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Aflac: A digital leader in Japanese insurance

Aflac: A digital leader in Japanese insurance

Placed on Fortune magazine’s list of The World’s Most Admired Companies over 10 times, we find out how Aflac strives to soar above the competition

Internationally recognised by its famous icon, ‘the Aflac duck’, insurance giant Aflac has become a leader within US and Japanese markets. Delivering exceptional services and solutions with a ‘customer first’ approach, its growing Japanese customer base has presented a number of challenges, but unlocked new opportunities through digitisation.

Although technology continues to disrupt the way in which customers access products and services, spanning both policyholders and agents, John Moorefield, Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation Officer, explains that the Japanese insurance industry has previously been less aggressive in the adoption of new technology. However, the country is undergoing a significant sea change.

The changes in Japan are driven by evolving customer behaviours, but are consistent with changes that organisations such as The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Accenture have monitored and analysed worldwide. Customers expect expanded and enhanced services to be included with the products they purchase, and the quality of these services is becoming as important as the products themselves.

“The interest in fintech and in implementing new ways of delivering services to customers in the insurance industry is picking up in Japan at an accelerated rate”

“The interest in fintech and in implementing new ways of delivering services to customers in the insurance industry is picking up in Japan at an accelerated rate. It's not only creating a situation in which we're catching up with the kind of services delivered in other regions, but we're also, in some ways, getting ahead, because we're just making a generational jump,” says Moorefield.

Responsible for Aflac Japan’s information technology, policy services and security, as well as the company’s transformation at Aflac Japan, Moorefield, along with other leaders, ensures that the company’s customer first approach will remain the key driver as it broadens its product line.

“We are ensuring that our priorities are driven by what the customer wants. From that perspective, we are working extremely hard to not only be the most innovative in terms of insurance products for our customers, but to also be the leader in technology deployment to accelerate customer service,” he says.

“This encompasses the turnaround time for requests and the usability of our applications. This ensures customers are satisfied with our service without having to go through multiple steps of contact.”

In order to support these applications and provide new services, Aflac and other organisations in Japan rely on companies providing and enhancing core IT functions such as infrastructure operations, system development and communications. Some of the market leaders in these areas are NTT Communications, Pactera and NTT Data, which are demonstrating their ability to understand new expectations and adapt accordingly using both top local talent and off-shore delivery centres.

Across its entire portfolio, Aflac has also invested in a number of cloud platforms, including those provided by IBM, SalesForce and ServiceNow, to support its distribution system, and introduced several payment methodologies which will take advantage of new services in the Japanese market.

“This allows us to pay claims and reimburse our customers for certain transactions via ATMs. ATMs in Japan are not just cash machines, but provide many services. Being able to take advantage of that provides convenience for our customers,” explains Moorefield.

“Leveraging new payment strategies that banks are developing allows us to provide instant payments to customers, without waiting for a night-time batch routine from a bank. We'll be able to pay customer claims almost immediately in certain cases. These are the kinds of things we are able to take advantage of because the ecosystem in Japan is developing quickly across the financial services industry.”

Customer-first

From its innovative product offerings, to being awarded the Computerworld Smithsonian Award for Excellence in Technology, Aflac has always sought to look at customer data and related pain points to prioritise and transform the customer experience through an Agile methodology.

“We use customer feedback based on what we have developed to constantly iterate and update applications, and to develop new products for what customers want to see from an insurance product perspective,” notes Moorefield.

“We determine the gaps which are not met in the marketplace, particularly for the younger generation of customers. Two years ago, we launched a new product line for income protection in the case of short-term illnesses, driven mainly by the needs of the 20-30-year-old customer group which has not been our base customer group.”

With a need to appeal to all demographics, Aflac has sought to overhaul the way in which customers interact with the organisation – from visiting an agent, to choosing a web or mobile application, Moorefield has worked to completely enhance and expand the business’s platforms.

“We were the first in Japan, in our part of the industry, to allow online claim submissions, and we're expanding that to cover as many claim types as feasible on that platform,” he says.

“We are expanding the services that a policyholder can complete online versus using the call centre. Our mobile-first push is fairly aggressive in terms of ensuring that as many services as possible are pushed to the smartphone or to a mobile tablet to deliver services to customers.

“The reality is that we're going to have to figure out how to deliver all services to all age groups.”

As Aflac works to meet this challenge, partners are a vital source of knowledge and experience for the promotion and enhancement of digitalisation initiatives. Accenture and BCG, for example, do this by proactively proposing new services as part of regular interactions and information sessions.

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Company pride

Whilst Aflac remains committed to its core values, it also places significant investment in a number of philanthropic causes.

In the 1990s, the company pledged $3mn to establish Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and built the first Aflac Parents House, which is now owned and operated by the Children's Cancer Association of Japan.

Since 2012, it has built on its commitment to supporting the Aflac Cancer Center, and invites young patients to design the Aflac Holiday Duck, which is then sold in Macy’s stores across the US. All profits go toward new treatment programmes.

Additionally, Aflac was one of the first companies to contribute more than $1mn to the Red Cross for Tsunami relief in Japan in 2011.

“Tsunami relief is just one example,” reflects Moorefield. “We're very committed to children's cancer and cancer research, that's just a core value to us.

With a long-term goal to support the policyholder with great insurance products and technology, Aflac will continue to make advancements to remain a technology leader.

“Aflac has a spirit, and I'm very proud to be part of an organisation whose core philosophy is to be there at the time of need for the policyholder,” states Moorefield.

“Our focus is on how to quickly and efficiently pay claims, to get money in the hands of the policyholder at their time of need, and we really have a commitment and the spirit to do that. It removes stress, helps the policyholder recover, and that’s a meaningful thing to me.”

Although change can be particularly difficult to undertake in Japan, especially with a focus on quality and perfection, Moorefield is eager to take on the challenge.

“At the end of the day, when we do something, we do it right,” he concludes. “It has a significant impact due to the large size of the company and that's very gratifying, I truly love what I'm doing.”

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Aflac: A digital leader in Japanese insurance

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