On Aon

31: On Aon’s Vision for Digital Transformation with James Platt

Episode Summary

This year marks 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II reign, Queen of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth. This exciting milestone brings the chance to reflect on how life would've been very different in 1952, especially as we think about technology, and the progress it has made. Together, host Alexandra Lewis and Aon’s Chief Operating Officer James Platt discuss how far technology has advanced since Queen Elizabeth first took the throne. They also talk about how Aon is prioritizing innovation and digitization to help support clients and colleagues, as well as how Aon is building its technology operations to help support innovation at a larger scale.

Episode Notes

This year marks 70 years of Queen Elizabeth II reign, Queen of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth. This exciting milestone brings the chance to reflect on how life would've been very different in 1952, especially as we think about technology, and the progress it has made. 

Together, host Alexandra Lewis and Aon’s Chief Operating Officer James Platt discuss how far technology has advanced since Queen Elizabeth first took the throne. They also talk about how Aon is prioritizing innovation and digitization to help support clients and colleagues, as well as how Aon is building its technology operations to help support innovation at a larger scale. 

Additional Resources:

Aon’s website

Aon completes acquisition of CoverWallet, the leading digital insurance platform for small and medium-sized businesses

Aon’s James Platt On How Data Can Drive Business Growth

The One Brief: The Details of Data: Using Technology for Better Analysis

Tweetables:

Episode Transcription

VO Intro:

Welcome to “On Aon,” a podcast featuring conversations between colleagues on, well, Aon. This week, we hear from James Platt around Aon’s digital transition. And now, this week’s host, Alexandra Lewis.

Alexandra Lewis:

So, if you haven't already heard, this year marks 70 years on the throne for Elizabeth II, Queen of the UK, Northern Ireland, and the Commonwealth. And what's so exciting about these milestones is it brings a chance to reflect how life would've been so very different in 1952, especially when we think about the world, the technology and progress that we've made.

Alexandra Lewis:

My name's Alexandra Lewis. I've been a colleague at Aon for 17 wonderful years, and when I think about technology and progress, I am a huge fan of having a digital camera on my phone, so I don't have to wait days to get those film processed. But I would love to pose that question to our very, very special guest today, James Platt. Going from one royal to another royal engineer, James, welcome.

James Platt:

Alex, well thank you, first of all, for having me on the podcast today, and I hate to start by correcting you, but I was actually a royal electrical mechanical engineer and given the subject we're going to get onto, I think that's pretty important. So as part of REME, which is... clearly a very British podcast today. Look, in terms of technology, though, and what's great technology, my favorite technology innovation over the last few years, I was going to say the smartphone, because I think it has revolutionized our lives, but there's one revolution that has done better for me. And that's an espresso coffee machine, which I think is genuinely the greatest technology revolution of the last 10 years.

Alexandra Lewis:

Fantastic. Good to know you are fueled up on your coffee and always raring to go and thank you for clarifying on the precise title of your resume. That's fantastic to hear. So, James, today we are of course, looking at digitization and how that impacts Aon, but first of all, I'd be fascinated to know, do you think that the world of business has kept pace with the consumer sector when it comes to technology?

James Platt:

Alex, really interesting question, and I think it has and it hasn't. If you look at today, and I guess this will be clear to anybody using large scale B2B services, how the consumer sector has really innovated around experience. Whether you're downloading movies, whether you are shopping on Amazon, whatever your consumer experience, that is radically changed. And I think it's fair to say that in the large corporate world, not so much the SME world, and we can talk about that a little later maybe, we haven't had the same change necessarily in experience, and that's one thing that I think we feel should happen. But in terms of other areas, like how we use data and how we analyze it, I think it has changed. And I think it's changed in the same way the consumer world has changed. It's not necessarily visible.

Alexandra Lewis:

Excellent. So that brings us very neatly back to the next question which is, how then have we at Aon, and particularly in Aon Business Services, applied technology and digitization? And can you just please put that into the context of what ABS is all about and how we serve colleagues and clients?

James Platt:

So ABS, or Aon Business Services, really it's our response to how we change as a firm and how we take advantage of technology trends, operational trends and in some ways, it's building an operating system for Aon, and I'm going to try and overuse technology analogies today. I think it's only appropriate for our subject. And so ABS what's it trying to do? It really is building our shared operations and shared technology capabilities and doing it across the firm and delivering those both to clients, sometimes directly. We might provide technology directly to a client or sometimes via our colleagues and enabling our colleagues, whether that's with the technology systems, the operations that support them, the analytics that they utilize.

James Platt:

And really what we've been trying to achieve is to move to a firm that really does operate together so that we start to generate true global experience for our class where needed, and as you started on, digital experiences where it's required. And for a firm like Aon, where we have many different solution lines or products that we bring to clients in many, many different countries that all staff in different places, that's quite a complicated journey, but we're starting to make some real progress around delivering global technology platforms, which hopefully create a completely different experience.

Alexandra Lewis:

And as you say, Aon has so much to offer clients and is such a broad range of capabilities. Where do you start in that process, and how do you help to accelerate that innovation on scale?

James Platt:

Well, the place I think, Alex, we started, and this was quite a while ago, eight, 10 years ago, the word big data arose. But before that Aon, and this is before I joined so I can take zero credit for this, Aon had started with something called GRIP, which is a Global Risk Insight Platform. And what GRIP was really doing at that time, and they'll say 12 years ago, this was pretty unusual. It might not sound that way now, but it was pretty unusual 12 years ago. It was saying look, we place a lot of premiums in the insurance market, and we transact around that. We have a lot of data, and that data will be invaluable for our clients, the insurers we work with, and how can we think about generating insight from it? And really, we've continued to do that over time. We place $75 billion of commercial risk premium, $180 billion of healthcare premium. We see the transactions from 50 billion of reinsurance, and we've got about 4.1 trillion assets under advisement in our wealth businesses.

James Platt:

Now, those are all big numbers, but if you think about the transactions that really underpin those, we are able to pull that data together and put it onto a platform. Now, we've invested literally billions of dollars into our data and analytics world over the last few years. A significant chunk of that has gone into what we call our Data and Analytics Services Platform. It's where we hold that data, where we have the analytical capabilities around it, where we can begin to understand it and visualize it, and our data scientists can play. And in a lot of places, that's really the heart of our own data engine which drives innovation, looking at that data. And I'd say that there's a huge amount more we can do, but we've made some real progress.

Alexandra Lewis:

It sounds incredibly exciting. And you mentioned big data, for example, and we often think around some of those buzz words that we hear in industry. And AI, I think, is one of those, and how are we actually putting AI practices into place as to support that platform approach?

James Platt:

So, I think as you've hit on what I- If I asked to say what's the technology that I really believe will transform how we operate and how many other financial service firms will operate, its really artificial intelligence, you can call elements of it machine learning. Looking at data, understanding it in new ways, and looking it to create predictions from it, that ability, we see it really happening in industries like healthcare, where whether you are trying to understand cancer and you're trying to understand radiographs, et cetera, they're really getting to grips of what this can do.

James Platt:

Google just put out a more general AI a little while ago, Gato, which is even more advanced. I'd say we are still a little bit as an industry on the starting line because we've been shackled somewhat to linear modeling and looking at historical lines and predicting them forward. Now, I'm being completely disingenuous. We also have a lot of extremely capable modelers. If I picked on something like our reinsurance analytics or a lot of our health analytical teams, just as two examples, we have a lot of actors in AI, but who use data in super sophisticated ways. But I think we've been somewhat reticent to maybe use all the latest AI because we haven't been confident.

James Platt:

But what we're beginning to do now is to see those techniques used. And one really great example is what our health team has done. They built this product called Aon Architect. It takes two things that are important in understanding what's the optimal benefits program for a large organization. It takes the sentiment of, if you gave these particular program, what do we estimate that the employees of that organization, how much they would value it, and it understands the cost of delivering it. And you can imagine, for a large, hundreds of thousand employee organization, how much data has to go into that modeling, and what it then does is use machine learning, really, to predict, for a new program, having ingested all that data, what we think the cost would be and what we think the sentiment would be.

James Platt:

And it allows you to play around with different parameters in your benefits to get the best possible cost colleague outcome using pretty modern techniques. That's a really great usage for me. It's a very complicated problem, how do we optimize our benefits program, and we need to really think about it. And we've never been able to model that. Previously, that would've taken a few weeks and we would've never got such a great answer.

Alexandra Lewis:

Well, brilliant to hear such a tangible way that we are bringing fantastic people, brilliant data, tools, together to really make an impact for our clients. And of course, as the world evolves, we see new risks emerging and new ways of working at the same time. It's just so incredibly important. And you've been recently quoted as saying that the insurance industry, or at least, will be able to use data modeling more effectively and maybe even recommend products just like Netflix or Amazon might do so at the moment, with a great TV show or a recommended product, for example. So what's your vision? Can you reveal a little bit more about how you see this unfolding?

James Platt:

Yeah, I think this is real now, and there's obviously a bit of a tradeoff here between recommendations and the regulatory environment we live in. That's a tough trade off. Any recommendation we make has to be suitable, given regulatory constraints. So, there are some things that we live under that if you're Amazon or Netflix making recommendations, that others don't. But we asked Aon to use that technology to try and simplify the buying journeys for our clients and customers, and probably the best example is what we've been doing with CoverWallet, which is a firm that we acquired a couple of years ago. And we acquired them because we felt that they'd built the best and generally, the best buying journey for small clients that there was available at the time, and they'd done it in a really thoughtful way using data.

James Platt:

So suddenly, if you are a small employer, if you try and go to standard insurance industry codes, it doesn't sound like you. What they've been able to do is to turn that and describe it in a way which sounded like the small business that was buying insurance. And then they'd been able to use what others had been buying plus other factors to start that journey of recommendation, obviously within a regulatory wrapper, which means we're still advising in an appropriate manner. What we then had to do is to do that multichannel, so we did it digitally, we do it with advice on the phone, and bring that together and still keep the journey simple. Those things together, I think, are getting us much, much closer to the consumer models that you started with.

Alexandra Lewis:

It sounds incredibly exciting. And who knows where the insurance industry might be in another 70 years’ time, when we think about the progress that we can achieve. I know this episode won't be going live until the end of June, but I would love to ask you, what are you going to be doing this weekend to celebrate the Jubilee?

James Platt:

Well, Alex, I should ask the same question of you actually, given that we're both here in the UK, and I'm going to ask you, as well. In all honesty, having been to the 25th Silver Jubilee, and I vaguely remember it, and I was dressed up as Batman, my brother was Robin, to a street party, having been to the Golden Jubilee where we stood behind a large crowd and sort of vaguely waved at the gold carriage going past, and having been to the Diamond Jubilee where it rained a lot, if anybody remembers, and it was a bit of a damp squib on the river, although obviously still fun. Do you know what? I'm going to spend it in my garden, so I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to probably drink and cheer the Queen from my own home. But what about you, Alex?

Alexandra Lewis:

That sounds great fun, as well. I hope you've got your bunting out. But I will also be celebrating in abundant. So I'm a huge fan of our fabulous queen. She's still working. She's 95 years old. I think that needs to be celebrated. So, our local residents' association is getting together, we're doing some prosecco and cake on the local green, just to come together as a community. And there will be lots of scone eating, as well. So, looking forward to that and also the Jubilee concert happening at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, I didn't get a personal invite, but I'll be watching that on TV.

VO Outro:

This has been a conversation “On Aon” and Aon’s digital transition. Thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this week’s episode, tune in in two weeks for another new episode. To learn more about Aon, its colleagues, solutions and news, check out our show notes, and visit our website at Aon dot com.