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Tony Russell

Chief Commercial Officer, Charles Taylor InsureTech

Podcast 21 with Tony Russell, Chief Commercial Officer of Charles Taylor InsureTech

Matthew Grant talks to Tony Russell, Chief Commercial Officer of Charles Taylor InsureTech – an Instech London corporate member.

Charles Taylor has a long history in the insurance arena with over 3,000 employees in over 100 locations across 30 countries. Charles Taylor InsureTech was founded three years ago with, as Tony says, “the aim to work with the global insurance market on their digital journey, by blending measurable business outcomes and technology whilst appreciating how their clients wanted to trade.”

Tony also talks about their success in winning the DA SATS project (Delegated Authority: Submission, Access and Transformation Solution), which is powered by Charles Taylor InsureTech’s Tide solution, the partnership with Covi Analytics and the work that Charles Taylor InsureTech is doing in Latin America.

Listen here to Instech London podcast 21. It is also available on iTunes, Spotify, and Podbean


Transcript for this podcast

00:04 Matthew Grant: Hello, this is Matthew Grant, welcome to the InsTech London Podcast. Charles Taylor has been a long time supporter of InsTech London. And in this episode, I’m talking to Tony Russell from Charles Taylor InsureTech to hear a bit about what they’ve been up to and also the opportunities they have for providers of new solutions to partner with the global insurers that make up Charles Taylor’s clients.

00:31 MG: Well I’m delighted to be here today with Tony Russell. Tony is the Chief Commercial Officer from Charles Taylor, from InsureTech, and has got a long history in the insurance world and technology. And so I’m looking forward to hearing Tony’s views on what is happening today in the world of data, analytics, and of course, InsureTech. Tony, it’d be great to hear a little bit about your own background, but first of all, could you just tell me a little bit about Charles Taylor and in particular, how Charles Taylor InsureTech is so different from the main business.

01:00 Tony Russell: Yes, good morning. Charles Taylor is a group that’s been around since 1884. Currently we’re sitting around 3000 employees, located all around the world, in 29 countries. Turning over approaching 250 million. Two and a half years ago the group formed what now is known as Charles Taylor InsureTech, which was an organisation concentrating, I suppose, on innovation and technology. In that time, we’ve moved along quite quickly, we now sit at around 600 people, based primarily in the UK and Lat Am, out of two centres and we have won some significant global contracts over the past two and a half years. What we try and do is we try and approach things slightly differently. We’re interested in a number of things in terms of what people are trying to achieve from technology. And perhaps more importantly, understanding what their client wants in the way that they use it and again we’re seeing a lot of changes now in that market.

02:06 MG: So Tony, you’ve got a long history in the world of working in technology and a reasonably long time in insurance, you’ve been selling technology when it was large black boxes, multi-million dollar contracts. We were talking earlier and you said things are changing a lot these days. It would be good to hear just a little about your own background and what you’re seeing the changes are today and how people are buying technology.

02:27 TR: I’ve been in the insurance industry since 2002 and I’ve sold across the spectrum to brokers, underwriters, managing agents. So again, I’ve built up a reasonable experience in the marketplace. Prior to that, I ran some global software organisations, building up distributor networks, so I have a fair understanding of what’s going on as far as delivery of technology. What we’ve seen in the insurance space is perhaps a slightly slow adoption of new technology and I’ll be careful what I say here, but technology hasn’t always been at the forefront of everyone’s mind, in terms of actually servicing some of the functionality they need. But over the last year to 18 months, there’s been a real uptick in terms of the requirement for putting technology into organisations. Lloyd’s, for example, have undertaken a massive global project, The TOM project, where they’ve been trying to work with organisations around the world to make it easier to do business. And we’ve been very fortunate to win a contract with Lloyd’s. I think the whole market has become quite sophisticated buyers now of technology, and as Charles Taylor InsureTech, what we’re endeavouring to do is to try and provide a service that’s based on an outcome.

03:50 MG: So I just want to pick up that point about the Lloyd’s project, because that was a massive success, given I think, that there were over 120 companies competing, we’re talking about the delegated authority project that has been rolled out now and is starting to see some real traction. A lot of people actually are exposed to that, either as users of the system or potentially as people partnering and providing data in to it. Can you just talk a little bit about what that project is and what are the measures of success you’ve had so far?

04:17 TR: Yes, we’re really privileged to have won that project. It’s a great project and it’s a great, I suppose, achievement for Charles Taylor InsureTech at such an early age to win what is probably one of the most significant projects that Lloyd’s have undertaken. Essentially, what we’re doing is we’re providing a centralised platform to receive all the data from all the cover holders around the world, globally. We’ll receive it electronically, we will standardise that data into a standard set of formats and will allow the rest of the market to consume it.

04:52 TR: So it’s a problem that’s been within the industry for over 100 years, really ever since binders and bordereaux have been used, and it traditionally has cost our market a lot of money in terms of organising the query loops, the errors. And the project and the product that we’ve provided, called Tide, is now in place. All of the managing agents in the London market have now signed up to use it, and we’re in the beginning of a sort of a roll out and adoption exercise. The key part of this project is going to be to get the cover holders, in Europe and in the US, particularly, to start using the system such that we can catch data at source. And I think if we can catch the data at source, then the straight-through processing capability will become evident. Our goal is to remove the need for bordereaux, by processing risk real-time and that will be something that we’re striving to do. The whole platform is sitting on the Azure Cloud in Microsoft and it’s using artificial intelligence and some of the later techniques for transforming the data into the standard format. We’re very hopeful that the market adopt it as we have planned and so far it’s going very well.

06:16 MG: Great, well and so just before we move on, you mentioned bordereaux. For those people that are listening and don’t understand what a bordereau is, could you just give a quick description?

06:23 TR: A bordereau is effectively a report. It’s a report that’s produced from the cover holders of effectively, the risks, the claims, the premiums that have been captured through the various different cover holders throughout the world in their day-to-day running of the business. That report is sent over, typically, on an Excel spreadsheet, in various different formats and hence the problem that the managing agents and brokers in this market have, is in terms of consolidating that and actually processing it. So by standardising it from any format, which is what Tide can do, we hope that we’ll unlock a lot of the friction within that particular process.

07:01 MG: Yes and one of the problems that’s been out there for years, and you alluded to it and it looks like it’s now finally being solved is trying to get a standardisation of data formats. And it seems like sometimes technology is there to try and solve the hard problems, but often it’s actually solving what should be a simple problem, but just getting people to agree on formats and standards. And you also mentioned there ‘platform’, and you announced last year, you’ve increased your investment in CoVi Analytics. Is that the start of positioning Charles Taylor InsureTech as a platform, and therefore you’ll be able to work with other organisations in the industry partnering with them and providing them access to clients and analytics and potentially markets?

07:42 TR: Yes look, I think we’re at a really exciting point of the evolution of technology within the insurance market. I think, over the next two or three years, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see a significant shift in the way that technology is used in this market. Our relationship with CoVi is based on the fact that we’ve found a product that handles risk and compliance within the industry. I guess the way I’m describing it is what they’ve done is they’ve humanized the risk and compliance challenge. It’s now more as a business as usual facility rather than perhaps a chore. It’s using latest technology. It’s simplifying the whole process, and I think the relationship we’ve got with these guys is that we’re blending it together with some of our other offerings, and that’s what then gives the insurance company real value.

08:36 TR: We discussed earlier perhaps, where we kind of coined a phrase of “InsureTech 1.0”, where I think we saw a lot of InsureTech start-ups. There was a lot of money being pumped into them, and actually a lot of these organisations went to the insurance companies themselves. What we’re now seeing, perhaps, is InsureTech 2.0. I think we as a vendor have an obligation to the market of looking at some of this technology, blending it together, and then offering it as a solution to the insurance companies. We are the technologists. We should be taking a keener interest in some of these start-ups, and indeed we are looking at developing an incubator to try and capture some of these technologies, so that we can start blending them together, as I say, and offering to insurance companies a complete solution.

09:24 MG: So it’s a very interesting part of your role as a facilitator for introducing those people that have got the ideas, the technology, the businesses into the insurance market place. So, from a practical point of view, if anybody’s listening to this, and they’ve got an idea, how do you suggest they make contact with Charles Taylor to be able to explore if there’s a good fit there?

09:43 TR: Well look, the door is always open I think. Do we have all the answers? Absolutely not. Are we keen on working with organisations to find a better way of working? Absolutely. I think we all know that the way that insurance is bought, managed, and processed is going to change. We’re not quite sure how it’s going to happen, but I think individually we can all go our own way, or collectively. Let’s use our collective intelligence, bring our thoughts together and I’m sure the outcome will be better. So if you want to contact us, obviously on our website, ctinsuretech.com. We’re based in Minster Court in the heart, just off the sort of middle of Fenchurch Street. Just pop in. We’re ready to talk. We’re ready to evaluate opportunities and we’re looking to actually deliver real outcomes to the insurance marketplace globally.

10:33 MG: Okay, well, Tony I want to sort of slightly hold you to account there because clearly it’s kind of hard for somebody to walk up, I mean you’ve got a lovely lobby downstairs and a nice coffee shop, but they’ve got to figure out who they’re actually going to talk to when they get there. So who should they, how should they do it..? Do they drop you an email? Do they drop some of your colleagues an email?

10:49 TR: I’m happy to take the emails. We’ve got a marketing department led by Doug Horn as well, so he is also available to talk. But essentially I think in the first instance, myself, or Jason Sahota, he’s the CEO, who’s very fundamentally involved obviously in the growth of the company. Interestingly enough, our leadership team, and I think this may be one of the reasons why we’re seeing good results in such a short space of time is that we’ve built a leadership team of people both from the insurance industry, and from outside of the insurance industry. So other industries that, perhaps, one could argue are further down the digital journey. And that’s brought a very good conversation and sometimes tension to the board room, but it’s resulting in outcomes that perhaps we wouldn’t have achieved just on our own.

11:38 MG: So I was going to come back to you, come back to something we touched on earlier on, which is the buying behaviour and the approach to innovation you’re seeing in the insurance companies. We all acknowledge today, it’s actually really tough to innovate if you are in a large established organisation. You are doing a few things to change things, but I’d be interested if you look back over your, sort of, last 16 years when you’ve been selling into the insurance space, and how organisations bought and innovated then, and what’s happening today. And we described a little bit the last couple of years for the start-ups to get into the insurance companies, whether it’s through Charles Taylor or separately. What are you seeing in the shift in trends now about how innovation is being handled within insurance organisations, and also in particular, also their willingness to engage directly with some of these riskier and smaller companies?

12:30 TR: Yes, I think there has been a change. I think when I first joined the industry we were bombarded, in a way, with a lot of RFPs. People writing documents that would request a certain piece of functionality, whether it be a broking system, policy administration system, financial system, whatever it was. Typically what happened was this document was written on the basis of their old system with a few enhancements about requirements, that would typically be delivered to the people that they knew were in the market. One of them would be selected, and actually they would make a purchase. Two or three years later, people sometimes would refer back, and say, “Well, have we achieved the strategic objectives that we were setting out to achieve?” I think today we’re seeing organisations realise that actually the biggest issue here is what does our client/clients want?

13:24 TR: I do find it incredible that I’ve been selling systems for a number of years and I’ve never really asked that question. And I’m not sure how I’ve managed to sell a real system in the past. I think understanding what your client’s client wants gives you a great insight to the way that the systems, the solutions will actually deliver that benefit to the end user. And we’re seeing a lot more organisations now in this market being very aware about retaining business and winning business based on client experience.

13:55 MG: Yes, I think it’s a really important point and one people often overlook is that you’re not just selling to the person in front of you, they need to be able to demonstrate value to their own clients and justify the sale and it is getting harder. I think there’s more competition for the money out there. So, demonstrating and having a discussion with the client that supports their own client is critical. Tony, there are a number of areas that you’re different as Charles Taylor but at some level, there’s still a number of other large technology companies out there. There are people competing for this platform space. And if you were to summarise it in sort of one or two lines, how would you say that Charles Taylor InsureTech is different from other similar-looking organisations out there?

14:38 TR: That’s always a tough question. I think everyone likes to think they’re different. I think at the end of the day, we concentrate on a number of things. Firstly, with every project we work on, we have to understand what the outcome is. So we have to share the risk with the client. If we don’t understand what outcome they’re trying to achieve, then I’m not sure we’re doing our job properly. I think there are a number of key parts. We’re trying to build a transformation program; we’re trying to get information at the right time, clients are looking for speed to market. I think it’s understanding some of these challenges that our clients are facing and helping them resolve them in a slightly different way.

15:23 TR: As I said before, we don’t have all the answers, but we do have a team of people who have worked in a number of different markets, who have seen a number of different challenges and are now starting to blend that into the way that the insurance market is having to deliver. We were all born with two ears and one mouth. And I think listening to our client and understanding what they really want to get out of the project and actually working with them to make sure, or that they’re in asking the right exam question, is a vital part of what we do before we even start recommending what the solution might be. Quite often, the outcome and the solution is not what we thought it was when we set out on that program.

16:01 MG: You are now global. A lot of people talk about what’s happening in Asia, you have been concentrating a lot in Latin America, the last few years. It would be interesting to hear what your views are in that area and a sense of growth in both innovation and changes in the insurance market.

16:18 TR: Yes, so we kind of looked at Lat Am very early when we set up the organisation as the first part of the globe that we wanted to go and investigate. We were very fortunate with the project that we were working on in Peru, with a company called La Positiva, providing them their full back office system. And as part of that project, we set up a centre of excellence out of Mexico City. One of the advantages of being part of the Charles Taylor group is obviously we have offices throughout the world. And in the early days, we were able to piggy-back off that office which gave us some credibility in that region.

16:55 TR: Following that particular project and the win, we then set up the Centre of Excellence and we also brought in some sales people. Since that time, two years ago, we now have 600 people within the Lat Am region, and we have over 40 clients and we’re winning global business. We’ve just recently won a five-country deal with Sura, which is one of the largest insurance companies in Latin America. In May last year, we invested in a company called Inworx, who were the biggest provider of broking and online portal systems to the market. So clients such as Aon, Willis, Marsh, Gallagher’s, all use the system in that part of the world. And part of our strategy is to bring that technology back to Europe and beyond.

17:43 TR: Lat Am is certainly a region that is looking to compete on the global stage. And they had to get their technology right. So, I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t say there was an element of luck in what happened and perhaps timing, but I think we’ve pitched it and we’re now trying to replicate that model in other parts of the world.

18:03 MG: Excellent. Well, we’re delighted to have Charles Taylor as a corporate member of InsTech London. I think at one time, you actually had the largest number of people that had been to our events. Things have moved on a bit now, but I’d be delighted just to hear a little bit, Tony, about your own experience of InsTech London and how you see that as a way for your colleagues gathering information about the insurance industry and what’s happening in innovation. And any other advice you’ve got for us as we look to the future?

18:31 TR: As far as the InsureTech events are concerned, certainly the early ones I went to with Robin and Paulo, the great thing about them is the only way we’re going to get things to change is to keep pushing it. There’s got to be a mindset change and there’s got to be acceptance that change is always difficult. And I think the guys have put a great team together, yourself obviously included, and I think it’s the repetition. I think we’ve tried to do events at Charles Taylor and we always know the first one or two are very important because it’s very difficult to get people’s time. I think what you guys have done is you’ve made it interesting, you’ve got together a lot of quite interesting technology. And what that’s enabled people to do is every time you get an invite from the team, you’re going to accept it because you know you’re going to get value out of the evening. As I say, the events I’ve been to have always been very stimulating. And now that we’re starting to see or to approach it in a slightly different way, we’re going to be attending more of these events in order to offer our services in blending together some of this technology.

19:31 MG: Great, well I hope to see you or one of your colleagues on stage sometime soon. And you’ll be pleased to know perhaps that as you travel around the world, now that we are actually doing our events as podcasts, even though you won’t get a chance to sample our fine wine and food, you can still catch up on what’s happening at InsTech London by listening to us on the move. So, no excuses I’m afraid! Good, well that just about wraps it up. Tony, anything we should be looking out for in Charles Taylor InsureTech, in the forthcoming months?

19:58 TR: Yes look, we’ve re-branded recently. We’ve kind of looked at our image. We’re refining our messaging because it’s a constant change as we move into different areas. But look, the way we’re going to be successful, is if we help the insurance company be successful. So we’re interested in talking to all sorts of companies who are interested in perhaps trying something different and want to make a difference, and I think that’s probably the tag line – that we want to make a difference. But we want to do it in a relevant way, rather than just for the sake of it.

20:34 MG: Great well, and as Doug knows, and others of your colleagues with our weekly newsletter, you get the chance to put out any information, to our members, that you want to share. Tony, thank you very much for spending your time, I know you’ve got a lot going on. Really appreciate you carving out some time to tell us what’s going on. We’ll put your contact details in the podcast notes and look forward to catching up in a few months to hear all the companies that you’ve had contacting you to find out how you can work together. Thank you.

21:00 TR: Great, thanks.


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