Exclusive: Aviva to launch ‘Digital Garage’ in London for new agile world

INSURANCE GIANT Aviva is planning to set up a technology centre in the area of London known as Silicon Roundabout to develop new digital tools for customers who increasingly expect to be able to do everything online.
David Barral. Picture by Bruce RollinsonDavid Barral. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
David Barral. Picture by Bruce Rollinson

The FTSE 100 group is investing tens of millions of pounds in its digital transformation strategy and wants to use its composite business model to offer a “one-stop shop” for life, health and general insurance services.

David Barral, chief executive of the York-based life business, said Aviva will be “at the very forefront in pioneering a digital environment for customers because that’s where they are today and we want to be leading that”.

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The group is understood to be close to buying a warehouse in Shoreditch as part of its move to “digital first”.

Mr Barral said: “We are calling it the ‘Digital Garage’ and we are bringing people from different aspects of the business - frontline staff, IT specialists, technical specialists - and getting them to co-locate on specific projects to generate digital functionality for the business for customers to use in a far faster, more agile way.

“It is a much more modern way of coming up with solutions for customers and the business to work in a more efficient manner.”

The group launched My Aviva in February for customers to see all their policies in one place with just one log-on. Mr Barral said: “They can see their motor policy, their household policy and the value of their pension instantly.”

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He said the service would have cost £150m had Aviva tried to develop it three years ago. In the event, it cost £13.5m and took 12 months to deliver, he added.

Mr Barral said: “The advances in technology are allowing us to do clever stuff that would have taken a lot more money and a lot longer in the past.

“We can do it faster, more cheaply and improve the service markedly for customers and at a cheaper cost.”

He said the group is developing online tools and testing them with customers to get feedback.

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Mr Barral added: “The old world would have taken nine months to build a project, launch it and there it is. In a more digital, agile world you want to get things out early.”

Aviva announced the appointment of a chief digital officer, Andrew Brem, last month. He will report directly to chief executive Mark Wilson.

He has been tasked with driving product innovation and development through data analytics, customer insights and risk management and will be responsible for direct distribution, interactive communication and claims handling as well as marketing and branding across social media and the mobile internet.

Mr Wilson said: “The insurance industry punches below its weight when it comes to digital propositions that customers are looking for.

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“Coming from outside the insurance industry, Andrew will bring a fresh perspective.”

Aviva currently sends 40m paper documents a year. Mr Barral said this can be reduced by up to 80 per cent.

Mr Barral said the group would continue to provide help, reassurance and guidance via call centres to help customers make decisions about life products.

Aviva has been through a deep cost-cutting exercise in recent years.

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The life business, which employs 3,500 people in Yorkshire, has seen headcount fall from 12,500 in 2006 to 5,500 today.

The group has promised investors bigger returns by laying off staff, spinning off some businesses and shaking up its asset management arm. Mr Barral said investors and analysts support Aviva’s strategy.

He said: “One of our soures of competitive advantage is the fact we can provide a one-stop shop for all our customers savings, pensions, health and insurance needs. There’s only five companies in the world and we are the only one in the UK that can do it.”

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