October 16, 2015

Chinese Whispers through Chinese Walls

Great Wall of China

Finding an effective path for digital channel and customer engagement in the UK Insurance Sector and other B2B2C markets

Our Insurance customers, as with all of our intermediary “rich” or “B2B2C” channel customers, have a number of strategic themes in common at board level:

  1. How Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) do we need and want to be to retain and increase business? And what role do our intermediaries play?
  2. How can we reduce the friction caused by time loss, data loss and message distortion between parties to increase both distribution marketing – speed to market and customer feedback?
  3. Given regulatory and financial reporting requirements, how do we demonstrate and prove that we communicated accurately, fairly and in a timely fashion?

The Competitive Imperative

Fintech screenshot

The competitive threat posed by disruptive technology giants and Fintech startups that are driving these board level questions is recognised by our customers, the scale and speed of the threat is palpable. It is clear that new entrants will not be competing on the same field, their approach and methods suggest a truly alternative view of financial guidance.

In a recent interview given by Martin Gilbert, CEO of Aberdeen Asset Management, he highlights the clear focus he and his team have on the threat technology giants such as Google present to financial service firms who lose their direct connection to their customers or who play an advisory or intermediary role.

The topic of “robo-advice” is also beginning to hit mainstream media and political circles. UK regulatory bodies have started an investigation into the positive role these tools might play in consumer advice, as the business model for humans providing advice to other humans is ironically eroded by these same regulators (Niall Ferguson has considerably more value to add on the unintended consequences of regulation, an effect augmented greatly by the speed of change the Google effect brings).

Consumer financial services would appear to already be losing the fight (or perhaps, failing to fight in the first place) to the tech giants with, in the UK alone, mainstream advertising campaigns for the likes of HSBC, Santander, Natwest and so many more giving clear precedence to the Apple logo.

Pay icon

These brands are proudly endorsing the fact that they support Apple Pay as their new mode of transaction but how long before Apple is the consumer banking brand of choice, or at least, the owner of the consumers’ attention? Consumer banks would appear to be retreating from D2C to B2B2C with the iPhone and Apple being the new branch, card, wallet and communication device.

For more on this topic, I would encourage anyone to read Michael Saylors The Mobile Wave or watch his defining keynote presentation (below), delivered way back in 2011, visioning the disruptive and disintermediating power software brings. In his words: “software will dematerialise physical objects, such as money, keys, identification, documents into apps and data. In this world, anything that can be dematerialised will be, given the inevitable efficiencies in doing so combined with the improved customer experience they bring.” Bear in mind this was delivered three years before Apple Pay was invented – genuine visionary remarks.

So just how long do the intermediary and B2B financial services sectors have, before the tech giants take direct aim at your customers?

Some suggest up to 10 years. Given the speed of digital why would it take so long? Just think, the iPAD is only five years old today.

We can all agree the battle has begun. We speculate the important years in the war are the next three to five.

How have we focused our efforts to support our customers?

Business to business communications in intermediary “rich” industries remains a core competency of the CDS group across all our focus sectors, not just financial.

For example:

  • In financial services we create digital strategies to allow fund managers and insurance brokers to transform their engagement with institutional Investors and IFAs by creating self-service platforms, extranets and web tools.
  • In the automotive industry, we support the intermediary exchange of data, product information and service design between manufacturer and dealers, as well as the media, and regulatory bodies.
  • For transportation, we are connecting the network of suppliers, from the operators of trains, planes and automobiles to the tracks, stations and buses to deliver one stream of information to allow every commuter to plan their journeys and deal as best they can with delays and worse.
  • In property services via our Asset Factory™ product, we are providing whole property cost, use and value insight at scale (hundreds of thousands of buildings), by integrating data feeds from supply chain vendors to our customers in the areas of finance, HR, Land Registry, Valuation Office, facilities management and many more.
  • As a prime supplier to the majority of government departments, regulators and executive agencies in the UK, we are continually working to bring the community of regulator, law maker, supplier and customer closer together to support societal progress.

What is our approach to supporting our customers?

Answering the call to action…

Returning to the key strategic questions posed at the outset of this post:

  1. How Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) do we need and want to be to retain and increase business? And what role do our intermediaries play?)
  2. How can we reduce the friction caused by time loss, data loss and message distortion between parties to increase both distribution marketing – speed to market and customer feedback?
  3. Given regulatory and financial reporting requirements, how do we demonstrate and prove that we communicated accurately, fairly and in a timely fashion?

How do we seek to answer the above?

We understand that any consumer (business or otherwise) much like water, will flow through the path of least resistance to seek out the greatest value. A digital journey is no different.

We need to identify the journey our customers take, and the journey we would like them or need them to take, and then work to align these journeys across the channels.

Disintermediation however is not the defacto answer; certainly not the only or required answer.

Intermediaries are not of themselves a guaranteed point of failure, but a disjointed, ineffective chain of engagement can:

  • Slow process without a corresponding increase in value
  • Distort communications creating frustration through perceived ignorance
  • Obfuscate or restrict access to information from the customers point of view

All of the above breeds distrust, frustration and weakens the value proposition – but these problems do exist in large organisations without intermediaries.

Another interesting observation is that the new technology platforms themselves are generating new models for insurance, but still on a broker or intermediary relationship basis rather than straight D2C. One great example is BoughtbyMany – a Facebook based insurance broker.


So disintermediation is not necessarily the outcome of the shift to digital – but zero friction, connected throughout the channel engagement, surely is. This is what we seek to deliver for our customers. Our mantra is “Right Content, Right Contact, Right Context”: a simply put mantra, but complex to deliver.

We achieve it by focusing on our “Marketing Target Operating Model” design and “Data + Content” delivery programmes.

How are we helping customers deliver digital transformation?

Here are some great examples of how we are working with major brands in insurance and business to business financial services to create the low friction, high speed, undistorted engagement customers seek out.

Supporting Zurich's digital strategy

For Zurich we are focused on defining their future Target Operating Model for customer engagement.

The CDS T.O.M. approach has been successful in a number of sectors and customers. In Insurance it is particularly central to understanding the complex web of systems, intermediaries and customer touch points across both sales and marketing. It is a vital starting point to plotting a low friction path for engaging with customers through channel partners. Our goal is to support Zurich in attracting end customers to engage in positive content marketing via sites such as Zurich News and Views, but then adopting those users into the channel via partners and direct sales staff, who take forward those nascent interests, by ensuring the necessary human and broker support still occurs for major transactions.

Wesleyan building

For Wesleyan, the journey has begun with their internal digital workplace, a recognition that in an advisor lead market, the value add offered by the broker is the knowledge they have and how they deploy it collectively and individually. Wesleyan’s large and geographically dispersed sales, marketing, analyst and advisor teams can be enabled to share intelligence and customer advice amongst themselves to speed up the reaction time of good practice and guidance spreading to a larger customer and intermediary base.

Aberdeen Asset Management

For Aberdeen Asset, we have supported them in delivering ThinkingAloud, an acquisition focused outreach and engagement service designed to reach the end-customer, but not to challenge the channel in terms of sales and customer ownership. The service is so successful in the original UK territory, unique versions have been rolled out already in the USA, Australia and Italy, with more countries to follow this year.

All examples highlight completely different strategic approaches, but all are steps forward to answering the key questions:

  • How D2C should we be?
  • How can we reduce friction and remove distortion in our communications?
  • Whilst maintaining regulatory compliance.

Author: Peter Mann, Client Services Director at CDS Digital

Get in touch