Canadian Underwriter

Wawanesa’s plan to innovate at scale

March 7, 2019   by Jason Contant

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Having a flexible and accommodating schedule is key to incorporating innovation into an organization, the director of Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company’s Innovation Outpost said recently.

Last June, Wawanesa opened its Innovation Outpost lab in Kitchener, Ont. One of the first projects out of the lab was a new interactive technology that uses an Amazon Alexa voice skill to connect Wawanesa customers to their brokers for an auto or home insurance quote. Jeff Roy, CEO of brokerage Excalibur Insurance Group, helped spearhead the work along with Kitchener-based ProNavigator (which provides an insurance artificial intelligence-powered virtual assistant).

David Arbuthnot, director of Wawanesa’s innovation outpost, recently discussed the insurer’s innovation strategy, as well as some challenges and barriers to accelerating innovation at scale. He spoke last week during the session The Three Biggest Innovation Challenges For Insurance at’s Technology Conference in Toronto.

He was asked about the challenges associated with delivering innovation at scale at Wawanesa. “One of the challenges you always run into is the need to do things for the next quarter,” Arbuthnot said. “There’s always that tension within the organization of, ‘Yeah, [innovation’s] nice, but we also have to do stuff for Q1 and we also have to deliver parts of the 2019 plan as an organization as a whole.

“We want to push things forward and innovate, obviously, but how does that fit into the overall goals of the organization?” Arbuthnot asked. “Sometimes that means timelines get pushed a month because there’s some resource constraint or something unforeseen has happened. That’s the reality of doing it right. You want to make sure what you’re doing is built into the realities of the corporate business.”

The formation of Wawanesa’s innovation team began in 2017, and the following year the insurer’s board of directors wanted to know more about the innovation strategy. “One of the external board members actually came out and participated in one of the innovation training events,” Arbuthnot said. “Those kind of things get noticed, when you have your board of directors supporting innovation in the company.”

2018 was all about finding the right processes. This year, Wawanesa is “moving towards repeatability of those processes.” By 2020, Wawanesa is looking at “innovation at scale. So, really, we’re able to deliver on the mandate for the innovation group, which is a culture of innovation within the company.”

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