SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 6]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Si XIe, Head of Financial Planning and Insights at HSBC Pinnacle Venture and a 2-time ideathon Judge (SummerHack 2020 and 2021). We discussed the highlights of this year’s global competition, the ingredients to a great pitch, and what teams at SummerHack 2022 can do to win our big prize!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Si Xie!

Si, thank you for your continuous support of our global Design Thinking ideathons! We’re curious to know, what inspired you to return to the jury panel this year?

First and foremost, the energy and creativity from the participants as they worked together to solve a real industry challenge. I often see many unconventional ideas at these events that even I, as a long-term participant, would not have dreamt about. With my experience over the last two years of helping HSBC set up a digitally enabled financial planning business from the ground up, I have a lot of appreciation for thinking differently.

Speaking of perspectives and thinking differently, you have the unique experience of being both a participant at one of our ideathons and a judge at two more. What is the one thing about the participant experience that you wish that judges and audience members knew more about?

Innovation is like a muscle that you need to constantly exercise to become better and stronger at it. Design Thinking is a great methodology that has proven to be successful. However, this process does require many iterations, and can feel quite unnatural and difficult at first — at least, it was for me initially. No challenge is easy, and sometimes things don’t go well during the journey, but I was also amazed at the result. As a judge, I would want fellow judges and audience members to appreciate how much work the participant has to do during the event.

Now, using your judge lens, what do you wish that participants knew about the judge’s perspective in these events?

It’s equally challenging for the judges, and we often deliberate for long periods of time to decide on the winner. So, if your idea did not win, it does not mean that is not a great idea. There can only be one winning solution, but we see so many great ideas from the teams.

That’s a very valuable insight for our participants! Staying with your judge lens, what do you enjoy most about being on the panel of our ideathons?

It really helps me think outside the box and see what opportunities are out there. From an international perspective, I draw from the inspiration and bring it back to my day-to-day work as well. Since I work for one of the biggest organizations in the world, exposing myself to different global problems and solutions helps with my job and career development and for me, that’s very valuable.

Focusing on the inspiration and ideas, which pitch stood out most to you and more importantly, why did it stand out to you?

The most memorable solution for me was by Team SaveMoney. Their solution helped restaurants find a reliable local supply chain, which in turn, also opens credit related insurance opportunities. It was a very creative idea that not only fit with the theme of reducing ecological footprint, but also it created product opportunities for the insurer. The possibilities are limitless; it can apply to different cities and different countries, and I appreciate that kind of out-of-the-box thinking.

Reflecting on your entire experience at our ideathons, what are three pieces of advice that you can offer teams looking to win next year?

From a participant’s lens, as long as you improve your innovation skills by going through the process, it is already a win. To get the most out of the event, be open-minded and be prepared to work hard, because it isn’t easy. And lastly, set up a team with diverse backgrounds and skillsets, because this will maximize the chances of coming up with a more creative idea.

Final question: How can an event like SummerHack help #MakeInsuranceBetter for everybody in the global community?

It gives us an opportunity to challenge our own ways of thinking and to open our minds to new ideas, such as new forms of risk, new solutions, or new operating models that perhaps we had never thought of before. I often think about this; Instead of letting tech giants disrupt our industry, why don’t we reinvent ourselves? Why not disrupt ourselves? So, this event is great because sparks ideas to solve our own problems in the industry.

Si, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best with your venture and we hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 5]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Max Bachem, 2-time judge (WinterHack 2020 and SummerHack 2021) and CEO at Coya. We discussed what inspired him to return to our jury panel, why diversity was the highlight of the competition, and his advice for teams looking to win the top prize next year!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Max Bachem!

Max, thank you for returning as a judge this year! We’d love to know, what inspired you to return, and what do you enjoy most about the role?

I really enjoyed my first time on the panel last year, while I was still at AXA. What was amazing was just networking with all the teams, hearing innovative ideas from across the globe, and being able to discuss new opportunities with people who have a completely different perspective. Often, we might have a local view on a challenge, and it’s great meeting people with different ways of looking at the same problem.

Compared to your experience at WinterHack 2020, what do you think has changed or improved since last time?

The teams were even more diverse this year! Last year, a lot of teams were from Europe and North America, and this year we had people from APAC, EMEA, and the Americas, which I loved. All this diversity meant we had very different ideas on the table this time.

And out of those ideas at the Final Pitch Event, which one stood out to you and more importantly, why did it stand out to you?

I’m very happy for the Winner and the Runner-Up, both of whom had amazing ideas. I have to say though, it was really hard to decide on the winners because there were a lot of amazing ideas. Some were more innovative, and others were more applicable, but I loved all the ideas because they all had an interesting aspect to them. One that stands out to me was a solution from HDI in Germany, which had this tool to scrape social media and stay connected to the customer. Some of the other ideas were very visionary, even ahead of time, but interesting to keep in mind because they might be something to implement in 1-2 years.

After attending the Final Pitch Event and seeing other pitches during your career, what is the best way to create a successful pitch?

The most important thing is to think about the audience. What is the audience interested in? What is the right amount of detail to share? If you create a good story, you can easily hook the audience. During the ideathon, you have very limited time. You may not be able to think through the idea 100%, but it doesn’t need to be fully thought through. Your approach should be “Hey, I have a good base idea, and maybe we need to tweak it a bit afterward, but there is some truth and high potential behind it”, and that will help you convince the judges.

What additional advice can you offer incoming teams for SummerHack 2022?

Just have fun! Sure, you’ll come up with new ideas, but it’s a fun team-building activity and you should enjoy the time you spend exchanging ideas with other people. That would be my biggest recommendation; have fun, because while you’re having fun, you’re probably coming up with great ideas and you’ll make a great pitch at the end.

We’re hoping you had fun as a judge, as well! How would you describe your overall experience at SummerHack?

My own experience was very positive. Both the WinterHack and SummerHack were well-organized! You brought together very diverse teams this year, and it was a pleasure to not only see the ideas, but network with those teams afterwards, as well.

Final question for you: How can an event like SummerHack can help #MakeInsuranceBetter for the global community?

You brought together these diverse teams that likely see different customer problems in their respective markets, whether they’re emerging markets or those that are more developed. These perspectives and solutions can be relevant in other markets or inspire other solutions that you would have never thought were possible for specific markets. These events enable a transfer of knowledge, experience, and ideas that in the end will help to create new, innovative, and better products for customers, which is what we are aiming for.

Max, thank you so much for sharing your insights and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best and hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 4]

In the next part of our series, I sat down with Nicole Schepanek, a SummerHack 2021 judge and Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Aureus Capital. We discussed her experience as a first-time judge, highlights from the global competition, and what advice she could offer teams at SummerHack 2022 to win big next year!

Check out a snippet of our interview with SummerHack 2021 Judge, Nicole Schepanek!

Nicole, thank you for joining us as a judge this year! We’d love to know, what inspired you to get involved with the event?

I really enjoy working with other experts and helping them think about what new ways are to innovate in the insurance industry. It’s at the core of my being. I love when different people from different parts of the industry around the world come together at these events, and that instills the spirit of innovation.

We’re grateful to have had you onboard this year! Not only did you judge the pitches, but you also joined the networking sessions, something new we added this year. What did you enjoy about your networking experience?

It’s interesting to learn more about the different viewpoints that global participants bring to these events, because it leads to fascinating discussions. It’s crucial to understand those viewpoints. We rarely see people working in insurance and those from other industries come together to think over and beyond the insurance spectrum. Too often, the insurance industry thinks within its box, rather than looking beyond. So, I enjoy the diversity and discussions at these events.

Now, coming to your perspective as a judge, what was your favorite solution from the Final Pitch Event? Why did it stand out to you?

All of them were great, to start, and were inspiring on different levels. Foresters really focused on the gig economy, and that’s both a big trend and challenge for us as an industry. I liked that they really put the customer first and thought about the gig workers’ needs. This was one of the more-developed solutions we saw, and they pitched with great spirit and energy when showcasing their solution.

After seeing these 12 pitches and other pitches within your career, what are a few key ingredients to creating a successful pitch?

Tell a story. Explain the challenge, opportunity, or problem you’re trying to solve. Why is it a problem? What’s our USP? Why can we solve it when no one else can solve it? It’s also crucial to think about what it takes to create a network effect and keep customers coming to you, rather than to someone else

What additional advice can you offer teams going into SummerHack 2022?

Focus on the fun! Be natural and enjoy the experience that comes with different viewpoints coming together to refine your ideas. I think it’s a really exciting event, and everyone that participates learns something, but should also enjoy themselves at the same time.

Drawing on your experience as a first-time judge, how would you describe it overall?

It was awesome! A big thumbs up to Cookhouse Labs and InsurLab Germany. What I really liked about it was that people from different dimensions of the ecosystem come together. Everyone is really excited and there is a great exchange of ideas, even beyond the event.

Continuing that thought, how do you think an event like SummerHack can help #MakeInsuranceBetter for everyone?

You bring together folks with different perspectives from the industry, and often they talk and exchange ideas. As an investor, I hear pitches all the time, but it’s very much one-sided. Here, people come together without a specific siloed focus, per se. Through this, we can innovate more openly. As a second step, thinking about the business model in detail and what kind of backing would be best for the ideas is crucial in order to execute them.

Nicole, thank you so much for sharing your insights and valuable advice with our community. We wish you all the best and hope to see you again at SummerHack 2022!

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 3]

Summerhack Winner People's Choice

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with the recipients of our People’s Choice — APAC & EMEA title, Team EFU Life. I asked the team about the process of developing their innovative solution and invited them to reflect on their experience and success at the global ideathon. 

Check out a snippet of our interview with People’s Choice Winner, Team EFU! 

Team EFU, first of all, congratulations on winning the crowd vote at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into how you made it happen, let’s do a quick round of introductions. 

Arshad: Hi everyone, my name is Arshad Iqbal and I’m the General Manager Operations at EFU Life. Apart from running the operations of the company, I’m responsible for the transformation process, including ideas, workflows, and processes. I’m both a lawyer and a business manager. 

Danny: My name is Danny Su. I’m currently student at the University of Toronto, studying Actuarial and Statistical Sciences, and I enjoy hiking lot. 

Ashfaque: I’m Ashfaque Ahmed and I head technology and IT at EFU Life. I manage digitalization processes, keep an eye on industry trends, and am involved in a lot of technology-based initiatives in my company, such as the BLISS (Bio-Metric enabled policy acquisition system), the first RPA in the Pakistani insurance industry, and more. 
 
Sam: My name is Sam Xu and I’m currently in my final year at the University of Toronto’s Statistical and Actuarial Sciences program. I love learning about the insurance industry, and in my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities. 

Jane: I’m Hui Jen Yang and I’m also a final year student at the University of Toronto, where I’m double majoring in Economics and Actuarial Science. I love baking and hiking a lot, too! 
 
Raza: I’m Raza Hasan. By profession, I’m an actuary, and I oversee the group insurance department. Prior to Pakistan, I’ve also worked in San Francisco and Toronto, Canada. I love sports, and these days golf has become a passion. 

Yuqing: Hi everyone, I’m Yuqing Liu and I’m currently in Australia. I’m a first year Actuarial Science student at the University of Toronto. I like to play basketball, bushwalk, and I’m learning how to ski now.  

Thank you for those great introductions! Now talking about the event, what inspired you to get involved and how did your team come together? 

Yuqing: Danny brought us students together! We’re both in the Actuarial Science Club at the University of Toronto, and we’re so like-minded that we actually reached out to each other to ask if we wanted to be on a team together. We’re very grateful EFU Life chose us to join their team, and it was a great learning experience for us, especially on the collaboration side! 

Raza: Being a tech-driven company, SummerHack itself sounded like a very interesting proposition. We learned more about the event and really liked what you (Cookhouse Labs) were doing. We also felt working with students would be a great experience.  

And was it a great experience? 

Raza: It was intense, but definitely an excellent experience!  
 
Arshad: We really enjoyed how it was packaged and organized. Everything from the creation of the ideas to the execution was amazing. 
 
Ashfaque: This was the first time that we were involved in something like this. It was organized well, and it was a great learning experience for us, especially because it was hosted virtually. 

We’re happy to hear that! Staying with the theme of things being virtual, we know that EFU Life was able to sit together and ideate, but the rest of your team is actually in several different countries and time zones! How did you all work together and overcome the time difference to create your solution? 

Jane: Good question! The first thing we did was to brainstorm together, and soon we had a general idea of what our solution would be. Afterwards, we split the work up and scheduled regular meeting times, so our teammates were able to work in different time zones and no one had to stay up late to work on the solution. We all did our parts of the project and then met to prepare the pitch video. Communication, respect, and teamwork are so important, and since everyone on our team is considerate and proactive, we were able to efficiently develop our solution despite the time difference. 

We love that kind of collaboration! We love it when there are different perspectives on a team, and everyone finds a way to work together. Speaking of perspectives, we have quite a range of experiences on this team, from first year students to industry veterans with over 20 years of experience. How did you harness these diverse experiences when creating your solution? 

Yuqing: We all come from different cultural backgrounds and have different levels of engagement in the insurance industry. Personally, I’m a first-year student and EFU Life is full of experienced insurers, and our other teammates have already participated in similar events, like the StudentHack. The big advantage for us is diversity, and for us that means creativity and being able to learn from each other. I learned how insurance companies operate and how getting involved in more industry events will help shape my future as an actuary. 

Arshad: We were lucky to have such great students and energy on our team, and we weren’t expecting that. Even at midnight, they were working on the solution as if it was daytime. Based on the input we received from them, you would have never guessed that they were students!  

Ashfaque: The coordination and level of communication was amazing. We broke the ice within minutes of meeting them, and as soon as we started working together, it didn’t feel like we were working with the students for the first time. Once you have a great team, the ideas just flow, and we got fantastic support from the students on our team. 

That’s often the toughest part of working virtually — to meet somebody for the first time and instantly have that level of communication, understanding, and respect, so congratulations on achieving this! Coming to how you worked together, which of the four challenges did your team select and what was your solution? 

Raza: Our challenge was to develop a solution to cater to the underserved population. Our solution was “Bread Protects”, and it comprised of 2 parts. The first part aimed to spread insurance awareness using a drone that would target specific underserved populations by sending customized messages to their smartphones, and those messages would contain insurance information, videos, and promotions. The second part linked that promotion to bread, a staple for every family. By making frequent bread purchases, underserved populations could get free life insurance coverage. Premiums would be funded by bread companies, whose objective would be increased sales of their product. It’s a win-win-win solution for the consumer, insurer, and bread company.  

Very cool idea! “Bread Protects” was voted the People’s Choice for APAC and EMEA. In your opinion, what aspects of this solution made it a crowd favorite? 

Raza: Drones! The fact that drone advertising is a fairly new and exciting concept resonated with the audience.  

Arshad: The best part was definitely the drone being used for something constructive and positive. 
 
Ashfaque: It’s a new concept, and we found value in it. One, because of the low-cost advertising and two, there is a huge reach.  
 
Sam: Anyone can look up at the sky, but not everyone has great internet coverage, so it was definitely the broad reach.  

Yuqing: The ‘bread’ part is very cool. We wanted to make it fun but also send a message that insurance can be protective, for example, by printing informational stickers to add with the bread. You can feed your family and still protect them, instead of just paying premiums. It makes the concept less terrifying and increases the penetration of insurance to underserved populations. 

Jane: What Yuqing said is true. Bread is something people buy every day, so it engages them, and the drone works well to attract attention. 

It was a very well-thought-out solution! Looking back at the entire experience, how would you describe it? 

Danny: My overall experience at SummerHack was amazing because we, as a team, were encouraged to come up with crazy and creative ideas, and that’s how innovation is born. I see ideas as Lego bricks, because when you put yours out there, someone else could pick it up and build a spaceship, a rocket, or even a castle. And I had a really great time working with my team because they were so supportive, and we had a very strong team spirit. It was fun! 
 
Yuqing: This is my first time participating in SummerHack. I’m really grateful to have worked with such a supportive and professional team. 
 
Ashfaque: As I mentioned earlier, the whole process was digital, and it was new for us. We picked up a lot of tools during the Design Thinking breakout sessions and the experience was fantastic. I’ve been working for the past 20+ years with insurance companies to digitalize them and introduce new technology, but to ideate digitally was new for me, as well. 
 
Raza: The opportunity to see different solutions from all over the world was pretty cool. It gives you insight into how other people think and what issues they’re working on. 
 
Sam: It’s one thing to learn the technical side of insurance in school and it’s another to be in this massive ecosystem, collaborating and developing innovative solutions with professionals in the industry. I was happy to work alongside with them to see how wild ideas can be incorporated into an actionable plan. I enjoyed that and it was awesome! 

Now that you’ve been through this process, what advice would you give teams coming in next year? 

Raza: Probably not to underestimate the work involved and the intensity of the challenge. Oh, and have lots of caffeine, that helps! 
 
Arshad: You should have a bunch of crazy ideas and not limit the thinking process. That’s how you become more creative. 
 
Ashfaque: You need to be committed. It’s difficult to participate alongside your everyday work activities; you need to step away from work to focus on the process. There are a lot of ideas that need to be developed into a solution. There’s a lot of learning involved, so you need to be committed.  
 
Sam: And for the incoming students who will hopefully be attending this event next year, I would say don’t be shy to speak up. Sometimes great ideas are hidden when you don’t speak up, and you never know how much impact your ideas are going to have, especially for students.  
 
Danny: Have fun! It’s a really great event. 
 
Yuqing: Danny said this to me, too. The main point of this event is to have fun and I did have a lot of fun. Hello to all the incoming students, and my advice to you would be test out the tools and platforms before the event starts. Once you dive into it, you won’t have the energy to learn how to use them and if you get stuck, it can be very stressful.  
 
Jane: All crazy ideas are acceptable at SummerHack. Your idea could be the winning idea! 

We can’t wait to share this advice with next year’s teams! Final question for the team now: As you know, Cookhouse Labs is all about making insurance better and that’s the objective of these types of events. So, in your opinion, how can an event like SummerHack help make insurance better for the global community? 

Raza: Innovation is something every insurance company needs to be conscious of, especially in the digital age that we’re in. I think events like SummerHack provide the inspiration and motivation that we all need. We get too caught up in our daily routines, so SummerHack was the right thing at the right time. 
 
Arshad: The way that insurance is being sold today should not continue. We all know we need to transform. SummerHack is a good platform for us to share our experiences and decide how we should transform, and everyone can benefit from this.  
 
Ashfaque: In our region, insurance digitalization is very limited. We’re one of the top innovative insurance companies in our region. We took a lot of value out of this experience, and it definitely helped us. I encourage other insurance companies in our region to get involved and see how digitalization can help improve processes here in Pakistan.  
 
Danny: As an aspiring actuary, SummerHack is where I realized how actuaries can help the underserved population. In the past, I always wondered how to help people with low income, because I thought that insurance was only for the people who could afford it. SummerHack is where I found the answer because it’s the actuaries who execute those crazy ideas that we came up with. 

With Bread Protects, you’re on your way to increasing insurance access for underserved populations and finding ways the industry can provide the right support. Congratulations once again, Team EFU Life, and we can’t wait to see where you take this solution in the near future! 

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 2]

Summerhack 2nd place

Recently, I spoke with our SummerHack 2021 runner-up, Team Westland. I asked the team about their experience collaborating to develop their solution and invited them to share advice for SummerHack 2022 teams — check out the full interview below! 

Check out a snippet of the interview with our Runner-Up, Team Westland! 

Team Westland, congratulations on a fantastic job at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into the event and your solution, let’s do a quick round of introductions first. 

Susan: I’m Susan Gilbert, and I came over to Westland in November of 2020 on an acquisition. My role within Westland is Director of Digital Operations. I’m able to use the expertise that we’ve hopefully developed out in the MIG environment and trying to bring that over to Westland and, and work with the team going forward. 

Joel: My name is Joel Nagai, and I’m the Director of Sales. I also came over to Westland as part of an acquisition about eight years ago from Atkinson and Terry. I’ve been in a variety of different roles over the years, but my primary focus for the past seven or eight years has really been digital sales.  

It’s always cool to see the different roles that come together in these types of events. We often get asked who should join and the answer is “Everybody!”, so it’s really great to see how the team put all of those perspectives together. Coming to the event itself, we’re curious to know: What inspired you to get involved and how did you put your team together?  

Susan: As you know, MIG has been involved with Cookhouse Labs previously, which has been a great experience each time. When we got the invitation to SummerHack, I forwarded it to our Executive Vice President of Customer Experience, who shared it with our CIO, and it snowballed from there. One of our team members thought of inviting our partners at Acturis, which was a great idea. 
 
Joel: Susan invited me, and I really appreciate that. I’m glad that she had that previous experience and was able to bring that and extend that warm welcome to not only Westland, but some of our strategic partners as well. That was really key to our success. 

With a team that big and with such little time on your hands, how did you prepare for the event? 

Susan: We did a pre-hack meeting right before the event just to bring the team members together and to talk about what we might expect. I did a mini-innovation session to show the team how to use a shared whiteboard space. We talked about some industry issues, because regardless of what challenges would be announced at the kickoff event, we could probably relate to what we’re seeing not just in the Canadian insurance industry, but globally, as well. Honestly, there really is no preparing for it until you get into it and really experience it. 
 
Joel: Something unique and exciting about our team is that we hadn’t really met or worked with half of our team prior to this event. Susan’s intro session not only helped set expectations for the event, but also allowed us to meet each other before we started. After that, we just learned on the fly from then on.  

It’s great that you hosted this session beforehand, because something that our winning teams have in common is that they all met beforehand. They had a strategy and expectations going into the event, and it really paid off in the end. Now, on the topic of the challenges, which one did you select and why that challenge specifically? 

Susan: Right now, Westland is in a heavy acquisition mode, where we’re trying to pull all these brokerages and groups together to create one united brand. It’s interesting because as soon as we heard the challenges, we talked a lot about how we might impact environment and look after ecosystems. Knowing what we might be able to do and differentiating a brand going forward, it was really fun to see everyone else picking up on that.  
 
Joel: Our team had international colleagues and across the entire gambit of people, we had different personalities and experiences. Everyone aligned on the eco-friendly challenge, and everyone was passionate and excited about it. It’s really easy to get fired up and to focus when you’re excited and passionate about something. 

Well, now we’re very excited for this next question: What was your solution to this eco-friendly challenge? 

Joel: We had several goals we wanted to achieve with our solution. One, we wanted to directly connect the actions of our clients to benefit our environment. Another key component is quantifiable results. Our solution has a dashboard connected to your iWatch, your Fitbit, and the telematics in your car. Clients can see that these patterns are driving either their insurance rate or additional discounts. We also wanted to include IoT and offer a smooth and seamless experience or our clients. We didn’t want for them to have to enter a bunch of information or feel like using our product was a hindrance, so we focused on connecting to smart meters and other tools like I mentioned earlier. 
 
Susan: We asked, “How could we partner with different companies and create this experience that would align with people’s values?” because that’s what purchase decisions are often based on. That really resonates with people these days.  

Plus, your pitch video was really fun and memorable! Reflecting on this entire experience, how would you describe it?  

Susan: What’s great about the process is there’s room for everyone’s voice to be heard. Thank goodness we had someone like Joel and Mary who were willing to do the YouTube video style and others who are happy to work in the background. That’s what’s so great about not just an event like this, but also what it can spark within a team is that ability to recognize that everybody has value to bring. Plus, you (Cookhouse Labs) have really nailed the online experience and you’ve done a lot of hard work to make that very seamless, so kudos to the team at Cookhouse for being able to pull that off. 
 
Joel: We had a great experience, very collaborative and positive. A lot of the teams had their webcams on and a lot of people were chatting, so a lot of positive vibes everywhere. It’s still a professional context and everyone is working hard, but the ability to keep it fun and engaging is very unique. Everyone involved in the process deserves a lot of credit there. Obviously, a well-run event, very structured, very timed, well-organized, and the templates and guidance that we received exceeded my expectations. It set the bar for other digital events that I have or will continue to participate in.  

Thank you for the kind words, we’re happy to hear you had a positive experience! Now thinking more forward and futuristic, what advice would you give teams coming into SummerHack 2022? 

Susan: That’s a tough one, because each event I’ve been to at Cookhouse has been very unique. Having that pre-event meeting was really helpful, where we met everyone and discussed industry issues. Otherwise, the best advice is just let the process roll. It’s such a well-organized event that if you just take it as it comes and understand the methodology and tools, you’ll do great.  
 
Joel: Be ready to sprint because it’s a lot of work! Have the mindset of knowing you’re going to have a really great experience, but the expectation will be that when it’s time to work, you really need to deliver in that short period of time. Be ready to put your own thoughts, ideas, and ego to the side and trust the process because it is a robust, well-thought-out process.  

That’s fantastic advice and we can’t wait to share it with next year’s participants. Final question for you: From global perspective, how do you think an event like SummerHack can help make insurance better for everyone? 

Susan: It was interesting to see the ideas that were pitched at the end. Even if two of them move forward into the world, they can help the insurance industry but also can help people in general. If you help mitigate risk in any way, you’re helping people. There’s a spark of something that could really make a difference. 
 
Joel: It’s very easy to get caught up in the monotony that is our jobs, right? Sometimes, you get comfortable doing what you know and do very well. Events like SummerHack take us out of those comfort zones. They bring together people who have great thoughts, experience, and education, and they run us through a process that’s primed to spark innovation and creativity, but to also provide a framework of how you take these great ideas and turn them into something that could be a business pitch. It shows people that you can get a lot of work, innovation, and creativity done in two days. 

Agreed, it’s really exciting to see the ideas that come out of these kinds of events! Again, a big congratulations to both Westland and Acturis for your big win. We wish you all the best and look forward to welcoming you back next year! 

SummerHack 2021: New Times, New Experience [Part 1]

SummerHack 2021 Winner

Recently, I had the pleasure of chatting with our SummerHack 2021 winner, Team Foresters. I asked the team to share behind-the-scenes stories and advice from their innovation experience — check out the full interview below! 

Check out a snippet of the interview with our winner, Team Foresters! 

Team Foresters, congratulations on your big win at SummerHack 2021! Before we dive into the event, let’s do a quick round of introductions first. 

Raresh: I’m Raresh Bunea, a Contract Administrator at Foresters Financial. I handle contracts for sales distribution in the Canadian market. This is my second time participating in a Cookhouse Labs ideathon, for which I’m very grateful. It was an amazing experience this time around, as it was the first time around! 

Liam: Hi, I’m Liam Kinnon. I’m a Marketing Specialist with Foresters. This is my first time participating in one of these events and it was a blast. 

Ravinder: My name is Ravinder Sabharwal and I’m a Control Analyst and it was my first time participating in SummerHack. 

Sandra: I’m Sandra Viteri, Senior Underwriting Manager. It was my first time participating in one of these events. I loved it! 

Brian: I’m Brian Cournoyer and my title is Manager, Advanced Markets & Training. This is also my first time participating and it definitely was a great experience that I can’t wait to repeat. 

And we’d love to have you back next year for sure! It would be awesome to see if you could pull it off twice, but before we even talk about next year, let’s talk about this year and hear from the team. What inspired you to get involved this time?  

Sandra: I noticed that there is a lot of disruption happening right now, and of course, it was long overdue in the insurance industry. At Foresters, we’re embracing that change. We’ve been going through a lot of transformation, with new technologies and innovative products. So, for me, this was an opportunity to participate and sharpen my skills in Design Thinking and innovation methodology, especially after reviewing last year’s topics. I felt they provided interesting and relevant challenges, applicable to today’s world. So, I just thought, “This is great. This is perfect”, and went for it. 

After you made the decision to join SummerHack, you pulled together really a big team. We’d love to know; how did you prepare? 

Brian: That’s a great question! Obviously, we don’t want to give away all our secrets because as you mentioned, we have a title to defend. Before the competition, we reviewed what the team did last year, but more importantly, we identified areas together that we felt we could improve upon to be better prepared for this year. Some of us were new to the competition, me included. So, after those conversations I reviewed the material again and I did some research to make sure I would be able to offer the right support to the team during the event. On a personal level, I made sure that all my priorities outside of this event were already taken care of so that when the competition was on, I wasn’t going to be distracted and instead could help my team build a winning strategy. 

Wow! It’s always amazing to see the energy and dedication Foresters brings to the competition every year. So, we ‘ve talked about pulling together a big team and about making team decisions. The question now is, which of the four challenges did you select as a team and then ultimately, what was the solution that you decided to pitch? 

Liam: We voted on challenge #4 to develop a solution or service to support dynamic and engaged independent workers. While walking through the process and through interviewing a freelance designer, we discovered that one of the challenges of the gig economy is the lack of benefits. Using the Design Thinking methodology that Cookhouse was walking us through as part of the hackathon, we came up with a solution called GigLife, which is a benefits platform for the gig community. We thought of a platform providing health benefits funded through a combination of participation fees and perhaps through the unique use of group life insurance. We realized that perhaps benefits could be provided to participants by purchasing a life insurance policy and advancing a portion of the death benefit to cover the costs of the benefits, legalities to be considered of course. Then, the other part of it that we were excited about was that there isn’t really any group advocacy for the gig community. We wanted to include a social component in the GigLife app, which would allow a space for advocacy to form organically. 

That is a really well-thought-out solution. And it wasn’t just a judge favorite, it was also a crowd favorite because you were awarded People’s Choice for the Americas. So, in your opinion, what was it about the solution that made it a crowd favorite? 

Raresh: I think it was our consideration for building an advocacy community for gig workers and the simplicity of how benefits can be accessed via the paid participation. 

Considering nowadays everyone is working remotely, it’s pretty cool that you thought about all of this.  So, thinking back now to your entire SummerHack 2021 experience, how was it? 

Ravinder: Overall, it was indeed a great learning experience for all of us. Design Thinking was a concept that I had heard about, but this platform gave me an opportunity to practice it. One thing that stood out to me was coming together as a team and working through a structured methodology to deliver a customer-focused solution, and all within two days, wow! Talking about GigLife, it’s more than a digital solution — it is our responsibility towards the community we live in and that is what matters. I sincerely thank Foresters Financial and Cookhouse Labs for this wonderful opportunity.  

Well, we thank you for coming back every year with all this energy and an incredible game plan! Speaking of coming back, we’re very curious to know; how has the ideathon concept, environment, and energy evolved and improved since last time? 

Raresh: For me, the energy level was much higher, and I also set higher expectations for myself this time around. Adding Joolia (the virtual innovation assistant tool) helped us stay on track with deliverables and helped us keep an eye on the time.  

And now looking back at your experience, what advice would you give teams who will soon be participating in SummerHack 2022? 

Raresh: I would suggest teams consider a holistic approach that considers both a feasible business model and the natural economic reality. There’s a trend in the expansion of the safety net. There’s talk about UBI, UBS, and Pharmacare in Canada, as well as climate crisis developments and trends towards the green economy. More and more countries are aligning themselves to IPCC recommendations to eliminate carbon emissions. I believe that solutions that come from the insurance industry will also need to adapt accordingly to all these realities. 

Liam: I was a bit nervous at first because we had a four minute limit on the video and we only hit two minutes. I thought, “Oh, did we not communicate enough?” and so I was thrilled when we were chosen as a winner. I realized that you just need to explain your concept as clearly and succinctly as possible and the length doesn’t really matter— what’s important is the story. I would also say that you should construct a narrative around your solution. That’ll give you a leg up in terms of how to position your solution to the challenge. 

Brian: It’s important that you put the judges’ hat on once you formulate your idea. You must step back and say, “Now if I was a judge, what type of questions would I ask?” This way, when those questions are asked, you’re prepared to answer them. That helps you build the strategy upfront so that it includes all those details. Stepping back and reevaluating helped our team and then from there, we made sure we had a solid plan to deliver to the judges. 

Final question for the team now: As you know, Cookhouse Labs is all about making insurance better and that’s the objective of these types of events. So, in your opinion, how can an event like SummerHack help make insurance better for the global community? 

 
Sandra: I see SummerHack as a practice arena to develop new skills, learn Design Thinking techniques, and simply to inspire us to be more creative. My hope would be that it translates into impactful change in the industry that makes insurance easier and better for everybody. For most of us, that’s basically what we hope to achieve, so this is a great platform for that. 

With a solution like GigLife, you’re helping people that want to be included in insurance benefits, so you definitely did what you set out to do. You took a very big step towards making insurance better for gig workers, so thank you Team Foresters and congratulations once again on your big win! 

Curious about our ideathons? Check out our past ideathons, winning solutions, and team interviews here! 

Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs [Part 6]

Startup Bites CoverGo

We’re excited to continue our series, “Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs”, where Co-Founder Sven Roehl sits down with founders of startups to chat about their exciting solutions and how they’re on track to make big waves in the insurance world.  

In today’s blog, Sven sat down with CoverGo, the winner of our Startup Pitch Specials: China event. The Hong Kong-based startup is the proud provider of a configurable no-code platform that allows insurers to build any type of insurance product within days. Founded in 2016, their 30+ enterprise clients across 3 continents come mainly from the insurance industry, including P&C, life, and health. CoverGo’s solution makes it possible for insurance to be 100% digital, allowing insurers to be agile and stay relevant in the changing global market.  

Check out what we learned about CoverGo below! 

We also interviewed CoverGo in our April 2021 Food for Thought live session — here’s a highlight from the event!

Their Incredible Journey So Far 

Over 4 years ago, Tomas and his business partner moved to Hong Kong with no local connections. They spent 3 years developing insurance APIs instead of going to market immediately. Since then, they have grown the CoverGo team to 40+ people and have signed clients from around the world, including the U.S. and Canada. Even as we spoke to Tomas and Julien, we could see the many awards and trophies CoverGo has won in the background — very exciting! 

Their Biggest Challenge?  

Enterprise sales in one of the most traditional industries!  

Tech startups often face the challenge of building trust with corporate giants and gaining support from traditional companies. The first client is always the hardest one to onboard, but since then, CoverGo has grown exponentially into other parts of the world and is working with clients that are excited to welcome the innovative software solution.

So, How Does CoverGo Help Insurers? 

CoverGo understands the industry’s pain points: legacy systems, tons of paperwork, and manual processes. While it is clear that insurers want to improve this, they do not know where to start. CoverGo specializes in helping insurers, MGAs, and banks make insurance 100% digital in order for them to better serve their customers, which in turn helps insurers reduce costs and increase revenue.  

Here are the 4 ways CoverGo helps insurers:

  • Build and launch products faster 
  • Enable omni-channel distribution
  • Improve policy, admin, and claims management 
  • Integration to any system and can operate on top of existing legacy systems 

While competitors take months to develop new products, CoverGo achieves this for their clients in just weeks! 

Our Favorite Things About CoverGo’s Solution 

1. CoverGo recognizes that off-the-shelf solutions are too generic to cater to insurer’s individual requirements, and so they tailor their solution specifically to each client’s needs

2. With 500+ APIs, the startup can quickly help insurers to scale the solution to add phase 2, 3, etc. 

3. Users can use drag and drop product components in the visual product builder to build and launch their new insurance products in hours with APIs auto-generated — no code required! 

Bonus: How CoverGo Adds Value to the IT Department 

CoverGo is not looking to replace in-house IT departments. In fact, IT teams can take CoverGo’s system and can enhance it, build on top, and even use CoverGo’s APIs to build new applications. This allows insurers to retain the power internally instead of relying on third parties to manage the software for them and empowers users to focus more on value-added tasks.. 

After witnessing CoverGo’s solution in action, we can see why the judges voted for this innovative startup as the winner of our Startup Pitch Specials: China! We wish CoverGo all the best as they continue to grow internationally and looking forward to welcoming the team back for future events! 

Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs [Part 5]

We’re excited to continue our series, “Startup Bites: Meet the Young Chefs”, where Co-Founder Sven Roehl sits down with founders of startups to chat about their exciting solutions and how they’re on track to make big waves in the insurance world. 

In today’s blog, Sven sat down with Cees van Dijk, Co-Founder and COO of Spearhead. Check out the full interview below! 

Experience the full interview — check out the recording above!

Cees, thank you for joining us! We met you two years ago at an event at Cookhouse Labs, where we introduced Spearhead to our audience as an exciting and interesting startup. I was personally very impressed by the work that you have done, specifically around the claims area. For our readers, let’s rewind and start with an introduction of yourself and your startup. 

Thanks for the opportunity! My name is Cees, and I’m a Dutch living in Switzerland in the Alps. I’m one of the founders of Spearhead. We are a company that focuses on motor claims and especially the first notice of loss. We see it as our mission to make that first notice of loss more digital and offer a better and more efficient experience. And since we started the business in 2016, that’s what we’ve been focusing on. 

You already mentioned a couple of words about motor insurance and insurance claims. Can you tell us a little bit about what Spearhead is providing in this area, especially how you came up with the idea? Every founder has a moment where you decide to start your own business because you really believe in something. So, what was this moment for you and what makes Spearhead unique? 

In my previous life, I used to work in the US and Canada in automotive claims. That was my first touchpoint with vehicle telematics. Someone asked me, “Cees, could you use this in a claim, too?” I started looking into this probably in 2013, and I figured out, yes, vehicles are actually generating potentially useful data that you can work with. Originally, the US and Canada were far more advanced when it came to self-service. So, the first trends of people managing claims online or through apps started in the US and Canada, and then later came to Europe. The interesting thing I discovered is that it’s always a problem for a consumer to describe a damage report for loss. But if the car starts telling part of what’s happened to it, then you make that self-service notification a lot easier. 

 Of course, the discussions inspired me; can we automate the claim, can we use smart analytics to automatically process, and what if you could use telematics? If you combine these things and make it easier with the help of analytics, then you can create a whole different claims process experience. I moved back in the meantime to Switzerland, and the idea came kept coming back. So, at a certain point in time I thought, “Let’s do that, but let’s really focus on that idea only because you can’t do 10 things at the same time and do them right.” 

I founded Spearhead together with a partner and decided to focus on the domain of using telematics data. Additionally, we focused on making the experience a bit better and using predictive analytics to basically provide (for up to 80% of the claims) all the answers in the first couple of minutes after an accident or a loss has happened. And in the meantime, obviously we built that and we’re successful with this approach. 

Impressive solution and a great idea! When you started the company and as you grew it, what were the specific challenges that you faced? 

How much time do you have? I would say it’s been a journey of challenges, but let’s take a few out of that. Of course, these kinds of things require a lot of investment and a lot of R&D. So, on one hand, you’re doing the R&D, and on the other hand, you’re securing finance, and on the third hand, at a certain point in time, you need to do sales. So, one of the challenges becomes running everything together and eventually separating these things. I’ll be quite open here, another challenge we faced was we originally thought in 2016 that telematics would be a great idea. I think we were right in the idea itself, but we were wrong in the timing because effectively it took three, four more years than we expected before that telematic data became available on the scale. Now we’ve reached that point, just a bit later. And of course, that creates challenges of its own. 

Looking back on your journey, what are some of the highlights and moments of success that stand out to you? 

I think there are a couple of them, actually. I remember the first one clearly, even the date: when we launched the first predictive model allowed repair cost. To our surprise, the first model turned out to be pretty accurate. That was a reason to celebrate because until that point in time, it was an idea that I thought should work. Once you see it working and of course, the first real customer to use your system productively, these are things I will always remember. We’ve learned to celebrate the successes because sometimes things don’t go as you would like and then you fall down, you get up and you continue. 

That’s great! Continuing this journey with all the successes, where do you see your organization in two to three years from now? 

For sure, a larger part of our transactions will be telematics-based. The second thing is, currently we are based in Europe, but in two or three years, I expect also to be on the other side of the Atlantic. There’s plenty of ambition! 

Usually, creating a successful startup comes down to collaboration in the beginning. So, what is your experience partnering with large organizations in the beginning and along the way? 

I think partnerships are essential, especially when you’re focused because you have your own mission, and you try to do it right. So, the first set of partners are those that work in adjacent spaces around your mission. What we’ve learned over time is that it is very important to select the right partners. The second kind of partner we typically work with are the larger companies that use our service as part of an overall service. For instance, we develop things together and we partner because we bring things to the market. 

The third set is, of course, the customers because you start co-developing things. I find that you learn the most from your customers. Fortunately, with several customers, we’ve actually managed to build a more partnership-customer relationship, where we really create things together. That brings me to insurance, because some of those companies are insurance providers. As a startup, you need a bit more time because you always want to go faster and insurance companies have their own pace, so it takes more time. Nevertheless, over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed that an increasing number of insurance carriers are changing and trying to speed things up, especially in the digitalization area. There is hope that our timelines come together eventually, but for the time being, a bit of patience is required. 

We often hear this feedback from startups, and I agree, it is certainly improving. On the topic of collaboration, how do you think innovation ecosystems such as Cookhouse Labs can bring value to your journey? 

Organizations such as yours are very useful for two reasons. So first, insurance companies need to figure out what’s out there in the world, and you scout for ideas and connect people. The second thing is when you decide together with an insurance carrier that you want to do something, but you don’t want to do it the traditional way. Bringing both parties together in a slightly different, less formal, and less traditional way is very important and helping facilitate that co-creation is very useful. 

A final question we always like to ask: What advice can you give to an entrepreneur looking to follow in your footsteps in the InsurTech scene?  

Do the groundwork. Make your business plan and really validate it before you start. The second piece of advice is focus. Once you start, many new ideas cross your mind and although the temptation will be there to go sideways, it’s important to stay loyal to your original idea. The third thing is if you want to be able to spend your time on focusing on your idea and bringing it to reality in the early days, make sure that you have someone on board that can help take away the burden of financing your journey. 

Cees, thank you very much for sharing your time with us! I’m personally looking forward to the upcoming Food for Thought event with you and learning more about Spearhead’s offering and seeing the live demo. I saw some of it already and it was very impressive. You know, we’re happy to help you wherever we can on your growth path and your move into North America! 

Want to learn more about how you can use Spearhead’s incredible telematics solution to improve your claims process? 

Join our upcoming free 45-minute session, “Food for Thought ft. Spearhead: Connecting the Dots in Motor Claims”, on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. In the webinar, Cees will show you how you can make telematics work for you and how to optimize your claims process for non-connected drivers. 

Click here to secure your spot! 

Member Stories: Meet Abhi from HSB Canada

Member Stories Abhi Gupta

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 Abhi Gupta, Business Development Manager for Applied Technology at HSB Canada. Read about Abhi’s innovation journey below!

Abhi, 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 HSB Canada.

I am a Business Development Manager for Applied Technology, which is a new part of HSB Canada. It’s part of the Leap initiative, which accelerates innovation for HSB Canada. As part of this initiative, we promote different kinds of technologies, especially for the insurance space, in the space of sensor-based devices. These are devices that help in communicating and minimizing losses for insurers, and so working with our clients and insurance companies is part of my responsibilities.

Thank you for sharing that! We were happy to see you quite a bit this year — you’re one of our active and engaged innovators. We’d love to know what inspired you to become an active participant!

HSB Canada has always fostered innovation and there is no better place to start than Applied Technology, because it’s all about innovation. We were looking for opportunities where we could collaborate with people who could help us and our teams think differently, and I found that perfect fit with Cookhouse Labs. You foster innovation like no other and you work in the insurance space, so in terms of synergies, that is the perfect fit. We want to collaborate and gain certain synergies and competencies, even in the way we do our business. That is the perfect driver for us!

Reflecting on your experience, what made you happiest when collaborating with us?

I would have to be biased and say that I loved the team! There are certain places that talk about innovation but are not really centric to innovation, but the Lab is one place that really fosters innovation in every sense of the word. I have been fortunate enough to be associated with Sven (Co-Founder of the Lab) and from personal testimonial, I can say that there have been times where I have reached Sven after-hours and he has been just as active. I talk about the entire team — you’re still happy to connect after-hours. I’m not trying to promote working after-hours; all I’m saying is that it’s just the spirit and the infectious enthusiasm that really talks to you about a certain place, location, or people, and we found all of that at Cookhouse Labs.

Thinking about your experience from a different point of view, what has surprised you most during this collaboration?

When you are looking to do business in a new way, you want to be pleasantly surprised. The biggest surprise was how exponentially beneficial these takeaways could be. I have attended workshops in the past in different organizations, but what I found extremely useful to us was the true spirit of working with teams. It’s because of all the amazing events that you do, where you put us in a time crunch so that we have to work very collaboratively as a team. The Lab is so great at putting everything together to create those kinds of workshops and tools, and it really helps someone who wants to learn about these new technologies, methodologies, and tools achieve this holistically. I talk particularly about Design Thinking, and I think using all these tools and bringing all these people together from different facets and industries to work and collaborate together, that creates magic really.

What is your favorite memory from your time with us?

I have to say, jogging down memory lane, that we stood second place at WinterHack 2020 — what could be a better memory than that, right? Competing with 11 other great organizations from all over the world and coming second — to this day I cherish this, and I’m not saying this because it was a victory, but because it was incredible how the team came together despite having disagreements and time crunches. Everything came together and was a beautiful symphony. How can you describe that? I think it speaks volumes when you’re doing something so beautifully in a team environment, and that’s what truly brings out the spirit of our organization: an organization like Cookhouse Labs.

On that note, what have you been able to achieve since attending these trainings and events?

I keep referencing the Design Thinking workshop, but I think it has had a huge impact compared to other workshops. Cookhouse Labs offers a better way to work towards creating more innovative insurance products and services, and so holistically I would say that it is fostering a different way of thinking about insurance, which is invaluable. The tools I have taken away from these workshops have helped me think innovatively, which is the first achievement.

The second is that these workshops have taught me how to create teams and work amazingly well and collaborate with teams. I do thank Cookhouse Labs for that skill, because I have always led teams, but I have never learned the skill and art of leading them so well, so thank you for that.

You have already recommended the Design Thinking training, but besides that, what trainings would you recommend to others?

There is a plethora of trainings that Cookhouse Labs does, and Design Thinking is just one of those. There are different kinds of sprints, where Cookhouse Labs helps companies collaborate and create better teams. The Lab will help you think about how to design a product or service, empathize with the customer, and understand the customers’ needs. I am extremely interested in attending one in the future myself.

In terms of the hackathons that the Lab hosts, those are great opportunities for people to come together to create something innovative. It gives you a different toolbox and mindset; I would never underestimate it because that is so invaluable. I also had the great opportunity to speak at the Back to Business Summit, and that was phenomenal because it gave us the opportunity to think from a customer’s perspective. Insurers are generally one arm’s length away from the customer, and in order to bridge that gap, there have to be different ways to engage with the customer. I think Cookhouse Labs really brings together the insurers and the customer, so hats off to you!

Final question: Is there anything you would like to add?

I just want to express my gratitude to Sven, Ibeth, yourself, and to the whole team. I really love to work with you, and I talk about HSB Canada as an organization. I have come across so many people, and they all have one thing to say: these workshops have added value. That automatically says to me that we feel really good about having an insurance partner of sorts that we can use as a springboard to reach higher levels of success in the future. That’s all thanks to all of you, so keep on doing the great work!

Abhi, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoyed collaborating with you and HSB Canada in 2020 and we wish you all the best in 2021. We can’t wait to continue this collaboration with you in the New Year!

Member Stories: Meet David from Argus

Member Stories David Simons

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!

David, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. We enjoyed collaborating with you and Argus Group in 2020 and we wish you all the best in 2021. We can’t wait to continue this collaboration with you in the New Year!