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5. Anita Fernqvist, chief data officer and director of operations, Zurich Insurance UK

5. Anita Fernqvist, chief data officer and director of operations, Zurich Insurance UK

How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?

 

Data and analytics sit at the very heart of supporting our corporate vision and purpose, enabling a profound transformation in insurance. Our ability to drive positive customer outcomes amid ever increasing and changing expectations is driven by data, be it making ourselves easier to deal with, innovative products or assisting our customers in risk prevention. Our approach is underpinned most critically through fulfilling our industry-leading data commitment as part of our sustainability agenda.

 

2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?

 

It certainly was! Our planned activities very much continued with creative thinking required to keep the show on the road. The team responded admirably overnight to virtual working, adapting our recruitment, staff onboarding and agile methodologies accordingly, many of which have changed us for the better and secured continued robust delivery. Our data academies have gone from strength-to-strength, with people across all parts of our business undertaking data apprenticeships at different levels in support of our data citizen model.

 

Alongside this, inevitably there were new demands to respond to Covid-19, which has required at critical times an “all hands to the pump” mentality. Thankfully, a combination of a tremendously dedicated team and the foundations laid in data in the past years meant a far easier response, allowing us both to react fast through data and support proactively through analytics.

 

Above all, the changes have meant an ever-increasing focus on employee engagement and maintaining a strong team ethos which has led to all sorts of creative team events!

Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?

 

Fair to say the organisation has huge expectations for data and analytics next year and beyond, as do I personally. There isn’t a single initiative in our strategic priorities that does not have data at its core. We have one foot in the present responding to project demand that will take the business forward, but critically we also have teams looking much further ahead and undertaking exciting R&D to determine ways insurance might look fundamentally different leveraging external data and predictive analytics.

 

Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?

 

Data for good is an opportunity on many fronts. As an example this year, we have been able, through analysis of external data, to raise awareness and campaign for mandatory introduction of sprinkler systems in schools to prevent fires. Our focus for the future uses data not simply to protect against risk, but to support customers and society in risk prevention, which starts with leveraging data for good.

 

In parallel, our team is involved personally in supporting different causes and charities by putting their data skills to good use. This does not just benefit society, but also is a real source of motivation for a passionate team and throughout Covid-19 has proved a positive outlet in challenging times.

What has been your path to power?

 

At the outset of my career, I was fortunate to spend time at both Hewlett Packard and IBM, both of which gave me a passion for the corporate world and the limitless opportunities that technology can bring. After qualifying, I decided to join the insurance industry and have spent the last 15 years delivering change of all guises.

 

Ranging from delivering simple technology change, implementing pan-European policy administration platforms, building robotics and continuous improvement capabilities and driving organisational design initiatives, everything has a common thread - data. The reliance on data, creation of data, the value of data, and the damage that can be done by not respecting data.

 

A number of years ago, I was asked to use my transformation experience to pick up the data topic at Zurich. A strategy turned into a delivery roadmap, which in turn led to creating a data function, building a data asset, and developing a data culture across the organisation.

 

Since then, multiple new teams and capabilities have been added to the function, moving into leading at scale and running the strategy and delivery of all operational shared services to the UK organisation.

 

What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?

 

Building the data team at Zurich remains the proudest achievement of my career, but the pride has shifted. Initially the pride was one of a small team of 11 working together to build a mature data capability. This moved on to growing it to a larger, professional team of 30 data experts with a great culture.

 

Looking back at this last 18 months, there has been a real shift as more teams have joined my function, which in turn has changed my role to now span across all operations with nearly 200 people supporting our business. Each team has moved to self-sufficiency, with fantastic leaders emerging and carrying the individual capabilities forward.

 

It is bittersweet to let go of the reins and step away from the detail and being “one of the team” in its infancy. But it is such a source of pride to see fantastic leaders that have worked so hard to take it forward now owning their respective data, analytics and automation functions, taking the seats they so richly deserve, and having the pleasure to now lead individuals whose capability I am in awe of.

 

Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?

 

Sustainability is an important and exciting topic for us. In the areas under my leadership, this involves adapting our premises (including a number of bee hives and a drama with our queen bee!); supporting our “buy social” campaign (which won the CSR/Sustainability award at the British Insurance Awards in 2020); digitising our paper-based processes; and working to embed our sustainability goals into our supplier base.

 

For data and analytics, we are supporting this both through physical sustainability (green data centres, sustainable suppliers, etc) and through our work sustainability campaign. We are continuing the work on our data and automation academies, supporting charities in sharing these skillsets with future generations, with the focused approach on data ethics and our data commitment. We are also encouraging a data for good mindset across our teams both internally and in the charitable work we undertake.

How closely aligned to the business are data and analytics both within your own organisation and at an industry level? What helps to bring the two closer together?

 

We all recognise that transformation of the industry will not come without a data-centric approach. By virtue of this fact, data and analytics is embedded into every programme of work underway and our data architects are one of our most previous commodities! That said, these is always room for improvement.

 

Investing the time to ensure that data and analytics is at the table when it comes to business strategy debates is critical. It allows for early identification of opportunities to innovate and ensuring that we are part of the solution and not simply order-takers. In my view, this is a two-way commitment - as data professionals we need to be out there listening, challenging, responding and providing pro-active support, while market-facing functions need to work with us to engender a true passion and understanding for their part of the business, their customer challenges and strategic priorities so that we can all work as one team.

 

An engaged and passionate data team knows no bounds. So the ask would be across any industry to invite them to the party!

 

What is your view on how to develop a data culture in an organisation, building out data literacy and creating a data-first mindset?

 

This has been a big focus for us. In my view this can only be achieved through engagement. Fostering a culture that is excited by the possibilities, respectful and mindful of the risks and engaged in the topic is critical. We have approached this through reaching out to the organisation far and wide, through roadshows (when allowed!), webinars, presentations, one-to-ones, taking different approaches to different audiences.

 

This was a point of inflection for us, followed rapidly with offering data academies across the organisation to up-skill. Additionally, we have launched the data citizen model to bring people together, align practices, share ideas and challenge, as well as our analytics and AI forum serving as a data ethics board and supporting our data commitment. Data culture, however, is not a once-and-done. It requires a continuous improvement mindset and acceptance that the job will never be finished, it will simply keep evolving.

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