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Solving the innovation equation

31 August 2021

Italian insurer Generali and Swiss insurtech hub HITS have a clear focus on innovation. Danilo Raponi, Generali’s Group Head of Innovation, and Pietro Carnevale, CEO of HITS, describe their recipe for success.

Insurtech can be as transformative for insurance as fintech has been for banking, but there is still some way to go. As Group Head of Innovation at Generali, Danilo Raponi is well aware that insurers have ground to make up if they want to harness the full benefits of digital technology. Crucially, he is also aware that innovation requires the right focus.

“For Generali, the priority is to switch the emphasis from products to customers,” he says. “Our aim is to be more customer-centric and ensure we always innovate with the goal of being a lifetime partner for our customers.”

As Raponi explains, because Generali is decentralised, with more than 60 business units worldwide, coordinating projects can be challenging. But as he also underlines, the company has a concerted and uncompromising approach to digitalisation.

“We believe in innovation everywhere, for everyone,” he says. “We’ve launched a company-wide movement to democratise, share and encourage innovation.” He goes on to say that creating value for customers means tackling real issues and problems − and every solution must be measurable. “We don’t innovate first and then find a problem to fit the solution,” he says.

With reference to McKinsey’s ‘Three horizons of growth’ model, where change is categorised as incremental, significant, or disruptive, Raponi says that Generali is concentrating on horizons two and three: significant and disruptive change.

Funding the future 

To help ideas get off the ground, Generali has an Innovation Fund that is open to everyone. “It’s a way of generating maximum involvement and co-financing local and global initiatives,” says Raponi. “We prioritise early-stage and bold ideas, and so far we’ve received over 200 and funded more than 80.”  

This is a highly structured process, Raponi underlines, based on a proprietary methodology called ‘We Innovate’ and supported by around 100 internal champions who are helping to motivate Generali’s 70,000-strong workforce. He also stresses that collaboration must be external as well as internal.

“Lack of collaboration across the insurance industry will impede progress,” he says. “We need more corporate venturing and interplay with insurtechs, so that innovation is not piecemeal and unfocused.”

Working with HITS

This is where HITS (House of Insurtech Switzerland) has a vital role to play. HITS facilitates change by working with the start-up community and major players such as Generali, with whom it has a fruitful relationship, and provides both direction and common purpose. 

HITS CEO Pietro Carnevale describes the company as a “corp-up insurtech studio that co-creates and scales customer-centric innovations.” A key turning point for HITS, he says, was the decision to shift from internal innovation to open innovation, and he reinforces Raponi’s point about putting customer needs first when starting projects.

“We’re not a tech innovation lab,” he says. “We always begin from the customer’s perspective and the business requirement, and only then do we look for a start-up that can deliver the right solution.”

When it comes to open innovation, Carnevale says HITs takes it literally: “In Switzerland, we share a 600-square-metre space with Generali where people gather to exchange ideas, and it’s here that some of the coolest horizon three ideas have emerged – but we ensure that every solution is firmly aligned with customer requirements. That’s the proper focus of innovation.” 

The power of partnership

Carnevale says there are usually around 10–15 innovations in the pipeline, geared towards horizons two and three. HITS has worked on a number of projects with Generali, all financed by the Innovation Fund. Examples include an AI-based product that recognises what a baby wants from the characteristics of its cry; a product called Smart Savings, which rounds up the cost of every purchase you make and adds the extra amount to your pension; and an on-demand gadget insurance solution.

“Like Generali, we also aim to be a lifetime partner for our customers,” says Carnevale. “That means going beyond traditional insurance and adding products and services that were not previously possible. Collaborative innovation is the way to do it – with customer needs at the heart of every project.” 

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