Startups Can Contribute to Our Innovation Culture with Their Freshness and Agility

One of the largest Slovenian insurance companies, Zavarovalnica Sava, and a long-time Podim partner, is attending this year’s Podim conference. We spoke to Boris Zorko, Director of Processes and Innovation at Zavarovalnica Sava, about trends and the impact of technology on the transformation of the insurance industry, innovation, opportunities and also about cooperation with startups.

Read the full interview below.

Trends in the industry

1. Your insurance company is increasing its innovation activities every year. What do you see as the key trends in your industry, the insurance industry, that are having the greatest impact on you now and in the future? How is your company responding to these trends?

Trends are carefully monitored, researched and analyzed using our in-house Trend Radar tool. Depending on their relevance and usefulness, we focus on different trends and use them to guide our innovation activities. The technology companies in the insurance sector, the so-called insurtech companies, are one of the inspirations for better trend-oriented activities. We try to address the trends that bring the most value to our customers and employees as best and as quickly as possible.

During the pandemic, we were able to react quickly to the changes and offer our customers a technological solution for remote claims handling. We also underwrote policies remotely, which required us to overcome a number of obstacles, including remote signatures.

Customer expectations and business optimization are the main drivers of change. As in other industries, artificial intelligence and the use of diverse data sources will have a significant impact on insurance processes and the development of new insurance products. Currently, the two most relevant trends in insurance are the use of machine learning to perform specific activities and the full automation of repetitive operations. AI will dictate further development or relevance. There are also many back-office processes in the insurance industry that are also undergoing digital transformation. We are not only thinking about business goals, but also sustainability goals, because we are all too aware of how our environment is changing.

For simpler products (e.g. »Mladi voznik« (Young Driver) Insurance, MicroMOBILITY Insurance, etc.), we offer online underwriting and tailor the content of the products to different needs. Of course, we also offer the same to our agents so that they can offer their clients exactly what they want or need.

Key technologies

2. Which existing and emerging technologies do you see as having the greatest impact on transforming the insurance industry, and how do these technologies fit into your strategies/plans/processes?

About ten years ago, we set digital transformation as a strategic goal, followed by paperless business. We have achieved these goals. Now it is time to optimize and automate processes and use appropriate advanced technologies. I believe that the transformation of the insurance industry will be influenced by several advanced technologies. The most important right now, of course, is artificial intelligence. We are already using machine learning in our internal insurance processes, especially in claims handling, which enables our employees to work more efficiently and is the basis for automating certain steps in claims handling.

It is important that we explore and identify the different business applications of advanced technology, especially in repetitive and simpler processes. Testing allows us to better evaluate these solutions and then effectively integrate them into our processes. One example of such technological innovation is the use of drones and an in-house Geographic Information System. In the case of last year’s weather events and widespread losses such as windstorms and hail, they proved invaluable in making our people’s jobs easier and enabling faster and better claims handling. We are working to be better prepared for potential similar events this year, and have already identified areas for improvement in their use.

For us, it is crucial to actively monitor and respond to trends, technologies and related potential new risks and objects of insurance. For example, in recent years there has been a strong trend in the Slovenian market to install heat pumps and solar power systems, which bring various risks and hazards for our customers and their homes. We can address them with different insurance products and services and thus fulfill our mission.

Advanced technology also allows us to take a proactive approach to prevention. By using these technologies, we can potentially reduce the extent of damage or, in some cases, even prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Let us not forget that we are a service industry, so we place great emphasis on communicating with our customers. In recent years, we have made ourselves available through various channels, adapting to the way customers prefer to communicate.

Business strategy

3. Related to the first and second questions, what are the key focuses of your medium- and long-term strategy? What are the priority areas?

We have already talked about strategy in the previous questions. Our strategic goals are to take care of our customers, our employees and the environment. We are socially responsible and are and will continue to be involved in all the local environments in which we operate. Of course, like all businesses, we want to make a profit. We are willing to invest in advanced technologies to achieve these goals, knowing that without investment we will not be able to maintain our current position and reputation as a successful brand, let alone take a step forward.

Cooperation with startups / tech companies

4. How do you see working with startups or tech companies to achieve your strategic goals? What areas of collaboration are you most interested in? What criteria do you use to select startups for collaboration? And, of course, what do you have to offer these companies?

We see collaboration with startups and technology companies as one of the ways to achieve our strategic goals. We are open to collaborations where we see that together we can improve our processes, e.g. through automation and simplification, not only to optimize our internal processes but also to provide a better user experience for both our customers and our employees.

We use three key criteria to select startups to collaborate:

1) The business relevance of the solution or service for our insurance company, which means that the solution must have added business and user value.

2) The maturity and financial stability of the startup, as we want our potential partners to be reliable and capable of long-term cooperation.

3) The size and competence of the team, as we believe that the success of the collaboration is highly dependent on the skills and abilities of the people behind it.

If a start-up or technology company meets the criteria described above, we are open to a discovery meeting to explore the possibilities of collaboration. If we find a business fit, we can start a pilot project that may lead to a longer-term collaboration, depending on the objectives and results. Successful examples of collaborative practices have the potential to be scaled within our Sava Insurance Group, which can provide even more value to startups and a reference for further partnerships.

Opportunities and challenges within the organization

5. What internal challenges or opportunities for growth and innovation do you see in your company? How can startups contribute to these challenges, opportunities or innovations?

Within the insurance industry, we face a variety of internal challenges that provide an excellent starting point for a variety of innovations of different scales, from small, incremental innovations to larger, disruptive innovations. Both small and large innovations are opportunities for growth and development and offer the chance to collaborate with external companies, including startups.

External companies can contribute with their different perspective and technological know-how to overcome our internal challenges. Their rapid adaptation and way of working can complement our domain insurance expertise and motivate us to step out of our comfort zone. They can also motivate us to find new, innovative solutions.

Innovation culture

6. How does your insurance company foster a culture of innovation? What is your insurance company’s superpower? How can startups, with their freshness and agility, contribute to this culture?

In recent years, we have set up a systematic innovation process, led by the Process and Innovation Department under my supervision. One of our tasks is to spread openness to innovation and change through various innovation activities such as innovation workshops and innovation projects. We actively encourage all employees to participate in innovation activities, as we believe that every employee can be an innovator. We are assisted by selected employees with a greater affinity for innovation, known as Innovation Ambassadors, who act as a bridge between all employees and those responsible for innovation. Our greatest strength are our employees, who not only fulfil the mission of the insurance company with their dedication, heart and empathy, but also play a key role in innovation.

Our innovations are recognized both inside and outside the insurance company. In last year’s regional competition for the Best Innovations of the Podravje Region, we received the gold award of the Styrian Chamber of Commerce for the “Maš to!” innovation and the silver award of the Styrian Chamber of Commerce for the “SavaFit” inovation. We also received a bronze award from the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry for the “Maš to!” innovation at the national level. Our goal is to make innovation a skill for all employees, not just a word or an event.

I believe that startups, with their freshness and agility, can contribute to our culture of innovation. They can encourage our employees to be more fearless in proposing and developing new ideas. At the same time, they can help us implement ideas more quickly, further enriching our innovation portfolio.

Expectations from the Podim Conference

7. You are a long-time partner of the event. What does your company expect from this year’s PODIM conference?

We are happy to support local and high quality events like the PODIM conference. Every year at PODIM we get inspiration for our future work, gain insights and trends from the market, and have the opportunity to network with many technology companies in one place, which is especially “convenient” as the conference is held in close proximity to our insurance company. From this year’s conference, we expect to gain new knowledge and insights into the innovations that many startups and tech companies are diligently developing, including from the international environment. We might even be the inspiration for an idea. 😊

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