Interview with Simon Bradley CEO of Open GI
Thu Jul 23 2020
Simon, thank you for talking to Irish Broker. Can you tell us what appealed to you about Open GI?
I had come to a point where I wanted a change in my career. I left Aviva in 2011, spent three years running software firm Avelo, sold it; then spent five years working with (acquirer) Iress, learning how to build software for what is a similar value chain. There are differences but the reality is that the technology Iress was selling was there to improve effectiveness, efficiency, and flow of not just quotations and applications, but also data to enable a better client experience.
However for me, I felt I had come to the end of a period with Iress, which had been fantastic, and I was genuinely looking for another challenge when I was approached by Montagu (Open GI’s private equity firm). Although I had worked in Norwich Union/Aviva for many years, I felt I did not have enough exposure to the general insurance (GI) market. So, my initial reaction was that this opportunity was not for me, I don’t know the industry.
But what became clear and is even clearer now is that the GI industry is hugely important to the economy. You only have to think about what we are faced with now (the current pandemic), and the fact that companies in this market provide the ability for people to protect the things they care about – which is really important.
That was the driver which ultimately attracted me to Open GI and the GI industry, and the more I delved into the business, I realised it is full of wonderful people. There is an amazing amount of knowledge within the staff and even though some of the tech has been around for a while, there is some very clever IP in it. So, when you think about the future, there are some strong building blocks that will enable us (Open GI) to grow and transform the business for our customers.
How important is the evolution of digital technology today and what benefits can brokers give customers through its implementation with a reliable provider?
It is extremely important and, as such, we are currently on a journey to meet the needs of our increasingly digital savvy clients. My understanding is that the GI tech space has been relatively slow to make some necessary big leaps. But those pressures for change are going to become so pervasive that the sector will inevitably change. Why? Because consumers are changing. Their demand for access, for self-service proposition and an end-to-end digital experience has changed – and will continue too. For businesses, the economic and financial pressures attached to scaling up – and getting efficiency by doing more for less – will also drive change.
GI brokers have already experienced a major structural shift to become more direct, especially with personal lines, that has resulted in them having to be extremely agile and think ‘if I cannot have that, I’ll go and do (something else) and do it really well’. I think there is already a mindset for efficiency and effectiveness so for us, we see our digital tech strategy as a key component to enable that.
And by that, I mean software providers need to be reliable. There are a number of solutions on the market that remain highly restrictive and monolithic. So, when you buy the package currently you may feel you must take it and use it all. Solutions need to be flexible as well as reliable, modern, and scalable to really benefit brokers and drive a better customer experience. And that is our new focus.
You also mentioned MGAs and Insurers. What systems have you in place to satisfy the industry’s ever-demanding needs?
We are a relative newcomer to the MGA and insurer technology space. Open GI acquired Transactor back in 2017 which was really significant because of the talent that existed and exists in the team we inherited. The architecture of the solutions from Transactor are really impressive, particularly around ratings and insurer hosted pricing (IHP). A major area of focus for us is enabling manufacturers and brokers too connect more effectively, and with the growing emergence of the MGAs, to also help manufacturers manage risk and capital more effectively. Earlier this year we launched our strategic application, IHP Plus, which does exactly that – it offers opportunity and stronger connections – a positive step forward for the GI tech space.
Tell us more about Mobius, one of your latest products.
Going back to your point about digital technology and its benefits. I think it’s important that we put more digital capability in the hands of the end consumer. For example, they can self-serve more but that the policy administration framework remains fundamentally consistent and strong.
With, Mobius, the platform that we are bringing to market, it is built very differently to our Core platform. It will be a true cloud-based software-as-a-service solution (SaaS) that is more modular and enables businesses to create what we would call ‘enterprise architecture’ in that it enables them to be flexible. And so rather than building your business around the software, the software is built into your business and allows it to grow and change. And as part of that there will be a digital enabled layer that will be stronger than it is now to help drive a greater experience for brokers’ customers.
Any other new technologies, new innovations or enhanced services to better serve your customers?
We are undertaking several new initiatives to showcase a new change at Open GI. There is dedicated focus on improving the end-to-end customer experience for our customers, optimising the usability, reliability, and performance of our products. As well as talking and consulting more with our customers as we develop new services and re-evaluate our brand. We want to better reflect the journey Open GI is on to become a better business for our customers.
The team has already started a series of ‘socially distant’ customer consultations, ranging from both structured and observational interviews so we can understand how well our software is used and in turn improve usability. This way of engaging with our customers is not only extremely important to Open GI – but is the new way of how we shall be working from now on. We want to hear from our customers so will be frequently offering the opportunity for them to participate, and indeed influence, what we do and how we do it.
You acquired Machine Learning Programmes (MLP Ltd) last year. What benefits has this acquisition brought to the table and can you tell us more about AI?
As an industry, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of how powerful data could be. Personally, I think it could be a growth engine, but also be and do a lot more. So, the acquisition of MLP was a strong move to grow our business. But the acquisition also happened because I’m very much interested intellectually in how some of these things (AI) can change the way we as people think, not at least in the way the data science that MLP and others have worked on have been deployed to manage pricing risks and fraud – and that is going to be extremely powerful for our market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has rocked the way we do business, for the moment anyway. Although your business is ‘remote’ by nature, has the pandemic had a positive or negative affect on your business?
The current situation (Covid-19) we are experiencing has been and is completely unchartered territory. However, I think this situation has shown that businesses can and have adapted. For us, we have carried on and because we were able to move people to working remotely pretty easily, the actual day-to-day development and output of building stuff hasn’t slowed down either. So, all the things we have planned in the pipeline have continued as normal. We continue to work further on Mobius, looking to work with our first client to get it in production and tested and we are also continuing to build products around ratings and IHP. We have adapted, and thanks to our people, remain committed and unphased.
Is OPEN GI committed to the Irish Market? Can you tell us more about your Irish team?
We are working on a number of programmes which involve boosting our platforms usability, enhancing our customer delivery, and implementing a technology strategy specifically for the Irish market.
Earlier this year I came over and joined our Regional Manager, Robert Fitzsimons, to meet with our User Group and key partners. These meetings were very productive, and we have now defined and agreed a significant investment for our Irish business. We have the backing from our insurer partners, which is key, and we shall initially deliver a series of rating improvements to our platform. We plan to have this ready for our insurers to test during the Summer and release this thereafter to our brokers.
This is a big step forward and we will continue with our investment in Ireland, with three further functional releases of our Core platform later in the year.
Finally, Simon, what does the future hold for Open GI?
My goal is to make Open GI the standout partner in the general insurance market, and the first port of call for people (in the industry) looking for support as they seek to improve their businesses using technology. This may seem somewhat a colossal task, but I am confident that this can be achieved by looking beyond the current standard and thinking about how insurance is going to change over the next decade and how we, Open GI, change with it.
There’s a lot of things about Open GI that our customers like, and we enjoy strong loyalty. But they absolutely want us to be different and the question is, how we can convince them (that this is happening). For me, the only thing that can really do that is delivery. The only thing that matters is the physical display of this vision, this strategy and the delivery of software that works.
So, our focus first and foremost is that we must prove ourselves to be really good at those hygiene factors – those things that are most important to our customers. And from that base, we can show our ability to innovate. That’s the journey I’ve got in my head. And we haven’t landed that yet, but I think we are in the right area, and we are already starting to see positive feedback that suggests people can see that things are changing.