LONDON — Aviva, the 321-year-old British insurance giant, wants to become a financial technology company.
CEO Mark Wilson declared at a press conference on Wednesday: “We want to turn Aviva into a fintech.”
“We will do acquisitions in this space,” he said but added: “I don’t mean billions. There’s nothing imminent.”
Wilson named artificial intelligence and big data as areas of particular interest for Aviva, which has a market cap of £21 billion.
He was talking to journalists at Aviva’s “Digital Garage” in Hoxton, a trendy area of East London. The office holds a few hundred staff, away from Aviva’s City of London office, and is home to its digital innovation and development teams.
Wilson said the “Garage,” which opened at the start of last year, was part of an effort to change the culture in Aviva to help transform it into a digitally-focused company. The office houses staff who are data scientists, not actuaries, and others who used to work as games developers. Wilson said the aim was for the satellite office to “compete and cannibalise” the rest of Aviva.
“We believe what we have is world leading,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is fundamentally change the insurance industry. How long will it take? I don’t know.”
Fintech has become one of the hottest areas of investment in the last decade and one of the latest wave of innovation is InsurTech, startups and technology aimed at digitising the paper-heavy and arcane world of insurance.
Aviva is spending at least £100 million a year on digital transformation internally and has set up a venture capital fund, Aviva Ventures, with £100 million to invest by 2020. So far it has made 6 investments, with a 7th imminent.
Wilson touted a recent deal with Chinese internet giant Tencent as evidence of Aviva’s advances when it comes to technology. He said: “They paid us because of some of the IP you’re going to see today.”
Aviva demoed products such as MyAviva, a dashboard that lets customers see all their policies in one online hub, and Ask Me Never, a feature that gives customers automated and pre-approved quotes without them having to input details.
While that may not sound revolutionary, Wilson and Andrew Brem, Aviva’s chief digital officer, said the features took months and a lot of capital to build given the legacy systems that insurers still rely on. Wilson said: “We’re one of the last industries to be truly disrupted.”
As well as looking to acquire and invest in startups, Wilson said Aviva is in conversation with Silicon Valley companies and is open to partnerships around the world. It is experimenting with blockchain, micro-insurance, and “on-demand” policies for the sharing economy.
Wilson stressed that the “Garage” was not simply a flashy showroom meant to impress customers and partners, but was tied to Aviva’s commercial mission. “It’s not a lab,” he said, “It’s a business. It’s objective is to make money.”
He said: “I don’t know how big a lot of this stuff can get but we think it can get pretty big pretty quickly.”
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