Ageas INsure – Open Innovation. Speaking of innovation with Nuno Horta
Vincent Van de Winckel ( VVdW ): The Ageas Group is present in 14 countries, 5 in Europe and 9 in Asia. In Portugal, the group stands in the top 3 of insurance groups. Ageas INsure – Open Innovation was recently launched and is open to applicants. Do you want to tell us about innovation in the group?
Nuno Horta, Head of Innovation at Ageas Group Portugal (pictured): The Ageas Portugal Group has always invested in innovation, even before there was a team entirely dedicated to this theme. For instance: the formation of Médis, the first managed care insurance in Portugal, is something from the time of Ocidental. The creation of an innovation team only reinforced that fact. Even in the company itself, there are several teams that, day by day, integrate innovation within their scope, as is the case with: Médis Next level, a team focused on bringing innovation to Médis as a whole; o Ageas Seguros Marketing, the strategic marketing units and Operations themselves. In fact, it was Ageas’ digital transformation plan that allowed, on March 12, almost all employees to start working from their homes without compromising the level of work, and maintaining business as usual and even launching several initiatives “On target” such as INsure.
VVdW: How long has the Innovation team existed?
NH: The team was formed in 2016 and has since grown and increased in scope. Now we are in a state of maturity that allows us to launch programs like Ageas INsure. We have others like: Ageas INside, an internal program, INcampus with Universidade Nova and other initiatives that we are preparing. The state of maturity we have attained allows us to take a different look at the surrounding market, the Portuguese and European ecosystem.
VVdW: The theme of innovation is an endless theme that needs to be nurtured. How is it done at Ageas and how is this innovative side maintained?
NH: Above all, there has to be a process. Our work cannot be based on the assumption that there are four, five or six people in an innovation team having ideas. There are several processes in place for this to be a repetitive and constant cycle.
The processes are based on methodologies. In other words, bringing the creative part of people from innovation and business units, and joining them with the rigor that we have because we are in a banking and insurance company, bringing together the best of both worlds. We are organized and focused on concrete projects.
VVdW: And how is this innovation promoted?
NH: As we have an Executive Committee and top management very much focused on innovation, they often challenge us with concrete situations. They call us and say, for example: “I would like to have X in the company or I want something Y” and we have to go looking, do sourcing, do research and make proposals, always together with the other areas of the company, as the Innovation team is seen as a facilitator. We work as a team. That is, we never do anything alone. We always bring the business and take advantage of the resources and internal know-how.
VVdW: Is innovation business driven or can you also have the initiative?
NH: One part is business driven and comes top down, the other part we propose. Hence, we have these specific programs to propose these more disruptive or more experimental innovations. We have these programs like INsure, INside, INcampus – a program, in its 3rd edition, that we have developed with Universidade Nova de Lisboa, that is a hackaton whose winning ideas are then implemented in startups. So we also have a range of more experimental, more challenging programs that come from ideas and initiatives of the innovation team.
VVDW: What are the innovations that had the greatest impact?
NH: We have now made an artificial intelligence screening system at Médis; we also have a COVID-19 symptom assessor; and INsure. Internally there is also INside, which is similar, but for Employees, in which we will give the chance to launch their own startup, their business unit, or even create ideas for the business.
VVDW: Asia is, in many areas, more digitized than the old continent. Are there any transfers of ideas, know-how or technology from Asia to Europe?
NH: No, we have, especially with our OPCO in Thailand, a very close relationship that allows us to exchange ideas. So we can take ideas in progress in that geography and try to implement them in Portugal with our twist. Each market has its idiosyncrasies and I think that we cannot copy products. There must always be an adaptation to the local culture. Thus, we have an ongoing project focused on wellness and a program that comes from this exchange, and which should be launched in the coming months in Portugal.
VVDW : Coming back to Ageas INsure. What is it?
NH: Ageas INsure is an acceleration program with the objective of finding the best startups, in order to bring their ideas and products, so that they can be integrated into the Ageas Portugal Group value chain. Through this program, we also want to create our own moment, where the people, resources and time needed to dedicate to these companies are available, so that startups can take advantage of the inputs of our top management and our mentors, in order to develop the pilots in the company, to then be scaled within the Ageas value chain. It is about giving, in an organized manner, the due attention and focus necessary for startups and Ageas to make the best use of this innovation opportunity.
VVDW: How was the program put together and what are the mechanics?
NH: We created this program from scratch and in partnership with H-Farm, which helped us to design a customized program for us, to have the maximum outputs. We do not want to be just with some startups that set up pilots and that don’t materialize their projects. After the pilot, there will be an integration journey within the Ageas Portugal Group the following year, and we are focused on the industrialization of the pilots.
VVDW: What motivated Ageas INsure to take place here in Portugal?
NH: It was we who had this ambition, it is an initiative entirely by the Ageas Portugal Group.
VVDW: Is it mainly aimed at the PT business?
NH: Obviously, as we are part of an economic group, the goal will also always be to share the outputs with our colleagues from other geographies. It will be good for startups and it will be good for the group. It is part of our scope to share points with the group and find out if they have any interest in, then, also receiving these startups.
It was focused on the needs of Portugal. Several strategic workshops were held to define opportunities and to ensure that there is no repetition of concepts and that the business wants to receive startups. It only reinforces that innovation at Ageas works for the business and is a facilitator.
VVDW: What are the expectations?
NH: We expect to bring 5 to 10 pilots and incorporate as many startups as possible into the business, with interest for us.
VVDW: This is the first edition. Is it to repeat?
NH: Yes. We have signaled that it will be a recurring program. Year 0 runs the program. In year 1, the program’s outputs are implemented in the value chain and then, in year 2, the program is repeated. In year 3 the outputs are implemented and always so recurrently.
VVDW: What are the draws for startups to apply for your program?
NH: A renowned company such as the Ageas Portugal Group will already be attractive in itself, the fact that we are a multinational company present in 14 countries can also bring scale. In other words, a company that is in the top 3 nationals and that is committed to innovation is a company that most startups may want to work with. Being part of an economic group and possibly being able to facilitate the scale to other geographies is also a particularly good attraction for these startups.
Learn more about Ageas INsure – Open Innovation