Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with WinterHack 2020 Runner-Up, Team Munich Re. I chatted with Abhishek Gupta, Calvin Choi, Joanna A., Salman Ghaffar, and Tommy Kim about the process of developing their innovative solution and invited them to reflect on their experience and success at the global ideathon.
Team Munich Re, congratulations on your big win! Before we begin, let’s start with a quick intro. What can you tell us about yourselves in 30 seconds?
Abhishek: I’m a Business Development Manager for IoT in the Applied Technology Division at HSB Canada. I focus on commercializing sensor and IoT technology here in Canada, which includes water, temp, and pipe sensors.
Calvin: I’m a Data Analyst within the Client Company Management Team at HSB Canada. My role involves assisting Client Company Managers with data to build compelling stories about why clients should work with us.
Joanna: I’m a Marketing Communications Specialist at HSB Canada with a focus on branding and digital marketing. It’s been a rewarding journey for me as a marketer, being part of a team that encourages intrapreneurship, and a company that’s innovative, technologically driven, forward thinking, and people focused.
Salman: I also work in the Applied Technology Division at HSB Canada as an IoT Operations Specialist. We bring solutions from the U.S. to implement in the Canadian market, and my responsibility is to ensure everything goes smoothly, from bringing in the solution hardware to installing it at client locations.
Tommy: I’m from Munich Re Company of Canada, which is a life, property, and casualty business. My current role is a Senior Actuarial Analyst from the Pricing team, and my day-to-day responsibilities include supporting the Reinsurance business with actuarial services.
Great, thank you for the introductions! We’d love to know, how did you come together and what inspired you to join WinterHack 2020?
Abhishek: I was looking for an amazing and super talented team with lots of brainpower! I came across one of our champions from MRoC, Tommy Kim, who is great to work with. I found more talented people from our organization: Calvin, who is a new member of HSB Canada and was very excited about the ideathon; Salman, who is our IoT Specialist and is incredibly talented; and Joanna, who brought everything together from a marketing perspective.
Calvin: What motivated me was the space for people to come together to innovate in the insurance industry. If you think about it, the industry has always been resistant to innovation and change, so if there’s an opportunity to work with like-minded people on innovative ideas and solutions that can help develop the industry, I’m all for it.
Joanna: Abhishek was putting together a team to represent Munich Re at WinterHack 2020 and he reached out. The theme “Digital Ecosystems” was a huge driver for me to join the team. As a marketer, I’m always thinking of innovative and better ways to do business, so it was a good fit.
Salman: I’ve been a part of QHacks, which is hosted by Queens University, so I understood how hackathons work. Considering WinterHack 2020 was going to be held remotely, I was a little inquisitive as well about how it would go, and that motivated me to participate.
Tommy: What inspired me to join was the passion from my colleagues. It’s always difficult for an individual to get something done, but the synergy that Abhi brought into one team was definitely a great inspiration.
That’s awesome! Let’s dive further into the event: Which of the 4 challenges did you choose to tackle and how did you decide?
Abhishek: We chose the first challenge, which was to reduce isolation and loneliness for elderly people. It was quite a deliberation process — we spent about 60% of our workday just on choosing the challenge! We created a matrix with parameters and every single team member scored the challenges from 1 to 5 based on these parameters. We used a weighted average to select the challenge we were going to work on. We realized later on that everyone on our team is very empathetic, when we all understood pain points for the elderly and how our solution can really help them.
Tommy: I really love the fact that we were able to share our thoughts and visions for each challenge. It’s fantastic that Abhi proposed the matrix we used, because at the end, we were very objective in how we selected a challenge.
Could you describe your experience using Design Thinking to develop your solution?
Abhishek: Design Thinking is a different way of thinking when creating a product, and as a team, we understood how important it was. I’d say Calvin and Salman did an incredible job creating a customer journey map that detailed each point in the journey. Salman shared with us that his mother’s age is similar to our Persona, and his understanding of her experience really helped us.
Calvin: We really focused on being empathetic to what the customer journey would look like. On the other hand, we also focused on practicality and how the company could benefit from a product like ours. We made sure to empathize with both sides when designing this product.
Joanna: Design Thinking is the way to go. You simply can’t develop a solution without empathizing with your customer, and building on that is key. Design Thinking flows in that direction. It’s logical and efficient.
Salman: My mother is a single parent who is a similar age and I’ve seen her struggles and how she feels about technology at this age, and it was really helpful in drafting our journey map. We wanted to address those needs and bring the human touch to our solution, because at the end of the day, technology cannot replace the human touch.
What do you believe contributed to your success at WinterHack 2020?
Abhishek: The biggest factor behind our success was bringing together amazing people. Joanna brought her marketing perspective to create a credible product offering. Calvin and Salman had a streamlined approach to empathizing with the customer and creating the journey map. Tommy brought his actuarial skills, and he was very focused on the commercialization aspect and feasibility of our idea. It was all about bringing together the synergies of different talented people.
Calvin: We all tried to see things from each other’s point of view. We took the time to listen to and understand everyone’s ideas. I think that also contributed hugely to our success.
Salman: I agree completely — all the credit goes to the team. This is one of the best team experiences I’ve ever had. Everyone brought in their skillsets while remaining open-minded and respectful towards others’ ideas. If there was a difference in opinion, we used thoughtful discussions to sort through the pros and cons of each idea and to decide on the best way forward.
Tommy: What worked well was the synergy based on trust and open-mindedness. I also have to upsell the support we got from Cookhouse Labs: the templates guided us in the right direction on how to develop and present our solution in the end, so thank you!
How would you describe your overall WinterHack 2020 experience?
Abhishek: It’s been fabulous! Previously, we had an opportunity to participate in the SummerHack, which was again a wonderful experience. WinterHack, I would say, was a notch higher for us because when everyone came together, we fit like a glove. Even though we all came from different experiences and backgrounds, everyone was respectful and open-minded. I also have to say that the event was amazingly organized by Cookhouse Labs. You gave us all the design templates and guidance we needed, and I really want to thank the whole team for helping us along the way.
Calvin: It was a lot of fun for me, because we were on the same page and everyone was very encouraging. I would say, though, that at the end it got a little stressful, because we raced to get everything done on time. Cookhouse Labs did a great job making this a very seamless and smooth process, and even when we got to the Final Pitch Event, I had a great time listening to everyone’s pitches. I noticed some pitches applied cultural aspects from the region the team was in, and this international aspect was cool to see.
Salman: Spending two days together almost felt like a family! It was a wonderful experience, and we had a lot of fun. When signing up for WinterHack, I was curious about the entirely virtual experience and how it would be managed. Cookhouse Labs did an amazing job with sharing resources and guiding teams through all the steps, so thank you!
Tommy: Having judges with a lot of professional expertise and knowledge was great. Also, the event format was virtual, which was a nice experience to be part of. Before COVID-19, I would have never thought of being part of a virtual competition because I would have wanted to feel the synergy and energy within the same room and in-person. However, virtual collaboration was not a barrier for our team, which was a wonderful experience.
How do you think your solution and events like this help #MakeInsuranceBetter?
Abhishek: Using methodologies like Design Thinking promotes lateral thinking, and the time crunch fosters and accelerates the kind of thinking needed to create a viable product. At the end of the day, something we create here has the potential to become a real insurance product. We observed the judges’ interest and our organization’s enthusiasm for this idea, which means this idea could very soon become a real product offering.
Calvin: Insurance products, with respect to P&C or personal lines, are generally similar across the industry. How can companies set themselves apart from the rest? Usually, this is through value-adds that they can provide to policyholders. When companies want to compete for customers, they need to think of these creative value-adds to provide to policyholders. The product we came up with is a nice example of a value-add that a home or life insurer can provide, and this can set them apart from other insurers. This is what makes the difference between one company and another.
Joanna: Events like this open the floor for thinking outside the box and innovating, and when you combine innovation with Design Thinking and its focus on empathy, you make insurance better.
Salman: I’m a strong advocate for using technology to push the envelope further. What we see is that the insurance industry is late to adopt technological trends. An event like this helps to change this perception and helps companies in the ecosystem realize the importance of technology in improving their products for the end-user. Even further, it helps adopt these technological solutions and advance the industry as a whole.
Tommy: The perspective towards the insurance industry is that it is very reactive, not proactive. These events encourage the industry to become proactive and offering meaningful services to customers, which is progress.