Secondment in Silicon Valley

The Aviva Blog - 24 February 2017
Subjects: Creating legacy Digital First
Author: Nick Emmerson

I'm Nick and I work in the Aviva UK Digital Customer Experience team. When I found out I could work at Plug and Play as part of our partnership with them, I knew I couldn't miss the opportunity to see how an innovative start-up culture might help us do more for our customers.

Plug and Who?

Plug and Play was set up to connect start-ups with corporations. They recruit corporate partners, like Aviva, who provide business problems. We then vote on the start-ups we are most interested in and around 20 get selected for a three month accelerator programme. After this the partners vote for the winner.

When I arrived, the first Insurtech batch had been running for two months. I gave advice to the start-ups on global insurance and working with large businesses. I also researched the other areas people were working on, like Mobility, the Internet of Things and Health and Wellness, looking for good opportunities for cross-over with our businesses

What was I expecting?

I thought it would be like Google - people cycling around the campus, massive collaboration zones, 90 hour weeks. I thought I would see robots flying around the office. I thought it'd all be topped off with amazing weather. It is California after all!

The reality is far from this. It's all very functional – we even have our own 'Aviva cubicle'. Think big open space with movable wall dividers so they can easily accommodate different start-ups as they grow. The Plug and Play guys do at least bring their dogs to work, which help creates a nice informal and relaxed environment. 

And people here do work around the clock. You never know who is going to be in and who isn't. The start-ups are meeting with investors and dealing with developers across the globe so they work when they need to. You can see connections being made all around you as everybody talks to everybody else, which is when you can start to see great ideas forming.

Interestingly the majority of Insurtech founders are 40+, not young and straight out of university and they have done several start-ups before or have experience in big corporations (so there's still hope for me!) Oh, and the weather is indeed amazing.

What did I learn?

You may be surprised to hear this, but I felt the UK consumers and businesses are more advanced than the US when it comes to digital maturity. Also Aviva's processes are digitally advanced compared to other insurers.

But compared with start-ups, we are potentially vulnerable. They can move so much faster than we can. I learnt a lot from their approach to problems and attitude to failure. They own their problems, nobody else will fix it for them, so they will quickly find a solution or work around it.

It has fundamentally influenced the way I think about our business, and I've immediately been able to see the benefit that some of the start-ups can bring. As an example Livegenic has developed a claims handling platform which incorporates video and lets multiple parties view the information. Others are looking to use drones, phones / live video for essential repairs on car claims.

Aviva’s immersion programme with Plug and Play is now really getting off the ground. Three of my colleagues are heading out in March to work with the next cohort. It’s all part of our journey to marry the prudence and discipline of an established business with the mentality and pace of a start-up. By becoming a 320 year old disruptor, Aviva will be well placed to help our customers defy uncertainty, whatever the future holds.

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The Aviva Blog author

Nick Emmerson

Nick Emmerson

Nick Emmerson works in the UK Digital Customer Experience team, with a particular focus on mapping current and future customer experiences.  He has worked for Aviva for 18 years in Life Customer Services, Global IT Operations and UK Digital where he has led multiple teams and departments.


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