Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
The pressure on Suncorp to boost its productivity and maintain its competitive edge has triggered a significant re-think of its data analytics strategy.
Speaking at the Tableau conference in Sydney this week, the insurance giant’s statutory insurance performance reporting analyst, Mark Nelson, revealed how implementing a new internal data reporting system has helped boost performance, optimise internal capabilities and positively impact the organisation’s bottom line by $6 million across the board.
Suncorp Group is the largest general insurer in Australia and maintains general insurance, banking, life insurance and superannuation brands across Australia and New Zealand with 14,000 employees and 9 million customers. As a result, making what Nelson described as a ‘paradigm data shift’ was not without its challenges.
“Being a financial services company, Suncorp is focused on financial outcomes and an end-of-financial year goal, but the insurance sector is even more complex, and it is hard to gauge performance,” he told attendees. “Our claims business means we need to measure the performance of our claims handlers year-to-year, while not drawing it to a financial outcome, as they are not related directly to that end profit.”
The paradigm shift in internal reporting
One of the problems Suncorp faced was around settling drives, which tended to focus on older claims.
“We found that as a result, newer claims suffered,” he said. “Things were missed, not done well, and resulted in poor behaviour as the focus was too narrow.”
To combat this, Suncorp shifted from a yearly financial target to a weekly target.
“A yearly push means a lot of pressure on the business and staff can become unhappy,” Nelson explained. “But a weekly push kept accountability at the forefront. We also changed from a pure financial outcome focus to an action focus. This meant looking at what the claim handlers were doing week to week, to deliver outcomes against set metrics.
“We also implemented a reward and recognition system off the back of that, which allowed us to reward people quarter to quarter against these key actions. By creating this week to week accountability, we were further able to set up a system that was more agile to financial, policy and regulatory change.”
Shifting from financial to operational outcomes meant reconsidering both business and information viewpoints, Nelson said.
“Otherwise it makes it a very difficult process,” he said. “From a business point of view, you need to have a clear and defined expectation of operational performance and transparent accountability of results. So you need to have business leaders on-board who are prepared to be accountable. You also need to take action to improve but at the same time, trust in the process.”
Nelson said information also needs to be timely, reflect relevant and measurable metrics, accurate data quality and delivery and be easily accessible.
“As a result of our shift to WOW reporting, we found we had clarity of purpose at all levels, especially when it came to people being engaged,” he said. “Gamification was also a new concept we introduced in our reward and recognition system, and we could create cultural shifts within the company easily, given the dynamic nature of our new reporting system.”
Tackling emerging complexities
An emerging challenge as the group added elements to the new report was complexity. Nelson said there was also a risk of detracting from the key focus.
“We had to make sure we didn’t overcomplicate the report, otherwise our teams would be spending hours every week trying to understand it,” he said. “It had to be quick and easy to understand, and that’s where Tableau came into the equation.”
According to Nelson, Tableau’s data visualisation approach represented a big shift from the report’s beginnings in Microsoft Excel, and enabled Suncorp to leverage a better quality assurance delivery, better identify any team changes and spot error evaluation and visualisation notification.
“The new system was very intuitive and it also notified any errors really easily through visualisation data,” he added. “It’s really good for someone like me who can scan the report quickly and easily, and identify any gaps in the report by seeing something like a red error alert. This is unlike Excel, where you have to read through the formula, and ours was three or four lines long.”
As a result of implementing Tableau, Nelson claimed the first ever actuarial process impact was delivering profitability in valuation by $6 million. The group’s CTP business also rose from one tenth to one third of total profits in 2015.
“Tableau has now become the central information provider for Suncorp’s project uptake and initiatives,” he said. “On top of this, staff engagement, retention and leader productivity is now quite high. There has also been an FTE reduction as a result of using the new WOW system, and because we’re more productive and processing things quicker, we no longer have so many older claims sitting there.
“In fact, the success of our statutory reporting has now been recognised in other areas of the business, which are now also looking at implementing change in variant forms. This really is a testament to our story that it has worked.”