Meeting big change with consistency: we talk to Co-CEO Theo Duchen about Acturis’ COVID experience

Digitisation developments are now starting to pick up the pace, and with heavy investment in AI and an app which allows brokers to manage client accounts on the go, or on the sofa, SaaS provider Acturis intend to stay ahead.

But the value of consistency amid trying circumstances worldwide is not to be underestimated, and despite having to mobilise a workforce of over 800 staff to homeworking in six different countries, Acturis continued to maintain that consistent service to make the transition for their clients as smooth as possible. 

We caught up with Co-CEO Theo Duchen, to discuss how the business went through similar challenges to their clients, what they’ve learned and how they’ve been making lemonade out of the lemons the global community has been given. 



What have been the challenges you’ve experienced at Acturis since March? 


We just had to make sure that customers had a consistent experience during the crisis to that which they had beforehand. 

This was our overarching objective in terms of platform availability and the service we deliver to customers. 

As our clients transitioned to working from home when the lockdown was introduced, we aimed to be in a position whereby they never had to worry about our service and wouldn’t notice any change in the way we operated. 

They depended on our service being consistent, and we aimed to deliver that from before the crisis right the way through it. 

To achieve this, we set up an emergency COVID Committee which encompassed six countries. We had to deal with the various rules and situational differences in Denmark, Germany, Canada, France, Poland and the UK, as each country was in a different stage of advancement in terms of coronavirus. We also used this forum to ensure that we shared knowledge to create a sense of best practice within the Group.

Then we had to look at how we could easily make the transition to working from home. We had two or three trials with 30-50% of colleagues on different days, and we needed to make sure colleagues created a suitable home-working environment.

This involved incorporating the right toolsets such as sufficient laptops, as well as tools for virtual team sharing. 

Another challenge we had to grapple with was a new phone system for our call centres, as the current solution didn’t really work well remotely. We had to find a system that enabled people to take calls from their mobile phones, which we found and quickly introduced. 

We also had to ensure that we had the right set of operational tools to alter our working practices such as looking at ways to deliver training and tools for virtually meeting clients and colleagues. 

We also had to get into a different pattern of working in a new environment and in that sense, I’m sure everybody’s no different. 

We’re now just starting to contend with onboarding new recruits as we figure out how they best enter the company in a changed working environment. 

I’m glad to say we’ve been pretty successful at the transition, and we’ve received a large number of emails from clients saying that they felt that the transition was extremely smooth and that there was no difference in service.  This is something I take as a real compliment.


What have been your learnings from the past five months? 


We’ve certainly learned that it is possible to move 850 people in six countries to working from home, and it’s not that difficult to do. I expected a lot of teething problems but in reality, the transition was easier and more seamless than I could have ever hoped for. I’d like to think that’s down to good planning and good colleagues.

In addition, we’ve found that our clients have been equally if not more adaptable than we’ve been. There was an initial shock and we saw a drop in activity on the platform of roughly 10%. But over the next week or so we quickly saw activity levels returning to normal, and we’re at a point now where we’re seeing activity levels of about those of last year which is pretty encouraging. By and large, that’s a good example of our clients adapting to a massive shock, and getting measures in place and simply carrying on as best they can. 

We’ve learned that in this crisis you’ve got to be resilient and your standard of service is critical. If anyone is considering their service partners, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Does this company have a good track record in these kinds of situations, and have they proven themselves?’

We’ve also established that the move to digital is only going to speed up. We’ve certainly seen our customers start to embrace this and use the Acturis mobile app, as an example, in increasing numbers, as well as moving to more of a customer self-service approach. Brokers had started to embrace this, but this has increased significantly. 


Has the recent widespread digital acceleration brought forward any of your plans at Acturis? 


It’s certainly forced us to think about propelling our own digital plans, and there are a lot of different areas that this could encompass. 

We, along with brokers and insurers, need to increase our activity in the electronic trading area. In the UK we’re fortunate in that this is already quite well advanced, but it’s nowhere near where it should be, and most brokers would tell you that. We’re starting to see a gradual increase in the numbers of policies and premiums which are electronically traded. 

It’s too early to tell whether that’s accelerating because it was always growing, or because of the specific situation, but I’m sure we’ll see an upward trend in the next couple of months as it goes hand in hand with digitisation and self-service. 

Brokers really need to consider their digital channels and we need to make that as easy for brokers to adopt as possible. We’re trying to do that with very standardised methodologies that can be rolled out easily and quickly and then customised over time.

Finally, we think we have a market-leading mobile app which is available on IOS and Android for brokers to use while they’re at home, sitting on the couch watching TV, getting a request from a client on the go or while they’re in the garden. 

They will be able to access the system, from their mobile phone using the app, which is critical in this new world. We’ve pushed ahead on this and we think we’ve got an amazing product which is free with the system. 



Are there any other innovations that are now on your radar which you’re considering exploring in the more distant future? 


AI is something we’re starting to invest quite heavily in. It goes hand-in-hand with where things are moving, and we’d like to be able to support our clients. It would almost be like having a digital adviser offering helpful prompts and the next best action to pursue. 

We see this coming up fast, and we want to put ourselves in a position to be a good provider with a great service offering.   


It seems there are a lot of positive developments at Acturis to have come out of a negative situation, despite the initial shockwaves…


When you get lemons you’ve got to make lemonade – we’ve tried as best we can. I hope it tastes pretty good!

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