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Talking to CDSO Gilke Eeckhoudt

The first year of Impact24

When the role of the Chief Development and Sustainability Officer (CDSO) was created, the goal was clear. Turn Impact24 into a reality by creating strong momentum behind Business Development, Technology Development and Sustainability. As a motor for change, the CDSO is helping to accelerate progress and deliver on the Group’s ambitions and targets across countries. And the impact is already visible in the first year. 

Talking to CDSO Gilke Eeckhoudt

Gilke, as you reflect on the first 12 months of Impact24, are you satisfied with the progress made, and did you face unexpected challenges?

Gilke: I’m satisfied but never complacent. Everyone has been working relentlessly to make tomorrow better, understanding that tomorrow is a fast-moving target in all areas: sustainability, technology, products, distribution… They are all intrinsically linked and highly interdependent.

And indeed, we did face significant and unexpected challenges in 2022. During these periods of volatility, and to help us future proof the company, we must stay agile in responding to events, while remaining extra focused and determined to deliver on the key elements of Impact24. Specifically, distribution development & diversification, and developing at scale our new long-term engines for growth in Reinsurance, Health, Protection, and Digital platforms. If anything, the past year increased our conviction that Impact24 is the right plan at the right time. 

Were there any specific learnings in this first year?

Gilke: It would be worrying if there weren’t! That’s how you make the best progress. 

We know that when the Group strength comes together with the local business it can achieve remarkable things, and we have together taken great steps in this first year. But change takes time… It requires strong internal alignment on the long-term direction, so we need to keep going, taking small, intermediate steps to reach our long-term goals.

And there are also external factors to consider… Sometimes, it’s the customers that set the pace, meaning we have to go faster in our offering, or sometimes even slow down as the market is not yet ready. Inflation will definitely drive more focus on cost and being ultra-efficient. Regulation and the increasing demand for transparency pushes us to communicate on our non-financial KPI but it’s still an immature field with lack of supra-national regulation and no stable framework. 

Our strategic choices have been repeatedly reinforced in 2022. For instance, the power of working in partnership was further crystalised as we developed new capabilities and new types of partnerships. Technology is the critical enabler, and sustainability is our key driver to make everything we want to achieve for our customers, employees, investors, partners, and society possible! 

Why is distribution diversification a particular priority?

Gilke: Because it matters to our customers: they demand choice, and we are delivering that. Different customers use different channels. In low penetration markets especially, there is room for all. We have been investing in bancassurance and agency distribution alongside new opportunities in the Digital platform space. In India, AFLIC is benefitting from a collaboration with eBaoTech that creates a new digital sales B2B2C distribution channel which accelerates the time-to-market and the company’s technology capabilities. New partnerships with next generation distribution partners, like Amazon in UK, is also a major step forward in reaching new clients through a powerful Digital platform.

Can you highlight a couple of accelerating trends that also represent new opportunities? 

Gilke: The continued widening of the protection gap and the trend towards more personalised healthcare are a couple of interesting trends among the hundreds that we track. In the healthcare space, we have been exploring services beyond traditional insurance. The capabilities already exist within the Group and with new partners we are developing some interesting healthcare propositions that can go global such as wellness, symptom checker, telehealth, and medical underwriting. A talent acceleration programme and a modular health platform is being built in Portugal to allow our other entities to garner experience and select the healthcare components they need to further develop Health as a service in their market. 

With respect to the widening of the protection gap, we are stepping up our protection offer with a focus on faster and more efficient servicing and increased personalisation for the customer. For example: by launching low-threshold products on Digital platforms, we have an opportunity to serve younger customers or people who currently do not have access to insurance through the more expensive channels.

Gilke Eeckhoudt

We have been working relentlessly to make tomorrow better, understanding that tomorrow is a fast-moving target in all areas: sustainability, technology, products, distribution… The past year increased our conviction that Impact24 is the right plan at the right time.

Gilke Eeckhoudt, CDSO Ageas
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How reliant are we on technology to make clear progress in Impact24?

Gilke: It is critical to offer a hyper-personalised and fast service for the customer. One of the most important decisions of our operating companies was the ‘replatforming’ of the core IT systems to make them fit for purpose in the future. By overhauling the fundamentals, we are future proofing ourselves and ensuring we can embrace new technologies. We are developing a Group API standard and solutions allowing us to connect with the systems of digital partners and to seamlessly integrate our products and services onto these platforms. Through AI and Machine Learning we are increasing our focus on data analytics and use at scale tools such as chatbots to provide 24/7 service for our customers or automatic visual identification for processing claims faster. A new centre of excellence in the UK allows us to share AI/ML expertise across the Group. And in line with our Group strategy, many operating companies have adopted cloud technology which brings significant benefits.

Why is the Cloud specifically such an exciting development for Ageas?

Gilke: It enables us to do many things in real time. Cloud ensures everyone has up-to-date information always. It improves our agility, enables global accessibility, and bolsters security, which alongside a new 24/7 Security Operations Centre is important given cybercrime is on the increase. The elasticity and scalability of the Cloud also allows for quick deployment of applications thanks to hyper-redundancy and worldwide presence. And the Cloud enables a higher performance and availability while keeping expenses under control. Finally, Cloud computing is greener: compared to traditional IT, the energy consumption and carbon footprint can be reduced by up to 90%.

How can business growth and sustainability go hand in hand?

Gilke: How can they not? It is happening automatically as we make clear and deliberate ESG choices for our people, products, environment, and investments, creating both societal and economic value. And measurable targets have been put in place against our sustainability ambitions that hold us accountable.

I would highlight one choice in particular to illustrate this: we aim to develop products that incentivise customers to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle. For example, in the UK, already a quarter of our customers opt for recycled car parts for their repairs instead of new parts; in Portugal, ‘Médis light’ and ‘Dental light’ provide access to health and dental insurance for people who otherwise can’t afford to take up insurance; and with mental wellbeing being a growing challenge, we offer a reintegration project designed by AG Health Partner in Belgium to support employees returning to work after burnout. To further our ambitions, an internal hackathon was organised to find innovative solutions to evolve from 16% of GWP coming from sustainable products to 25% at least. 

In your view, what is the one key element of success needed to reach 2024 ambitions?

Gilke: Can I make that three? Dream big, stay curious and hold yourself accountable for progress! Not everything we are doing by 2024 will be visible immediately in terms of benefit – these things take time, and we must continue to think long term – 2030 and beyond but setting intermediary goals along the way.

Impact 24