EMPOWERING INSURANCE: Capgemini’s Samantha Chow Charts the Future of Life and Health Insurance
EMPOWERING INSURANCE: Capgemini’s Samantha Chow Charts the Future of Life and Health Insurance
As Global Leader for the Life Insurance, Annuities and Benefits sector for Capgemini, Samantha Chow has a unique view of the industry. Insurtech Insights finds out more. 

As part of our ongoing series on female executives driving change in the insurance space, we caught up with Samantha Chow, who leads the global life insurance, annuity and benefits sector for Capgemini. 

Chow is responsible for being the subject matter expert globally. She handles all of the strategies that are taken, thought leadership, the offers that are built, the accelerators that are designed, and then of course, relationships and focusing on all of Capgemini’s life insurance, annuity benefits, and pension providers. 

She also acts as the conduit between the carrier and the rest of Capgemini from a solution consulting and IT business perspective.

How did you get involved in insurance? Can you describe your journey into the space – and is there a story there? 

There is a story. I ended up in the insurance universe at the age of 21 because my husband was in the army and was stationed in Columbus, Georgia, and there’s only a couple places to work in Columbus, Georgia. Aflac happens to be one of them. 

So, I joined the insurance industry very young, and worked my way through college. When I moved away from Columbus, Georgia, when my husband got out of the army, we went back to Tampa, Florida, and I did what everybody who is in research or gets into market research wants to do – going into tourism. It was not what I expected. I felt like I was helping the states and these geographical locations make more money, and the only benefit is to the state and not somebody. 

It bothered me immensely. From there, I learned that New York Life operated out of Tampa, and I came running back. I was always drawn to the fact that we’re doing something for someone. There’s a purpose. It’s not just “trying to boost sales”. While we’re still trying to drive sales, at the same time, we’re giving something back at the end. And to me, that was important going forward.

Can you outline some of the key issues impacting the Life and Health space right now in the US marketplace?

The challenges I see in the industry revolve around the ageing population and a diminishing younger demographic. The traditional triggers for purchasing life insurance, like getting married, buying a house, or having children, are either happening later in life or not at all. This shift in life events is impacting how we perceive the value of insurance products. 

The needs are different too. I was born in an economic time that was stable. The older generations were dealing with unstable wars and recessions. Buying life insurance was ingrained in them. Putting money in a pension or savings was rooted in them because it might not be there tomorrow. I look at my children, and they’ve never experienced any kind of financial crisis whatsoever, but as a product of the insurance industry, I’m always hammering into them: savings, retirement, all that. So, to me, those are the challenges that we’re facing in the industry today.

What solutions are available and are there any innovations that can help or is it really something that the industry is just going to have to adapt to?

I do believe that technology is at the crux of all of this. As old as the policyholders are, their technology is just as outdated. They have lots of legacy technology that hinders flexibility, making it challenging to adapt products to better reflect the needs of today’s consumers. Success in this market requires creating an ecosystem and partnering with others in the technology ecosystem to provide a more effective solution.

Life insurance products today can meet the desires of younger individuals – providing savings, giving back, and being more than just death insurance. However, without changing the way technology works and engages with customers, both end policyholders and brokers, success becomes elusive. New product development and partnering with carriers to sell complementary products can be key and avoids the risk of developing a new product from scratch.

Now, regarding customer experience, it’s a significant focus for me. Successful strategies involve leveraging technology to enhance interactions with policyholders and advisors. Personalised, user-friendly interfaces and streamlined processes contribute to a positive customer experience. 

Additionally, ongoing communication and feedback mechanisms help ensure that the industry stays attuned to evolving customer needs. Ultimately, putting the customer at the center of every strategy is vital for success in bolstering the industry.

You mentioned the industry’s claim to be customer-centric but highlighted a lingering product-centric focus. Can you elaborate on the need for a cultural shift?

Absolutely. The industry tends to tout customer centricity, but in reality, it’s often fixated on churning out products without truly understanding the customer’s needs. The key lies in an internal culture transformation. It’s not just about products; it’s about embracing a customer-first mindset.

This younger generation is all about long-term financial goals – early retirement, buying a house, and more. To be customer-centric, we must move beyond a myopic product-driven approach and embrace a broader perspective that includes services, engagement, and a comprehensive insurance package.

Historically, we oscillated between product-centric and agent-centric models, often influenced by what agents deemed lucrative. Now, it’s crucial to center our focus on the customer. It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about understanding their needs, offering a holistic service, and engaging them throughout the policy lifecycle.

Engagement has traditionally been a thinly veiled product-centric strategy for upselling and cross-selling. True customer-centric engagement is about providing information, guiding decisions, and involving the customer’s family in policy decisions. It’s not just about making a sale; it’s about offering continuous support and service.

In essence, the shift to true customer-centricity requires a cultural overhaul, a departure from solely product-focused mindsets, and a commitment to understanding and fulfilling the diverse needs of customers. 

You’ve shed light on the impact of the current geopolitical climate on the life, health, and annuities sector. Can you elaborate on the specific challenges and anticipations within the industry?

Yes. The ongoing geopolitical shifts, especially in an election year, have a profound impact on the life insurance landscape. Carriers are expected to adopt a conservative stance, closely monitoring regulatory changes, and making strategic decisions in anticipation. The ripple effect extends to healthcare, interest rates, and the types of products gaining significance for individuals.

Naturally, uncertainty in the geopolitical climate prompts people to make financial decisions with caution. It’s a balancing act between seeking safe havens, like stashing money under the mattress, and seizing opportunities presented by favourable interest rates. The industry is at a crossroads, with some opting for safe bets, while others capitalize on short-term interest rates, such as investing in universal life products.

The industry is currently navigating a critical phase, preparing for a significant wealth transfer. This necessitates a re-evaluation of product offerings to resonate with the younger market. The challenge lies in striking a balance between addressing the uncertainties of the geopolitical landscape and fostering growth through innovative products tailored to the evolving needs of the younger demographic.

Ultimately, the industry is facing a pressure test in adapting to geopolitical changes, preparing for wealth transfer, and cultivating a younger market through strategic product development.

Can you share insights on the importance of diversifying investments in light of these uncertainties?

In times of heightened impact and uncertainty, it’s prudent to avoid putting all your resources in one place. Diversifying investments becomes crucial, ensuring that you’re not overly reliant on a single asset or avenue. As the saying goes, it’s about avoiding the risk of putting all your eggs in one basket.

The current landscape often sees life insurance, annuities, and other protection products operating in silos. The key is to foster collaboration and create a unified ecosystem. Whether it’s underwriting, wealth management, or other protection products like critical illness or disability, a cohesive approach ensures everyone gets a share of the pie. It is about providing a comprehensive view of protection, echoing the European market’s emphasis on “protection insurance” beyond just life insurance.

A holistic, collaborative approach is needed within the insurance industry to offer a broader and more interconnected protection framework.

How is Capgemini supporting the industry at the moment, and are we going to see any major changes to the life and health space over the next few months?

One of the significant areas where Capgemini is making a difference right now revolves around enhancing efficiency within the industry. We are focused on helping carriers streamline their day-to-day operations, making them more scalable without the need for substantial workforce expansion. The goal is to boost sales without increasing overheads dramatically. This emphasis on cost efficiency isn’t just about the carriers; it’s also about passing on those savings to policyholders in a world where cost consciousness is paramount.

What are the specific areas of support and change that Capgemini is bringing to the industry?

There are two key areas we’re diving into. Firstly, it’s about process optimization and automation. We’re leveraging tools like robotics and digital twins to enhance efficiency, understand return on investment, and drive impactful changes. 

Secondly, there’s a focus on addressing legacy systems. We’re helping carriers transition away from cumbersome mainframes, de-risking the process and ensuring a smoother shift to more modern systems. This is particularly crucial given the changing landscape of real estate, with old buildings housing mainframes becoming obsolete in a post-Covid world where remote work has become the norm.

Our efforts are geared towards creating a more agile and technologically advanced life and health space, with a keen eye on cost-effectiveness and adaptability to the evolving business environment.

That sounds like a huge cost saving for companies

It is! No more leasing buildings just to have a piece of technology that is, or will soon become, obsolete. That’s a big focus for us. The use of AI and gen AI to migrate legacy, legacy mainframe data, those closed blocks of business. Many carriers contemplate outsourcing or selling off legacy blocks, thinking it’s the best way to deal with it. I would argue there is still value in maintaining that business, and doing so with a smaller margin can be beneficial. These are products that stay on your books for the long haul, accumulating value over time, provided you can reduce the associated costs and increase the margin.

If you could solve one major issue within the industry in 2024 with a click of your fingers, what would you prioritise and why?

It would be the legacy technology. This mainframe problem. If I could click my fingers, it would be to just give them a clean slate to be flexible, to ideate on new products, to partner with more companies and do things more seamlessly to provide more services. 

And I hate to use the example, but it’s true, to be the next “Amazon”. When it comes to life insurance, Amazon is, let’s say, the go-to shopping mall. There’s room for multiple “Amazons” within the life insurance industry, each with its unique culture and sales approach. Midwest people may prefer Midwest companies. There’s space for more than one Amazon, and even overlap in that environment makes sense. I envision a world where companies can create their own “shopping malls” and customers can choose based on their comfort and connection with the company’s culture.

Final question, Samantha. What inspires you in the insurance and insurtech space today?

That’s actually a fairly easy answer. I’ll go back to my days at Aflac and New York Life, when I was sitting at the carrier, and I started out doing customer and agent research. That is how I got my first exposure to this industry as a temp. 

Back in the days when surveys were scanned, you would send them out via mail, recipients would return them, bubble them in, and then you’d scan them. However, you would often receive hundreds of customers sending across handwritten notes. Mr. Paul, one of the original founders of Aflac, would come down, and we would sit down together to read them. Everybody had their box of tissues, and tears would flow because we would hear stories of some revealing “Oh my gosh, if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t have been able to save my husband’s life. Because of you, I had the money for it all,” and so on.

That warm, fuzzy feeling I experienced, knowing that our work at Aflac not only contributed to financial gains but also impacted individuals at New York Life and their AARP business, is what kept – and still keeps me motivated. During my research days, I encountered heart-wrenching stories where people had to make decisions like buying new tires to get to work on their life insurance policy. It made me realise that while we’re making a positive impact, there’s always room for improvement.

My drive stems from the belief that insurance, much like healthcare, should be accessible to everyone. It’s not just about one kind of protection insurance; even a $5,000 policy can be immensely helpful. Constantly pondering how to enable carriers to support everyone, especially the younger generations, is crucial. 

Companies like Guardian, with their comprehensive whole life policy covering critical illness, disability, and long-term care, exemplify the direction we need to move towards – creating more versatile and inclusive insurance solutions. 

It is about making a difference, one policy at a time.

Interview by Joanna England

Joanna England is an award-winning journalist and the Editor-in-Chief for Insurtech Insights. She has worked for 25 years in both the consumer and business space, and also spent 15 years in the Middle East, on national newspapers as well as leading events and lifestyle publications. Prior to Insurtech Insights, Joanna was the Editor-in-Chief for Fintech Magazine and Insurtech Digital. She was also listed by MPVR as one of the Top 30 journalist in Fintech and Insurtech in 2023.

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