How is your organisation using data and analytics to support the corporate vision and purpose?
Data-driven analytics is one of the key pillars of AXA UK & Ireland’s “Beyond 2020” strategy. In the past, data was mainly pricing and underwriting, which represented an area of excellence. Now, almost every part of the organisation is utilising data and analytics to improve efficiency and enhance customer experience, from claims to HR. With so many parts of the organisation moving into this space, we have established a common vision and a common data policy, including a set of principles designed to support the organisation to protect data and generate value from it.
2020 was a year like no other - how did it impact on your planned activities and what unplanned ones did you have to introduce?
Like many organisations across the globe, Covid-19 has created a challenging period for our teams as we adapted and adjusted to a new, remote way of working, while continuing to support our customers across the UK. Insurance is an essential service, with millions of customers needing support on a daily basis. In response to Covid-19, we increased our teams’ ability to work from home from 30% to over 95%, ensuring we were able to continue to meet the needs of our customers, while keeping our employees safe. As a large organization, with over 8,000 UK employees, it was pleasing to see the ability to adapt demonstrated by everyone at AXA UK.
The pandemic naturally affected how we prioritised the activities of our data and analytics teams throughout 2020. Nonetheless, the challenges of the pandemic did not prevent us from moving forward with our data goals and we achieved a key milestone in successfully defined our overall data strategy for AXA UK & Ireland.
Looking forward to 2021, what are your expectations for data and analytics within your organisation?
Across the organisation, the rate of data integration and transformation differs, therefore, I would expect the continued sharing of best practice, enabling areas where the utilisation of data has been slower to learn from areas where data processes are fully embedded, replicating their successes. Overall, I expect AXA UK & Ireland to increase its data maturity with the adoption of data-driven processes more evenly spread across the organisation. Data should become one of the main business enablers in every part of the business.
Is data for good part of your personal or business agenda for 2021? If so, what form will it take?
The use of artificial intelligence and data analytics can unlock the benefits of big data. However, the utilisation of data brings ethical challenges that insurers need to be acutely aware of. Data ethics is a central pillar in our data agenda and central to our risk management and data governance processes. We have working groups, both at AXA Group and AXA UK & Ireland, identifying and addressing the ethical challenges of data and building policies to help us guard against its risks.
What has been your path to power?
My career began in consulting at Accenture. This gave me the opportunity to learn a vast amount in different fields, coping with pressure to deliver in a fast-paced environment.
I then moved to AXA Italy where, with a few others, I set-up QUIXA, a direct insurance start-up. These were the years of being creative and building a new product from the ground up. It was hard work, but we had a lot of fun. My work as CIO of that company really began my interest in data as I started the realise its power, particularly in the insurance sector. For example, I had the idea of providing a motor insurance quote from just the plate number, deriving all the necessary information from the available external and internal data sources. We were the first in the market to do this.
I subsequently took international roles across AXA in Italy, Spain and Portugal and then moved to the UK as chief operating officer of AXA Direct & Partnerships. I then took responsibility of cross-selling across the various AXA UK business units with my role of transformation director and chief data officer. As AXA UK & Ireland CDO, I focus on data strategy and supporting the data teams to cross-pollinate the best practices and level-up our data maturity.
What is the proudest achievement of your career to date?
Definitely being a founder of a new start-up (QUIXA) and watching your creation going to market. The satisfaction after so many sleepless nights is beyond words!
Tell us about a career goal or a purpose for your organisation that you are pursuing?
It’s simple – being data-driven. It seems obvious, but it is not. Becoming a fully-fledged data-driven organisation means instilling cultural change and re-engineering our processes to embed data-driven decisions into all aspects of the customer journey. That’s a long process and will require a step by step approach to be achieved.
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?
This varies depending on the business area. In the industry, there are sectors such as pricing that have been traditionally advanced in data and analytics and continue to lead the way, for example, pricing is one of the first examples of machine learning at scale.
Conversely, large parts of the insurance industry still run on traditional reports and old management information, however, this is changing rapidly. In recent years, one area in which we have seen change is in anti-fraud measures, where the industry is active with advanced analytics techniques. Similar positive change can be seen in underwriting and digital analytics.
I think the convergence of business and data and analytics will happen naturally, under the push of positive contagion from data successes. Customers will certainly play a constructive role in this shift as well by expecting and demanding more, and helping cross-industry best practice sharing.
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 is an important topic and one all organisations will be wrestling with. Organisations need to adopt a mix of initiatives; one is not enough. While focusing on use cases can be good, by only focusing on this area it is likely an organisation will fixate on short-term objectives, concentrating data knowledge on a few individuals. Training, data academies, spreading knowledge about data disciplines and sharing best practice processes are equally important to instill long-term cultural change.