Alena Kharkavets, VP Digital Strategy and CX, outlines the transformation roadmap that’s enabling a new, digitally driven vision of insurance processe...
At a time when it seems like there’s insurmountable uncertainty about so many aspects of life, BrokerLink is spearheading a new approach to the insurance process: one that emphasises clarity, community and customer-centricity. Founded in 1991, this Canadian company has managed to create an expansive presence across the country, with over 140 branches serviced by more than 2,000 employees.
“I've been in insurance for over 13 years. Throughout my entire career, I’ve always had the mindset of wanting to understand how all the pieces fit together,” says Alena Kharkavets, VP Digital Strategy and Customer Experience. Joining BrokerLink in October 2013, Kharkavets relates that her current role, in combination with her extensive industry experience in actuarial, corporate development, operations and sales, provides her with the “big picture thinking” she needs to thrive. That holistic mindset is crucial for a company with a broad geographic footprint, which, nonetheless, must still deliver a consistent level of high quality service across all of its locations. Kharkavets adds that “every single branch has a unique, grassroots presence and that resonates with me tremendously.” With regards to her management style in this ‘many community branches with a unified approach’ model, Kharkavets credits one of her previous roles as a sales team manager as a perfect primer: “It was one of the most transformational experiences of my career; it really taught me how to break down complexities into something more simple.”
BrokerLink’s national scale doesn’t detract from its local impact, and employees benefit just as much as customers. The company is a firm believer in fostering career development, which it facilitates by being a subsidiary of Intact Financial Corporation, allowing brokers to have a wide range of career opportunities from underwriting to claims adjustment. “We’ve worked very hard to be a great employer,” states Kharkavets. “In fact, we’ve obtained ‘Best Employer in Canada’ from Kincentric, again.” Empowered with lean and agile capabilities through analytics technology, BrokerLink’s team managers are given access to a variety of live data and customer surveys. “This year, we’ve received over 40,000 responses from our customers,” Kharkavets says. “The notion of changing our tactics and addressing pain points depending on what we read in those comments or observe in trends is hardwired into BrokerLink’s culture.”
Like many companies around the world, BrokerLink rushed into action at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “In our case, nearly all our employees ended up working from home virtually overnight,” Kharkavets relates. “I think the pandemic will change how we stay connected and how we make sure that culture is retained, particularly when onboarding new staff.” This also goes hand-in-hand with BrokerLink’s renewed focus on employee wellness and mental health. Indeed, for the company and insurance generally there is a sense that things are on course for significant change, including how customers experience modern products and services. While digital transformation certainly generated the momentum for a technologically invigorated industry, Kharkavets believes that current conditions are enabling its fulfillment, “The pandemic has accelerated a lot of trends that we’ve seen before.”
Developing omnichannel customer service capabilities has been a direct and necessary consequence of increased digitisation at BrokerLink. Customer needs and expectations are changing in relation to technology, claims Kharkavets, and insurance’s evolution will be dependent on its realisation of this fact. However, while it’s tempting to assume that there is a clear divide between younger people (i.e. millennials) preferring digital self-service options and older people wanting agent-based service, Kharkavets states that the truth is much more nuanced. “Everyone talks about digitisation in those terms, but what's interesting is, when we dive into the data, 35% of BrokerLink’s ‘70+ years old’ demographic enjoys using an app for their insurance needs.” Therefore, she considers the continued investment in digital channels as wholly validated. However, BrokerLink is also careful to ensure that its roadmap is configured to meet the specific challenges of its clients, particularly in an industry often represented as being overly complex. “When we design things, we want them to be inclusive and accessible,” says Kharkavets. “We’re constantly exploring how digital interacts with local: how can it support and act as an extension of our branches?” One of BrokerLink’s guiding principles is its ‘#realpeople’ philosophy, a method by which digital projects are developed conscientiously with maximised accessibility as the ultimate goal. “Our accessibility score is 92% while the industry benchmark is only 71%,” she explains. “We implement the principles of behavioural science in our design: we serve information in bite-sized chunks and manage price expectations with an accuracy meter on our website. If someone’s eyesight is impaired or their attention span is reduced because they’re browsing at night and require more visual information, it all has to be factored in.”
Furthermore, on the topic of digital projects, Kharkavets emphasises the importance of instilling team confidence with ‘minimum viable product’, a concept predicated on fast-paced two-week development sprints and combined with a “progress over perfection” attitude and data-based decision making. “In digital, if you aim for perfection you’ll likely arrive too late. BrokerLink demonstrates the value of its propositions to customers and then iterates and improves from there based on their feedback and what data shows.” From these key building blocks, the company is able to forge a coherent understanding of where and how it wants to develop. Kharkavets adds that, although BrokerLink’s transformation journey has been underway for slightly less than two years, it firmly believes that maintaining focus on delivering customer value at all times will ultimately reap greater success.
Sponsoring YW Calgary’s ‘International Day of the Girl 2020’ on 11 October, a UN sanctioned annual event dedicated to empowering girls and protecting their rights, BrokerLink has distinguished itself as part of a rising movement in insurance: insurers with a strong social stance.
“Every branch participates quite actively in the community; we have a firm belief that organisations of every size - small, medium and large - have a role to play in making society a better place,” states Kharkavets. “BrokerLink will continue to champion diversity and inclusion. We believe that the input of business will be essential to achieving this goal, particularly as consumers expect companies to have an opinion and to stand up for what is right.”
“The power of ‘diversity of thought’ is huge. I encourage everyone when they start their digital roadmap, or wherever they are on their journey, to question whether they have a team that contains different opinions and consider how they interact so that everyone is inclusive of each other.”
When considering the direction of the company as it prepares to enter 2021, Kharkavets states that BrokerLink will remain as dedicated to transformation as ever, “We like to set ambitious goals. We then break them down into small steps and say, ‘Okay, here's where we are going and here's how we're going to achieve it’.” This approach will be bolstered by collaborating with its partner companies to help improve customer experience by responding to their needs. Central to BrokerLink’s future success will be an inherent trust in the value of digital technology and fast-paced R&D, which Kharkavets highlights as being particularly important. “The term ‘digital transformation’ can be intimidating for many because it's a big term,” she adds. “But you don't need to do everything at once, so long as you're putting the right building blocks in place.”