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Apr 2021

From waterfall to agile

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Mar 2021

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The need for insurers in Asia to embrace digital transformation in order to stay competitive is becoming ever more acute. We spoke to Sun Life Hong Kong’s Ms Haymans Fung to find out some of the secrets of going digital successfully.
By Paul McNamara
 
 
Sun Life is an old hand in the Hong Kong market and is very much part of the established financial landscape with an offering that includes life and health insurance and retirement products and services for both individuals and corporates.
 
There are valuable lessons in how an insurer that has been active in the territory for 129 years is staying cutting edge by embracing digital. We spoke to Sun Life Hong Kong chief marketing and digital officer Haymans Fung to get a sense of the depth and scope of what digital transformation for an insurer can involve.
 
Strategy development
To begin, how does an insurer go about establishing how many ‘moving parts’ a successful digital transformation strategy should include?
 
“We look each initiative to see how valuable the opportunity is for the company as a whole,” said Ms Fung. “And most importantly how valuable is the initiative to our clients. We also have to look at how feasible it is to operationalise each initiative within our company in terms of resources.
 
“Something may look nice on the surface but does not create sustainable value to clients. If so, it may cease to be a priority. We consider value versus complexity and then prioritise,” said Ms Fung.
 
Fleshing out the digital transition strategy with targets is equally important. “First we ask what, why, how and who,” said Ms Fung. “We talk to all the stakeholders including IT, operations and the marketing product team and even our advisers to see whether an initiative is aligned with our company vision. Then we’ll assess the level of technology adoption and user readiness.”
 
Development culture
“A lot of the time, the biggest challenge is not technology,” said Ms Fung. “The biggest challenge is internal: How ready we are as an organisation to make those transformations? We to do a gap analysis to understand the change enablers and whether we have the resources internally to support such initiatives,” said Ms Fung.
 
Prioritising the different elements of the transformation strategy is also critical. “This is very much a business decision,” said Ms Fung. “Where does the organisation see the biggest opportunity? For us it is definitely our clients and our advisers because we see our clients as our lifelong partners and our distribution channel is mainly our advisers. We first ask: Are we servicing our client in the right way?” she said.
 
“The second priority is the advisers. Do our digital initiatives facilitate our advisers to be more efficient, more professional and to do more business and better serve our clients?”
 
Releases and sprints
Sticking to deadlines within timelines is also paramount. “We prioritise initiatives and strategy and, based on those strategies, we set the timeline,” said Ms Fung. “We break our initiatives into blocks. In each block we have specific objectives and key results (OKRs). Some blocks are fixed in three-month or six-month timelines and some are not. Because we’re moving towards an agile approach, we have releases in shorter timescales. We may have a release every two or three weeks.
 
“Then we have the sprint. The sprint lasts from one month to two months. For each big release, we have KPIs for each - plus we have a review cycle,” Ms Fung said.
 
Ensuring that transformation is a continual process is also a matter of pre-planning. “First is communication,” said Ms Fung. “It is a continual process, bringing the whole organisation on board. We communicate what is going to change, why we want to change, who will drive the change and who will be impacted.
 
“Second is setting OKRs and expectations on staff appraisals. Third is management support from an investment perspective - knowing that management is committed to investing in the longer term. It’s not just one project or one year.
 
“Fourth is our approach. Changing from waterfall to agile makes a big difference. In a waterfall, it’s a project and you deliver and then that’s it. But with agile, there will be continuous releases and we know that each release may not be perfect, but that’s OK, the next one will be better,” she said. A 
 

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