At Cookhouse Labs, we’ve worked closely with many members to successfully innovate within their organizations. In the next part of our Member Stories series, meet David Simons, Managing Director at Argus Group’s Center of Excellence. Read about David’s innovation journey below!
David, thank you for joining us today! Before we dive into your experience with the Lab, let’s start with a quick introduction of yourself and Argus.
I am the Managing Director of Argus Group’s Center of Excellence, and Argus is a multiline financial services company. We have operations in Bermuda, Canada, Malta, and Gibraltar, and service customers in Bermuda, Malta, and Gibraltar. We have quite a broad range of services, such as P&C insurance, health insurance, life, pension, other financial products, annuities and so on, as well as other services, both B2B and B2C.
Our roots are in Bermuda; we’re a 70-year-old organization, and for the most part, we’ve operated in a very traditional way as a financial services company. We’re now at a point in our journey where we realize that the industry is moving beyond simply indemnifying its customers from risk, and are becoming more of a service company, truly addressing the needs of our customers. As we shift our operations (in the way we structure ourselves and the way we meet our clients), we’re really orienting around servicing a consumer’s needs. With that comes the need to innovate and invest in technology, people, and processes.
Where the Center of Excellence fits into that is that we’re a newly formed department within the company. Our remit is to be the voice of and to drive innovation at Argus, so we work with the departments to figure out ways to enhance innovation. Not simply focused on technology, but more broadly: how can we serve our customer’s needs in a better, more efficient, and more effective way?
That fits well into the next question: What inspired you to become an active participant at Cookhouse Labs?
Great question! As I mentioned, the Center of Excellence is a newly formed group within Argus that was set up in June of 2020. We recognized the need to change our product-focused approach, where we created a product and then found customers who wanted to buy that product.
Enter this whole concept of Design Thinking! We knew we needed to inject Design Thinking into the way we do business at Argus. After attending a couple of Cookhouse’s free Design Thinking trainings, we said, “This is an organization that really gets it”. Cookhouse promotes Design Thinking as an approach to product development, innovation, and generally meeting customers’ needs, but also promotes collaboration. There are some big, hefty challenges in our industry, and we don’t have to go at it alone. A Cookhouse Labs membership made a lot of sense because we wanted to partner with like-minded people to tackle some of these big challenges in a more collaborative way, and that’s what really inspired us to join.
Reflecting on the past year, what made you happiest during this collaboration with us?
It’s the people we’ve been engaging with at Cookhouse and through Cookhouse! For example, meeting other people that have joined various sessions, getting to hear their stories and their backgrounds. Specifically, Sven and Ibeth have been fantastic supports for us and what we’re trying to accomplish. They provided us with good guidance on how to think about some of the challenges that we’re trying to tackle. They gave us honest feedback, pointing out where we’re really going to struggle, and where/how we can make our lives easier. I would say that has been most rewarding of this experience.
In line with that, what about this experience has surprised you the most?
That’s a tough question. This experience has put a mirror in front of me to a degree, in the sense of representing Argus. It has really made me reflect on where we are today. As I spent more time in Design Thinking workshops and worked with Cookhouse, what surprised me was how logical these steps and techniques are, how much sense they make, and how doing things in any other way just doesn’t make sense. It made me think about our traditional product silos and product-lead approach to servicing our markets and about how almost inappropriate this approach is today. It was the recognition that we have to make some fundamental changes in order to maintain our relevance on an ongoing basis.
As you mentioned earlier, you’ve attended a few trainings and worked with us on projects during the past year. What has been your absolute favorite memory from this journey?
I’ve attended a couple of virtual workshops in 2020 and Argus has an ongoing student project that I keep hearing good things about. My favorite memory has been spending a lot of time with Sven and Ibeth in small group meetings. Together, we formulated an approach to building consensus amongst our leadership as Argus continues to develop our business strategy and create a modern strategy. Getting their insights has been very valuable and has led to some really rewarding conversations, especially when going back to share those insights with the leadership team and our CEO, who is very excited about this partnership with Cookhouse. Seeing this enthusiasm build up has created some positive experiences and good memories from our journey.
That’s great to hear! Reflecting further on your journey, what have you been able to achieve since you attended our trainings and participated in some of our projects?
Achieving a certain level of buy-in from our leadership has been a big achievement. It’s a very busy landscape of projects, initiatives, and efforts. Getting the buy-in that we need to create space to adopt some of the techniques that are espoused by Cookhouse — Design Thinking, Lean Startup, and so on — has been a good accomplishment. We’re at the early stages of our journey and while that buy-in might not sound tangible, it is foundational. To have achieved that in the midst of a very busy landscape, on top of which we’ve been dealing with the whole COVID challenge, has been a big accomplishment!
Congratulations, because often the most challenging part of a project is getting started! Based on your experience, would you recommend other innovators check out the Lab, and if yes, what trainings or events would you specifically recommend?
I definitely would! I’m sure there are still a lot of people who are looking at their business in a very traditional way. Everybody knows that we need to innovate now, but left to their own, many will innovate in a very incremental way. I think we need to make radical changes to our business and our industry. A partner like Cookhouse, and all the other partners that come along with Cookhouse, makes a lot of sense. You need like-minded people who are ready to tackle the challenges that are going to drive a radical transformation of this industry for it to remain relevant. Otherwise, there are other threats that are coming from outside of the industry that are going to figure out how to do it and they are going to take the market away from us, if we don’t do it ourselves. I don’t think society would benefit if suddenly, an external force came in and totally disrupted the insurance industry. Bringing our industry’s history and knowledge forward and delivering that with new and modern customer experiences — I think society would benefit from that more than just simply being disrupted by an attack.
Some may have heard of Design Thinking as a concept, but for me, attending a workshop was powerful. You don’t know what you’re experiencing or learning until you go through it. These tools and techniques are so simple, but you only see that on the backend after having gone through it. I would definitely recommend attending a Design Thinking workshop as a good intro to get into the space where you collaborate.
I remember a 2-day Design Thinking workshop, where the second day was more of a hands-on experience of building something with peers whom I met just the day before. That was really powerful: seeing how much we could do in such a short period of time and validating it by talking to real people and getting real customer insights. It was powerful learning, and I thought, “I should do that in everything I do”. Whether it’s an internally focused process or one that impacts our external customers, taking a customer-centric approach should be the only way to tackle those types of challenges.
Final question: Is there anything else you would like to add?
It’s nice to know that there are organizations that are not solely focused on their bottom line, but also recognize that there are some deep systemic challenges, and they need a different approach to tackling those. I really commend Cookhouse for their mission, and I think Argus is happy to be onboard and is looking forward to many more innovations as we move forward!