Beyond insurance: Grupo Ageas Portugal

Beyond insurance: Grupo Ageas Portugal

As one of Portugal’s best established insurance providers, Grupo Ageas is leading the way through innovation and new marketplace offerings

Providing a wide range of products and services, Grupo Ageas Portugal is an economic Group, mostly focused on insurance, but with a wider ranging vision. The entity provides services to agents, bancassurance and direct cover. Its offerings include personal and commercial lines, in addition to all lines of business, including life, non-life, health and pension funds.

The company is also exploring new avenues beyond insurance, concentrating on health, ageing, pets and household markets. As part of this exploration, digital transformation has been critical in expediting change, increasing agility and providing customers with the best services possible. 

Ângelo Guerra Vilela is the Director of Digital Assets & Journeys for Grupo Ageas Portugal, and is responsible for managing a multi-disciplinary team, which is focused on providing users with an exceptional experience. The scope of his role includes managing all the digital assets used by the company’s stakeholders. There are 11 brands in total and 18 digital assets that fall under management, public websites, mobile apps and distributors’ fronts. 

“We see ‘digital’ and ‘digitisation’ as two different things,” says Vilela. “Though the two are strongly linked, and complementary – ‘digital’ is what the outside world sees, ‘digitisation’ is what the outside world does not see, and which enables ‘digital’; in other words, ‘digital’ stands for experience while ‘digitisation’ stands for efficiency.”

At Grupo Ageas Portugal, digital is a shared responsibility between various areas, namely marketing, commercial, corporate communication, innovation and technology. “Our digital assets serve all customers, regardless of their channel of preference. On digital, we must be where customers are, with relevance, excelling in user experience,” Vilela says. 

A new era for Grupo Ageas Portugal

For Vilela, who joined Grupo Ageas Portugal 27 years ago with a background in teaching literature and Latin, the most recent changes have been the most groundbreaking. During his tenure at the company, he’s worked across many areas, from commercial and marketing to financials, reengineering and strategy. The scope of his experience with the company also includes launching new products, processes and brands. 

“It’s been a very enriching experience,” he says, “because I’ve been involved in doing things from the ground up. Before launching our first digital department, I spent around four years as a Strategy and Performance Management Director. It was a very challenging period – along with the sovereign debt crisis that severely hit Portugal – and we had to adjust quickly and change the organisation’s profile to cope with the challenges ahead.” 

That period enabled Vilela to develop a robust field experience in corporate strategy, financial analysis, reporting, M&A and business development. “Digital started as a small team of five people, concentrating essentially on ecommerce. But our vision was clear: we wanted to expand as we learned, in secure steps, towards a holistic practice aiming at providing great customer experience, leveraging on Digital. The team I lead is one of the five first-line technology areas of the Group in Portugal, reporting directly to the ExCo.”

A unique design process

By the end of last year, Vilela and his team had launched the ADPA (Ageas Digital Project Approach) as a methodology and human centred approach that places design thinking at the heart of the development process. 

The methodology, he says, disciplines creativity by leveraging individual and team motivations and capabilities. “With ADPA, we fully consolidated the human-centric approach that we’ve been putting into practice for seven years. The process is inspiring and engaging the organisation on ‘Design Thinking’ to make it core to the development process, designing for delight (D2D) with the users, for the users.

It is this methodology that enables the teams to operate in a much more structured and transparent process of cross-functional and visualised co-creation, Vilela says. The process begins with in-depth stakeholder and market insights, with evidence-based iteration and progression, to push the limits while developing solutions that are emotional and desirable.

Two vital changes for Grupo Ageas Portugal 

The pandemic wrought massive changes globally for all companies, many of them being launched into digital solutions for the first time by necessity. But, for Grupo Ageas Portugal, landmark changes have occurred at different times as the company has organically developed and embraced new innovations and technologies. 

Vilela says: “I would underline two areas of change over a 25-year period, which are distribution and technology. On the distribution side, we’ve seen the consolidation of bancassurance accompanying the evolution of the banking industry, including four major game changers: the reduction of the branches, tight regulation, capital requirements and digital transformation. Additionally with distribution, there’s also been the emergence of direct channels from phone to digital. Agents have remained relevant, despite all early announcements that the channel would decline.”

He continues: “On the technology side, the industry change has experienced the consequences of an increased pressure on shareholder return. In the early 2000s, we saw the first race for cost reduction, with the emergence of workflows to reduce paperwork and BPO on production, claims and call centres. After the crisis of 2008-2012, we saw an increased digitisation of processes and the incorporation of cognitive systems into sales the operations. Also the digitization of the agents channels has gained enormous strategic relevance.”

 But, more importantly, Vilela points to an increased focus on customer experience. He believes that developing technologies enhancing the customer experience are critical to success. “Having websites and apps is mandatory, but by itself a differentiation factor. Customer centricity has evolved significantly – from some good intentions in a corporate mission statement, to an actual tangible reality, leveraging on technology.”

In order to remain relevant, insurers face the enormous challenge of cultural change, which then impacts organisational models and technology. Technology, Vilela says, is instrumental in this cultural shift and is an essential facilitator of change.

“To be relevant and, consequently, sustainable, the insurance business needs to focus, and this is where the main cultural shift lies. On the one hand, partnering with distribution while focusing on the customer and, on the other hand, being at the centre of ecosystems that generate value beyond the traditional business,” he asserts.

Changing the company culture

The culture at Grupo  Ageas worldwide, including Portugal, encompasses a number of areas. Leaders must adhere to and follow values that are core to the company’s philosophy. Those are listed as Care, Dare, Deliver and Share. Vilela explains: “We ‘care’ by respecting our colleagues and helping those around us, whilst staying true to who we are. That means listening and embracing different opinions, putting ourselves in other’s shoes, and building trust by doing the right things every time for our stakeholders.”

Teams are expected to ‘share’ by learning and teaching from their experiences, as well as by inspiring others, in a culture that thrives on the concept of continuous learning. “We believe in the importance of setting an example through our actions, but also on the benefit of working as a team.”

Equally, there is an emphasis on ‘delivery’, because everyone is expected to deliver on their promises while remaining focused on their priorities. Finally, there is an expectation to challenge each other, take accountability and to strive for excellence. 

“We, as leaders, must ‘deliver’ on our promises, and we make things happen by staying focused on our priorities and keeping things simple.” Vilela says that challenging his team is “all part of that culture” and has helped to drive the company forward. “We ‘dare’ by pushing boundaries, learning from our experiences and remaining inquisitive about what we can do differently. As Ageas people, we aim to create new ideas and push ourselves beyond what we know today, towards what we should know tomorrow.”

On going digital

When it comes to digital innovation and transformation, Grupo Ageas Portugal’s strategy and approach is an ongoing relationship with innovation. The company works constantly on API-ifying its practice and reaching beyond insurance. “Innovation is at the heart of our practice, from incremental to disruptive,” Vilela says. 

“Technology is not a strategic option or an opportunity. It's a must. Relevance, a prerequisite for sustainability, is measured by the creation and maintenance of lasting, meaningful and emotional relationships with customers and partners; by the ability to attract, enhance and retain talent; by the efficiency in the management of shareholder capital and by the consistency of its remuneration; and by the return of value to society. This is the identity matrix of the Grupo Ageas Portugal.”

He explains that focusing on the customer means exceeding expectations on every journey.  Grupo Ageas Portugal pursues a customer-centric digital strategy, based on three pillars: being where customers are; providing them with an exceptional user experience; and being relevant. In pursuit of this strategy, the Group's digital assets have undergone an accelerated transformational process.

Meanwhile, Médis (health insurance company of the Group) is at an advanced stage of implementing solutions based on AI, including reimbursement of expenses via digital platforms, chatbots and clinical screening, with a high ambition for innovative deliveries in the coming years. 

“Médis customers can carry out the most relevant journeys only on digital platforms, or they can switch between the physical and digital worlds maintaining a consistent and distinctive experience,” he says.

“The corporate image of Seguro Directo (direct operator on Motor), whose value proposition is based on simplicity, is also expressed in their digital platforms, which allow customers to buy, consult and manage their policies on any device, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

A healthy approach to change

Ageas Seguros (multi insurance products and services) is on a journey to provides a way to follow claims processes online and has many new developments in the digital landscape in the near future, which will make a difference for both customers and distributors.

To ensure relevance and sustainability, a further cultural shift is to be at the centre of ecosystems that generate value beyond traditional business. Within a few years, the income generated outside the traditional business could reach one third of the shareholder return, according to McKinsey studies. 

With a strong commitment to Portugal – a native market for Ageas – the Group is investing in the ecosystems that target the main challenges for the country in the coming decades: health, ageing and housing. Médis (health Insurance) is positioning itself as the orchestrator of an ecosystem in which it will become a true partner in health.

“Ocidental (Life) is also advancing, with solutions aimed at promoting quality of life during ageing having, as a first step, the launch of pioneering deaccumulation solutions in Portugal,” explains Vilela. “This ecosystem will have new solutions to be launched soon, taking advantage of technology and in-depth knowledge of a market in which Ocidental (Life and Savings) and Ageas Pensões are historical leaders. 

The digital ecosystem

Grupo Ageas Portugal is in an accelerated process of developing new solutions for health and household, in which cognitive systems will play a central role in mitigating pain points and building increasingly simpler, more relevant customer journeys. Partnerships that generate value for all parties and, last but not least, that are relevant from a customer standing point, are always on the horizon.

The organisation has collaborated with several companies on the way to provide a relevant & emotional Digital experience, and one of the most significant has been FullSix – an industry digital leader that has been working with Grupo Ageas Portugal for the past nine years. 

“FullSix, due to the vision and commitment of the CEO Erik Lassche, has been a fundamental partner in our digital journey, especially in regards to customer experience,” says Vilela. “FullSix has helped us shape our strategy, has boosted our digital marketing capabilities, and has helped us develop one of our most valuable digital assets: our Design System. We’ve been transparent with each other, and we’ve always had lots of fun. Grupo Ageas Portugal is the only insurer in the valuable FullSix customer portfolio, which for both parties is, at times, both an honour and a responsibility.” 

The move has been the backbone of Grupo Ageas Portugal’s digital transformation journey – and the biggest challenge of that process has been to meet customer expectations and demands. 

“We are always eager to innovate, to deliver and to improve. Our ambition is very high. Addressing barriers to digital transformation of the key moments in customer journeys is the most difficult step. With that step taken, what follows is execution.”

There is still a long way to go in terms of data quality, information systems architecture and business processes. However, the biggest opportunity for transformation is not technical or technological: it is cultural. Evolving from legacy systems is critical, but it’s even more critical to embrace a non-legacy management culture. “That’s what we’ve been doing for years at Grupo Ageas Portugal,” Vilela says. 

The future is digital

Grupo Ageas Portugal’s ethos is committed to digitisation, both for its processes and work force – and for the customer. But that doesn’t mean the human element will be erased from the process. Instead, more technology will enable staff to concentrate on different aspects of their work. 

Vilela explains: “If digital transformation opens a window of opportunity for insurers to continue to create economic value in a consistent and continuous way, it also creates the opportunity to leverage the human factor as a distinctive feature, as well as to be a generator of value, both tangible and intangible.

“Technology makes it possible to free people from automatable tasks and re-allocate them to human relationships, bringing emotion to the relationship between client and insurer. Only people are endowed with reason, which underlies ethics. Ethics and reason cannot be synthesised and transferred to machines.”

He concludes: “Digital transformation is an opportunity for people to make a difference. Natural or artificial, there is no intelligence without people. At Grupo Ageas Portugal, that's what we believe in.”

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