collaboration is also essential. With cross-functional teams and transparent goals set for each quarter, everyone up and down and across Broker Insights is aligned, and less siloed.
For us, it’s important to invest in this from the beginning so that we embed it before we seriously scale. Because, as we expand, we know this will become harder and that each country will be different – new team members, new languages and the ‘invisible boundaries’ of global culture.
Technology has unleashed a plethora of tools for distributed working. The right mix will depend on your organisation’s needs and you should try different ones to find out what works best for you. We use Slack for real-time chats alongside the more traditional Microsoft Office suite. We have daily Zoom coffee breaks and end-of-week drinks. Zoom is also great for giving platform demos and training to our partners. For project planning we are using Toggl Plan – useful for helping each other see who is doing what and when – and for development we use Jira from Atlassian – this makes it easier for us to plan sprints and distribute tasks. To move development ideas forward and collaborate on coding projects, we use GitHub – great for bringing the team together.
Our commercial insurance distribution and data platform assembles and securely holds brokers’ customer policies data. We believe without the platform insurers find it difficult to identify potentially valuable in-appetite opportunities amid the noise of the whole market. It is a data-led approach that produces value for brokers and insurers by making it easy for them to connect and have meaningful interactions. The insight the platform gives also helps brokers develop and manage their placement strategy and enables insurers to profile the UK commercial insurance market with certainty. Simply put, data and insight facilitates better business decisions than instinct and anecdote.
I mentioned we bring these elements to the Broker Insights platform.
As a rule, we believe it’s better to have our partners participate in shaping the platform that they use and is core to their business. That means giving brokers and insurers a say in the direction of the platform – in our purpose.
Our platform filters and matches brokers with insurers. The ‘filter’ is our algorithm that enables an appropriate exchange or interaction. We see the platform’s role, as an interaction facilitator, is to include more value-creating activities, and transparency and collaboration on the platform are being designed in.
Our primary focus is to make brokers and insurers happier and more successful by facilitating better matches – core interactions made timely and relevant by data-driven insight. Beyond the core interactions, the platform is giving insurers and brokers real-time data and insight about their businesses and the market, with benchmarking available to assess capabilities against peers. For competitors who don’t have this data, they can’t create the same level of value.
The future is still uncertain and may result in on-and-off lockdown measures. However, we hope that coming out of the immediate lockdown we will reflect upon the time and take some positives out of it. It has reinforced our belief in our approach and has accelerated the move to distributed working that we believe will benefit our staff and platform partners in the long term.
Fraser Edmond, CEO, Broker Insights