After spending several years with PPR/Redcats (now Kering), Etienne Bourdon joined APRIL Group where he’s served as Chief Digital Officer (CDO) since May 2015. A graduate of ESSEC business school and an IT engineer by training, this former Ernst & Young and Boston_Consulting_Group employee is now in charge of implementing the digital transformation for the insurances services group, by reinforcing the multi-channel approach and optimising the customer experience.
What are the specific issues of the digitalisation of insurance? How can you bring about transformation in a fast-changing market? What’s the role of the CDO and how can he implement more agile, innovative methods in a group with many subsidiaries? We found out from Etienne Bourdon.
What’s your role with APRIL Group?
APRIL Group is made up of a number of companies, each of which operates in specialist markets and is part of a strong entrepreneurial culture. As Chief Digital Officer, I help these various subsidiaries go digital. To do this, I report to the Managing Director and manage a team who are mainly in charge of online traffic and sales. We’re really the operational bridge between traffic and sales, whether for e-commerce sites and online conversions, telephone sales, or sales which are conducted online before going through agents and brokers.
BECOMING MORE AGILE
What sort of challenges have you had to face?
Our priority is to continue developing digital sales.
“In insurance, 70% of sales begin on the web and end up on other channels. Our aim is to develop these sales which, at some point, affect digital.”
The second important thing is that digital and innovation go naturally together. With digital, we can work in agile mode on the technical side of things, but on the business side too. In order to introduce this agility, we use innovation approaches which are fairly typical in startups but also very interesting when applied to larger companies.
“Where innovation is concerned, there’s no one miracle method. But by experimenting, we can become more agile.”
We’ve set up an “innovation factory” where we help develop innovative projects based on a very agile approach. The idea is for the digital team to take over certain projects developed by the subsidiaries’ in-house teams and fast-track the prototyping and end-client presentation phases.
“Another important focus is developing data in the group. We’re working on a project to exploit our prospects’ data more effectively: we’re focusing more on data which is central to digitalisation.”
PROSELYTISING through examples
It’s often a CDO’s job to convert employees to digital. Any tips on how to do this?
The approach that was already implemented before I joined the company was to proselytise through examples, and it worked pretty well. The first stage focused on e-commerce and allowed us to introduce new methods and show the advantages of the web media. A lot of our subsidiaries are beginning to familiarise themselves with these techniques, which is great.
“You don’t convert people with slides and encouragements, but with real projects and demonstrations.”
It’s the same with innovation. It’s in the group’s genes: since its inception, it’s always striven to reinvent the way insurance is perceived in the market. It’s our aim to show that the agile methods applied for our projects can also be used to innovate across all our subsidiaries.
Transforming processes rather than forcing tools upon people
Our subsidiaries are different sizes and have different business approaches because they operate in very specific markets. You can’t deal with the issues of a company that sells short-term travel insurance in the same way as one that sells loan protection insurance. That’s why we have a method-based rather than a tool-based approach.
“The great advantage we have is that we can compare experiences and get our subsidiaries to interact with each other. That involves implementing processes and projects, rather than by imposing tools.”
>>> Also on our blog: – Patrick Hoffstetter, CDO for Renault: you have to get all your staff involved in the digital transformation <<<
What sort of obstacles have you come across?
“When you question working methods you inevitably come across resistance to change.”
We’re lucky to work in an industry that’s been forced to transform and reinvent itself, which explains the boom in fintech startups and innovative insurance projects. The industry hasn’t yet adopted all the new digital approaches, in digital and e-commerce. So we’re in a “catch-up” period.
We’re more advanced with some products than others. Basically, we’re not progressing fast enough with digitalisation and e-commerce for our products aimed at professional clients as our consumer products. But that’s only logical, because we focus a great deal on the human relationship, which is the key to assisting our broker partners. So it’s the nature and complexity of the products that’s the issue: some are difficult to understand and sell directly online.
Can you give us some examples of transformations that have inspired you?
For a long time I looked at what Amazon was doing because they’re a great example of e-commerce. Then I started focusing more on Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer that has revolutionised online sales by applying very specific methods. The CEO Tony_Hsieh wrote a book called Delivering Happiness where he explains that his aim is not so much to sell shoes but “deliver happiness” by focusing on the customer experience.
Models are changing today, with innovation, collaboration and a stronger focus on use. In terms of our approach, we’re more along the lines of BlaBlaCar and design_thinking. It’s not just a theory, it’s reality: that’s how you do business differently.
What advice would you give to a company that’s starting its digital transformation?
The important thing is to move fast, and to move fast you have to overcome obstacles and reservations, not just in the peripheral activities of the company but in its core business. The digital manager should be the accelerator of this digitalisation, working closely with Management and the operational teams because digital is an integral part of every level and every aspect of the company.
“You shouldn’t have a top-down approach: you need to focus on the long-term issues because digital transforms companies!”
=> Other works referenced by Etienne Bourdon:
– Start With Why, by Simon Sinek
– The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries
– Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, by Liz Wiseman
=> Read our other interviews with digital and innovation experts: