On this week’s Digital Lighthouse, Zoe Cunningham is joined by Jen Dallas, Head of Digital UK and Ireland at RSA Insurance. Jen talks about the work she and her team have done to develop customer experiences across their platform. She explores the RSA’s use of user testing, research and leadership to help create huge efficiency gains, and what has been valuable for the RSA’s position in the financial services sector.
Hello, and welcome to the Digital Lighthouse. I’m Zoe Cunningham. On the Digital Lighthouse, we get inspiration from tech leaders, to help us to shine a light through turbulent times. We believe that if you have a lighthouse, you can harness the power of the storm.
Today, I’m super excited to welcome Jen Dallas, who is head of digital UK and Ireland at RSA. Hello, Jen, and welcome to the Digital Lighthouse.
Morning Zoe, thanks for having me.
It’s fantastic to have you. So can I ask you to start by maybe telling us a bit about your journey into tech?
My journey started at quite a young age. My dad was a software developer. He started in science and then he moved onto building websites for people in ASP. And I can remember as a child, shelves of Fox Pro development books that were just covering his office.
And so, at the age of three, we were really encouraged to get on the computer and to start using technology, really early. This is back when I was three in ’89. So early, we were allowed on the computer, but we were allowed on the computer if we were doing something productive. So it wasn’t games computer. You had to be using Excel or you had to be using Word. And so it sort of progressed from there, I suppose.
By the age of 8, he had me rebuilding computers. So I knew what a motherboard was, and a hard drive. And I knew how to put more RAM in. And so computers just were never scary to me, which I think has been a huge benefit, in terms of my career, I suppose.
By age 10, he had me teaching clients how to use Word. I remember teaching, a woman called Edith, who was in her 70s, how to use Word because she wanted to write letters to people and she had arthritis, so she couldn’t use a pen and paper anymore. And typing was easier for her.
So I started really young. And technology was just part of my norm as a child.
But I suppose the breakthrough came when I left university. I left university with a National Diploma. I didn’t finish my degree. I’d done two years, [and] I wanted to get some experience.
I went to work in the travel industry and I was selling holidays over the phone to Jersey and Guernsey in the Channel Islands for people. I was bored in between phone calls, so I said ‘What can I do? How can I help be really proactive, you know, really wanting to get involved in the business?’
And the marketing team said, ‘We’ve got some website pages that need building, you’ll need to learn HTML’. Fine. Okay, I can do that. They sat me down with a marketeer for half a day, who showed me how to write some HTML.
Before I knew it, I built pretty much their entire website in between phone calls selling holidays, and I suppose the rest is history.
Oh, that’s amazing. I’m gonna think that next time someone cold calls me, I’m gonna imagine they’re also building a website at the same time. I think that made me feel a bit better. And so what does your current role entail?
Yeah, so I’m head of digital for RSA, looking after the UK and Ireland. We have a team of 70. And a lot of my role entails giving that team the platform to succeed. They have a mixed skill set. So product, ecommerce delivery, design analytics. So the full spectrum we need to work with a development and test capability architecture to deliver end to end digital solutions.
And really what we’re doing is setting the digital strategy for the UK, working with the architects to make sure that we’re doing that in the most effective way. And really modernising our digital estate.
A lot of what we do is also around customer, so really, really focused on making sure we’re designing the best customer experience.
But not just from an experience perspective, but from an outcome perspective as well. And that’s really key in the insurance industry. You can have an amazing experience.
But if a customer then isn’t covered when they come to claim, you haven’t delivered a brilliant customer outcome. So we really focus on that as well.
Yeah, that’s such a good point, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how nice the website is to us, if it doesn’t actually do what you need it to do, right?
Yeah, exactly. And we have to help customers complete the tasks that they’re trying to do at any one moment. And then make sure that, when they need us the most, we’re there.
Yeah, super important. And how long have you been at RSA for?
So I’ve been here for five years. I started as the head of digital for More Than. It has been a very squiggly career in RSA. I started had a digital for More Than looking after that main brand that they had from a personal alliance perspective.
And then I went into our operational efficiency team and did a stint looking after service design. And that was really interesting because it helped me to understand lean processes, Six Sigma, continuous improvement. And that’s been really helpful as a cultural input to what we’re doing digital now.
And then I did a stint actually in our conduct team doing renewal transparency work. And again, quite far removed from digital, but actually really helpful in terms of embedding my understanding of the industry, getting to know how underwriting works, getting to understand how pricing works, understanding a lot of the complexity that we have in the industry. And therefore how does that translate into a digital experience, or what we have to do online to protect our customers,
All financial services industries are this strange mix of you have to be compliant. And obviously, there are laws and regulations there to protect people and to make things better.
And at the same time, you do want to be able to adopt this fail fast, make things better, kind of approach. Does that come into conflict?
We’ll run whole day workshops, and we will bring the underwriters, we’ll bring the regulation teams, the line one B teams, the compliance teams into those sessions. So they’re part of the discovery, they’re part of the thinking, they’re part of the solution, opposed to what we saw traditionally.
And certainly where we were five years ago was the digital team would create something, send it to these teams, and they would say, but this doesn’t meet the regulation or this won’t work because it’s going to deliver the wrong customer outcome.
So we’ve done a lot to kind of shift left, if you will, in that kind of software development lifecycle and say, Well, okay, well, how do we bring these people to the left, to the start of the journey, and really get them involved, so that when we are coming up with new solutions, we know they’re compliant from the start.
And also, then you’re you’re using that information to help create your journey, right? You’re not just trying to retrofit it afterwards. You’re actually building the best thing you can.
And we do a lot of user testing as well. So two years ago, we built a research function within the digital team. And we now conduct probably three or four pieces of user research every single month.
That user research is collated and shared across, not just the digital digital team, but also our product team as well. What that does is it helps us to showcase where something that we’re putting in a digital customer experience may not be translating to the customer.
So what we think is clear content or clear information, may not translate. And a great example of that is, we used to talk about something called ‘Trace and Access’ in our home insurance. And Trace and Access is not something that customers understand in terms of language at all. What Trace Access essentially is is find and fix a leak through user testing, we could say that customers were really struggling with this term.
And we were able to take that back to our product teams, our underwriting teams, were able to make that adjustment. And that shows the power of digital and design thinking and user testing techniques in a much broader context than just digital.
Do you think there’s been a lot of change in this area? You know, over the last five years, while you’ve been at RSA?
We’ve seen significant shifts in the last five years. So when I joined the digital team, there was a lack of appetite to invest in that area of the business. And what I’ve seen, in 2019, we tripled our investment in digital.
And that was pre pandemic. And thank goodness for that. There was this real shift in the mindset within the organisation that digital was something we really, really did need to invest in. It was where our customers were and we needed to be there to win.
We’ve also, in 2019, put in place a new strategy. And the strategy is, on the one hand, it’s around technology – so it’s around consolidating all of our platforms so that we’ve got efficiency in how we operate as a digital function.
But actually, it’s about laying the foundations of a brilliant customer experience. It’s about making sure that when we deliver customer experience, we’re not just thinking about the happy path, because insurance isn’t a linear process.
It’s a squiggly process, customers don’t do what we think that they do, and just go straight in from getting a quote, to buying it. You know, they talk to their friends, they call us, they read reviews about whether you’re a good company, whether your claims are actually handled and managed effectively.
So we’ve started to do a lot more in terms of looking at the unhappy paths. So, you know, where do customers get stuck? How do we help them at those points in the journey? Not just looking at the macro conversion (So did we convert them?) but all of the micro things that happen along the way that have a material impact, particularly in an industry where it’s not like selling travel, and that’s my background.
So in travel, you get a lot of grace. A customer comes along, they really want to buy a holiday, they will happily get through the pain of a website throwing seven or eight errors, because they want that holiday. You don’t get the same grace with insurance.
It’s not so exciting.
You’ve got to look at those those gnarly little niggly problems in the journey and really focus and double down on those. And that’s something we’ve done. We’ve got amazing exec level sponsorship, we have an executive team that really understand digital and really support us in everything that we’re trying to do.
And that’s been so motivating and so empowering for the whole team. So there’s been material change in the last two years, but certainly in the five years that I’ve been here.
Digital just covers so many areas of the business. There’s looking after all of your legacy systems and improving them and rationalising them, like you say, so that you are working efficiently and not spending all your time fixing different systems and making them link up. All of that stuff that we will have to deal with all the time.
So how do you manage to prioritise across so many competing demands?
I’m not gonna say it’s not a challenge. We are, in some ways victims of our own success, because the more we do, the more the business wants. We however have also implemented things that really help us along the way.
So, in the last two years, we’ve implemented a design system. And that has given us huge efficiency gains, in how quickly we can churn out new designs. That means that we can do more now than we could have ever done two, or five years ago. So that’s been really important for us in terms of making sure we are as productive as we can be.
I think though, the other thing that we’ve done is we’ve really looked at our processes. So making sure that when a new piece of work arrives on our door, we don’t just do it, we go back to: What is the business challenge we are trying to solve? Is this the right thing to do? Or are there five other ways that we could do it – some of which may be quicker, some of which may be slower?
So we’re constantly assessing what’s the right thing for the customer? And what’s the right thing for the business. And we’re always making sure that the things that we’re doing are aligned to that business strategy.
We work with dedicated tribes. So we sort of follow the Spotify model: we’ve got tribes, we’ve got squads, our tribes follow our product verticals (so high motor pack, commercial)
That means that actually, we can make decisions in those product verticals and prioritise within those product verticals, which actually really helps. Because we can then work with the business and it’s much more transparent around what is the priority in any given space.
So it’s challenging, and we’ve always got far more work than we have resources to deliver. But we have really good processes, we’ve improved our efficiency, we look at customer and business benefit for every single piece of work that we do. And when we need, to we also use agencies and we augment the team.
So you’re actually kind of building out your ecosystem even further. Even more than all the people you’ve got within the team, you’re actually expanding it and I guess more dynamically than sizing it up and down as you need it.
Absolutely. So we wanted to make sure that as a business, we had the core competencies in house – that’s really important for us, you know, having that in house, in depth knowledge of our products of our systems is really, really critical to our success and [that has been] another big change in the last two years.
But we’re not afraid to use agencies and their expertise to bolster those skills, and to bring in new ways of thinking, new points of view, different perspectives, that again, help us learn help us become a better digital function, and challenge the status quo.
And, and I think that comes back to that continuous mindset. We’re really open to a new challenge working with new partners. We’ve got some great agencies that we work with. And they really help us when we’re in a bind, we need to get something over the line, and we haven’t got capacity in the team. We can stand someone up in probably two to four weeks, and that just really helps us continue on that delivery mechanism.
I think it’s also about kind of being like, you know, small and agile is how I was thinking about it is. There’s so many people who, you know, they want to find the way and it’s like, here is the way to build software or you know, develop digital services or whatever. And actually, it’s so important to be able to mix and match and use what’s appropriate when it’s appropriate.
I do really relate to your first point – you need some level of core expertise in house, right? Because if you don’t know what you’re buying, it’s very hard to buy the right thing. And it’s very hard to even work out what you need to buy, I guess, right? If you don’t have that originating? How would you say you’re doing it getting kind of tech onto the top table, which I know has been a challenge that I think is getting better nowadays.
I said it earlier, we’ve got really great exec level sponsorship. So our personal alliance MD has led digital teams, she understands digital, and she is very, very supportive of what we’re trying to do.
Our CIO is very supportive of what we’re trying to do from a digital perspective. He can see that through what we’re doing, we are trying to rationalise our technology estate, and we are trying to improve the efficiency and we are trying to streamline.
And I think, therefore, the work that we’re doing isn’t just about the business strategy. But it’s also about the technology strategy. And it helps bring those two things together.
I think digital is often seen as the bridge between the business and the technology teams. And we definitely helped to kind of blend those two things.
But also we’ve been running a programme called Digital Evolution over the last two years, 18 months. And it is so successful.
And I think once you’ve got a few runs under your belt, you inevitably get more buy in. Because you’re showing your success, you’re showing the benefit that you’re bringing to the business. And we’re able to do that not just through pace and execution, but also in the commercial numbers that have been delivered off the back of these.
Yeah, fantastic. And it’s all about iterating. Right, and building trust. And which kind of brings me on to my next question, actually, about, you kind of mentioned there about having good relationships upwards.
But actually, it’s almost all about relationships, isn’t it? You know, you think being a tech leader would be about tech, but it’s not. It’s about relationships? What do you do to kind of make sure you’re bringing all of these different stakeholders, essentially, with you on the journey?
First and foremost, I’m very passionate, very enthusiastic. And I think that rubs off on people. I’m never afraid to say what I think. And I think that’s also a good quality to have, as long as it’s done with tact and diplomacy, in so much as building up a level of trust.
So I’ve got a number of stakeholders that I’ve worked with for the last two years and they will come to me now and they will say, Look, this is happening in a different area of the business and it’s not really digital, but we’d love your view on it. Because we know that you understand X, Y and Z. So you actually start to influence more broadly.
But I think it’s all about trust. It’s about being open. It’s about being honest. It’s about being transparent. It’s about when there is a problem, facing into it, owning it.
And for me, a lot of that is around not focusing on people but focusing on process. So I think we’re very good at saying, okay, something’s gone wrong. Where did the process fall down? And that naturally brings people on the journey because it’s not about individuals.
It’s about we’ve created a process and somewhere along the way, it didn’t work. How do we learn from that, [and] not take the same battle scars into the next piece of work? And I think people really respect that.
I think from a team perspective, I think I’ve got the best team in the world. And I would challenge anyone that said any different. And I think my team know that that’s what I think of them. And I think they know I’ve got their back.
They work so hard, and they do such a phenomenal job. And I will look after and protect them, like they are my children. And that’s my job as a leader. to look after them, support them, coach them, give them the platform. And I think that’s been a real shift.
For the people that have been in the team, we’ve got a couple of people that have been in the team for 30 years – even they’ve said, the last two years, the buy in that we’ve got at the exec level, the support that we have, has just changed so much.
And I think I think that comes from listening to the team, understanding their challenges, their frustrations, and doing what we can to fix them. And where we can’t fix them, making that really clear to them as well. My job as a leader is to give my team a platform where they can excel, and support them and protect them along the way.
Yeah, fantastic. And that’s how you get kind of everyone playing on the same side. Right? You’re all there to deliver this, you know, great outcomes for your customers. Yeah. And that’s always the most enjoyable way to work as well. Right? When you can make it work.
Yeah, every piece of work that we do we look at it on four pieces.
So we look at it from a strategic perspective – does this align to our strategy?
We look at it from a customer perspective – is this going to make it better for the customer? Will they have better outcomes as a result of this piece of work?
We look at it from a business perspective – will this change make our business more effective, more efficient? Will it help us retain more staff? Will it help us push forward to the next big thing?
And we look at it financially – Is it going to help us improve our return on investment?
And I think by looking at those four categories, when it comes to stakeholders, there isn’t a stakeholder you don’t touch the hearts and minds of in that. It’s really important for us.
Yeah, so you’ve kind of thought of it in advance. They don’t have to go, well, what about this? You’re presenting it to them upfront.
Brilliant. Alright, then. Just finally, what is next for digital RSA?
So we’ve been really focused on taking what we do today, and getting it onto a foundation where we can operate super efficiently. And we’ve been really focused on taking what we do today and taking it to the next level: improving the conversion rates, improving the customer outcomes.
I think for us next, it’s looking at what are the new digital services that we need to build? So, certainly self serve is an area we need to do more of. We’ve got some really great capability, but there is more that we could build to help more customers self serve and do it online.
And then I think the other thing is, how can we support RSA more broadly, in the broker space? So a lot of what we do today in the digital space is around at the B2C (so our personalised customers), how can we do more to help our broker community in the digital space? Because there will be a pivotal moment where the next generation of brokers will want digital services. And we need to be ready for that.
So, some exciting things there, looking at both the services we deliver to our end customer, but also how we branch out into new customer groups within the organisation and support them more.
And it’s back to what you said earlier. The more you do, the more there is to do, right.
Absolutely, absolutely. So we do our planning at the start of the year. And we ask people, you know, what digital projects have you got coming up this year? And they tell us and we factor that into our planning.
And then invariably, halfway through the year someone comes and says, Oh, we’ve had this great idea. Can you just help us? And we’re like, Okay, we’ll see how we can fit that in. So yeah, success breeds demand.
Yea. Thank you so much, Jen. Thanks for coming on the show and helping us to shine a light for others.
Thanks for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it.