As Albert Einstein stated: “Any fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” QBE is trying to do just that with a focus on simplification through a program it calls Brilliant Basics – improving underwriting quality, pricing and claims.
With a relentless commitment to getting the basics right, the leading global insurer is confident it’s on the right trajectory. QBE North America CEO Todd Jones decided to join the company in October 2019, in part, because he believed in this approach.
While QBE North America has faced some headwinds since Todd joined due to a number of catastrophes, including wildfires in California, the derecho that pummeled crops in the mid-west and the COVID-19 pandemic, he is optimistic that a stronger and simpler QBE can be born by staying focused on customers and simplification.
“Brilliant Basics was intended to take the basics of what we do as an insurance company like pay claims, underwrite and serve our clients, and do those things very well. By acknowledging that if we could do the basics – and do them brilliantly – then that in itself would give us a distinct, competitive advantage in our market. I was attracted to that and we continue to follow this strategy – no matter the challenge,” Todd remembers.
“This kind of focus and self-awareness is critical.” To him, self-awareness is the first step on a journey of improvement. “A lot of organizations run around, talking about how great they are,” he says.
“While we do that too, we also talk about where we can perform better and improve. And it’s not about being the biggest either. We simply aspire to be a high-performing, very customer-focused organization with an awesome culture.”
And that culture, Todd says, is absolutely paramount. Sure, technology plays a role in QBE’s ongoing success, but culture is the foundation everything else is built upon. Therefore, its strength is imperative.
“We’re an organization in an industry that relies almost exclusively on its talent,” he explains. “Of course, technology is a huge part of how we interact and operate every day, but it’s the people and our ability to create a caring environment that supports all of our business objectives so well.”
We are very much an organization that cares and infuses that caring into everything we do, from supporting our customers to supporting each other.
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, QBE’s culture was put to the test. “There was obviously a great deal of uncertainty,” Todd recalls. “We were navigating to a work-from-home setting, taking care of our colleagues and ensuring the continuity of our business.
“Well, in the middle of all of that, I got a phone call from one of our facilities in Wisconsin. They wanted to donate 100,000 masks that we’d been keeping in inventory as part of our normal business continuity planning to healthcare workers and organizations that were experiencing shortages. They thought it would be better than just continuing to keep them in our inventory. All of this was completely unprompted and done entirely at the direction of our folks within that facility.”
For Todd, no story could better highlight the culture of care that’s woven deep within QBE’s DNA. “Caring is an incredibly important cultural element that’s distinctive to QBE. It’s how we differentiate and compete,” he says.
“We are very much an organization that cares and infuses that caring into everything we do, from supporting our customers to supporting each other.” Supporting the community is another aspect. QBE has a program called Premiums4Good, which enables the company to give back to the communities around the globe where it operates.
“While we have business objectives and broader financial objectives, we never lose sight of the fact that one of our other key objectives needs to be about being a good corporate citizen and having a positive impact in the communities we serve,” Todd shares.
“Not just from the standpoint of a financial outcome either, but in how we actually connect with those communities, whether it’s through volunteerism or financial elements. We take this very seriously.”
The company believes that how it invests the premiums it collects can make an extraordinary difference to communities around the globe. So, by way of a unique collaboration among QBE and its customers, partners and shareholders, a portion of customer premiums are funneled into investments that have additional social or environmental benefits.
To date, the initiative has helped fund Sheffield Future’s Future Shapers project, The Benevolent Society’s Resilient Families program, the International Finance Corporation Green Bond and many more.
Without costing its customers an extra penny, QBE is able to make dollars of difference to sustainable efforts and those most in need. “People think insurance companies are there to take in premiums and be there when necessary to pay claims, which is absolutely right,” Todd says.
While we have business objectives and broader financial objectives, we never lose sight of the fact that one of our other key objectives needs to be about being a good corporate citizen and having a positive impact in the communities we serve.
“And in between the taking premiums and paying claims, a big part of what we do is investing those premiums. “When we can take a big chunk of that investment portfolio and put it into sustainable organizations or organizations that are pursuing sustainable initiatives, whether social impact or green bonds, that’s a big deal, and it’s a big part of building an organization that people are proud to be a part of.”
According to Todd, if this is done correctly, the organization can basically take care of itself. “At the end of the day, if you have the right employee population, the right culture, the right leadership and the right strategies, then you’ll have a dynamic and growing business – which we do,” he says.
“This helps you build the kind of organization customers want to work with. And that benefit clearly flows to the shareholders as well.” QBE North America has three distinct businesses – crop insurance, alternative markets, and specialty and commercial – and the culture of care binds them all together.
Looking forward, especially as COVID-19 persists, Todd highlights the importance of adding agility, resiliency and responsiveness to the cultural mix as well. “These are all necessary attributes; however, the one thing that has always been and will continue to be really important in how we navigate this uncertainty is the concept of transparency,” he reveals.
“There’s stress in the system. So, we need to be much more transparent and predictable. Because when there’s uncertainty and a lot of stress in the system, surprise is not usually a welcome element. Therefore, whether it’s with our clients or our trading partners, we want to ensure they understand things like our risk appetite, so they can have a very clear line of sight on what QBE can and cannot do as it relates to solving clients’ problems.”
Helping QBE do this is technology. In the crop insurance entity, for example, innovation is completely revolutionizing the way business is done. “We serve the American farmer in everything they do from an insurance perspective. In fact, we’re a top-three player in that space,” Todd points out.
I love being part of this organization that allows me to do what i love, which is serve clients and help build resilience to emerging risks.
“And you wouldn’t necessarily think of technology and farming as being things that sort of come together. But the reality is, technology is transforming how farming is conducted today and how we serve farmers to compete and win.”
The QBE crop team was even responsible for creating an Enhanced Coverage Option, called ECO for short, along with the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. It’s a type of excess coverage that has never existed until now.
“We were essentially the creator and sponsor of this product,” Todd shares. “It is all about continuing to provide a level of service and risk management for the American farmer. It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to construct and get through the approval process either, but we were able to get it over the finish line and began offering it in 2021, and, more broadly, in 2022.”
Even going back to its Brilliant Basics, technology is playing a tremendous role in the company’s fundamental processes. As an insurance company, QBE sifts through a lot of information when it’s underwriting a given risk in the market. It’s a lengthy process that Todd relates to that of an assembly line.
“In the underwriting processes, we’re seeing how we can leverage technology like artificial intelligence to move data through the assembly line in a quicker and more efficient manner, having human intervention only at critical decision points,” he explains.
“We’re trying to infuse this technology in a way that makes the underwriting process quicker because we think responsiveness is a big part of how we can differentiate in serving clients. It’s very much a work in progress, but ultimately, we know this benefits our trading partners.”
Todd says AI has also been a “real game-changer” when it comes to claims processing. “It allows us to take very basic, uncomplicated claims and take care of them at a rapid pace,” he tells.
In the underwriting processes, we’re seeing how we can leverage technology like artificial intelligence to move data through the assembly line in a quicker and more efficient manner, having human intervention only at critical decision points.
“It’s been a huge part of creating our broader claims proposition in the market and getting great client feedback. The clients see this as a real differentiator for QBE. It’s one that gets back to our element of caring.”
Uniquely, QBE also co-creates solutions with partners through its innovation vehicle QBE Ventures. “I describe this as the insurer tech space where we can participate both as an investor and a partner,” Todd says.
“There are great ideas that continue to flood the market that require partnership in order to develop beyond just capital. They’re going to need clients, data and expertise, and we think we can connect on those things to create some really interesting opportunities to serve customers better.”
The leading insurance company is partnering with LeaseLock to serve the rental market in the US too. “We’re foraying into a bit of insurance tech here to stimulate growth in the rental community,” Todd says.
“Basically, we created this new program that uses insurance instead of cash for a security deposit. When you’re renting an apartment or condominium, there’s a security deposit and for some folks entering the rental market this is a big financial burden – they don’t always have that much cash available to them when they’re moving into a new rental unit.
“We think it’s going to be a game-changer in the rental market, especially at a time when many are renting, and the rental population is growing at a very fast rate.” For Todd, having only been in his role for a little more than a year, he couldn’t be more pleased to be working for a company that’s ultimately helping others.
“I love being part of this organization that allows me to do what I love, which is serve clients and help build resilience to emerging risks,” he beams. “There’s plenty of opportunity in the industry we operate in. It’s one of the things I love. Now, it’s entirely up to us to deliver on that opportunity and potential. And that’s exciting.”
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