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Creating room to innovate – Discovery’s secret sauce

Article provided by Discovery Business Insurance.

Discovery SA CEO, Hylton Kallner shares that the business’ success has always been to liberate the best in people, which allows everyone, at every level, to innovate in what could have been a stagnant industry

By building a company culture that is focused on innovation, differentiates Discovery as a business not only in South Africa, but in the world. Now in 24 territories around the globe, Discovery has become synonymous with award-winning innovative ideas in what was once not an exciting industry. Kallner says the key is to actively innovate and to allow people to be expressive so that they are able to think in an innovative way.

“Innovation for me takes many different forms, but ultimately it is where the client is dazzled. It is where they get something that they never ever expected. That’s innovation, where they get a sense that they are dealing with a company that is completely different. Their expectations have been far exceeded in a way that they didn’t even realise they needed,” says Kallner.

He adds that the need to innovate is entrenched in the Discovery culture. “We are very conscious about the need for innovation. There’s a distinct difference between invention, where you’re relying on  a lightbulb moment of brilliance, versus a culture of innovation that’s embedded across the organisation in everything that we do.”

“We encourage people to question, ‘can we do it better? How can we better meet our clients’ needs?’ And then continuously interrogate every single thing that we do. We set deadlines where we will announce a launch date, before we know what the product is ultimately going to be,” says Kallner.

Breaking big problems into simple parts          

“I’ve always had an interest in solving tough mathematical sorts of problems in finance, and business in in general. That led me to actuarial science. As I started to work as an actuary I became more interested in the creative aspects of how to design products that meet clients’ needs, and the power of disruption and innovation,” says Kallner.

“Innovation from a business perspective, but also a social perspective, is one of the keys to Discovery’s success,” says Kallner. “Almost counter-intuitively, the power of innovation is often inversely proportional to the expectation of what you have in an industry to innovate.”

The insurance industry was one such area which has been turned on its head, by innovative products like Vitality, Discovery’s behaviour-change programme. By making people healthier, the client, society and the business succeed.

“In insurance or financial services in general, people’s expectations are that it doesn’t move that quickly. But it has been our experience is that when you get it right, the innovation in insurance does allow you to disrupt the market and meet clients’ needs in completely new and exciting ways, and that allows you to make a significant impact,” says Kallner.

How people drive innovation   

Kallner says: “At Discovery, our innovation is purpose-driven. The purpose is to make people healthier, enhance and protect their lives. That’s at the core of everything that we do. That has given rise to this unique model which, if we get it right, our business has a profound impact on our clients’ lives in terms of making them live longer.”

“For us as a business it allows us to deliver much better value, lower premiums. We reward clients with cashback, payback, lifestyle rewards… everything which you would never have associated with life insurance in the past. All of it goes towards making the product more engaging, more valuable and just significantly better for the clients than they otherwise would have experienced.”

He says innovation affects every part of the chain in the business today. “We are no longer constrained. Innovation isn’t about the product, it’s about the entire experience that clients have with us, from the point where they start thinking about insurance or even reaching out to them to identify the need for an insurance or other financial services product.”

Part of the process is setting “incredibly high hurdles” for launch products. “Nine out of ten ideas that we work really hard on, never see the light of day. To be able to understand rigour and the demanding threshold that we apply to new ideas and innovations is part of the environment and part of the culture,” Kallner says.  

“What’s exciting is that innovation is no longer done by actuaries in the laboratory. It’s  manifesting in every single part of the business. It’s how we pay claims. It’s how we onboard our clients. It’s how we underwrite. It’s how we manage the business. It’s how we think about every single part of the chain and how we interact with our clients. Driving behaviour change and how that manifests in risk management in insurance – what we call the shared-value model – is really exciting.”  

The 15-episode The Healthy Business Show is brought to you by Discovery Business Insurance. For more insights from Hylton, on the importance of innovation, listen to the podcast below.

Discovery Business Insurance is a proud Partner of the NSBC