When you first think of GoCo Group you might recall the catchy jingles and attention-grabbing adverts of one of its businesses – GoCompare. But behind the scenes it’s clear that the company’s technology prowess has been the key driver of its fame.
Recognising that consumers were having a hard time finding insurance deals, GoCompare was launched in 2006, and it was the first comparison website to focus on product features as well as price. It’s proven to be a stellar strategy for success. Since it started, the firm has gone public, diversified into new areas, and is now home to four popular and well-regarded brands including GoCompare, MyVoucherCodes, weflip and Energylinx.
A lot can happen over a decade and GoCompare is living proof of that, explains Clive Gilson, Vice President of Technology: “GoCompare started at the kitchen table in 2006 and since then it has grown to become a 300-people strong group with a market capitalisation of almost £400mn,” he enthuses. “It’s been a major journey. We hope to maintain our startup ethos to drive the business forward, even as we become a significant player in the financial sector and move beyond price comparison.”
GoCompare carved a unique path in the comparison space, quickly becoming a household name in the UK. In the early days, GoCompare “championed consumer saving by giving people an option regarding price and product features”, according to Gilson, and it was a winning strategy. However, the landscape is changing swiftly. “Our consumers are maturing,” observes Gilson. “One of the reasons why we diversified from home and car insurance is that we believe our customers want a complete service. They don’t just want to see us once a year to switch their car insurance; they want to find a partner who can help them save money every day.”
Therefore, while price comparison is a cornerstone of its business, GoCo Group is also keen to create a more personalised, data-driven experience which it aptly describes as ‘Savings-as-a-Service’. Essentially, this means creating a concierge type relationship with people and helping them save money in lots of different areas. “Data is at the heart of everything we do,” adds Gilson. “It allows us to understand our customers and actively offer savings rather than waiting for them to come and see us. It’s definitely more of a personalised, data-driven strategy.”
The firm’s proprietary technology platform, SaveStack, is the backbone of this strategy. “Ten years ago, we wrote the code to create a car insurance comparison service and then used that to create comparison services for other products like home insurance. By doing this process multiple times it meant that these pieces of software were messy – we describe it as spaghetti code,” Gilson explains. “SaveStack essentially simplifies this. It gives us a data platform where we have an event model that allows components (either external or internal) to interact with each other and to serve the consumer journey on any channel. It's a reflection of the fact that in the 2020s no one will rely on just website journeys. We need to be able to work with our customers on any given channel that they choose.”
GoCo Group’s head office in Newport, Wales, perfectly captures the firm’s tech-savvy ethos. Just a stone’s throw away from the Welsh capital of Cardiff, the space is humming with activity as both data and technology teams work side by side. This is no mean feat: around 150 people (or just under 50% of the workforce) work in the technology and data space. As Natalie Jakomis, Group Director of Data, walks through the office, she outlines how the firm’s 1Tech Vision has been a unifying force. “The 1Tech Vision essentially describes how data and technology come under one umbrella and how we’re one single unit,” she explains. “It sends out the message that data is the core of the business.” It also makes it easier for the business to create a unifying set of core values and principles: for instance, Jakomis points out how the firm aims to be one “where innovative failure is encouraged”, meaning that it’s OK if employees make the odd mistake so long as they experiment, gather more data and embrace it as a learning lesson.
With a wealth of information at its fingertips, it’s clear that data is everything at GoCo Group. “It’s not an all-knowing crystal ball but it’s probably as close as you can get,” laughs Jakomis. “We can use data science techniques to find correlations and patterns in the data which can help us make decisions about sales, marketing and our performance, for example.” As such, data is at the fore of the firm’s strategy. Today, GoCo Group has a data function that consists of four teams, says Jakomis: a data engineering team which is “responsible for the key architectures within the business, so primarily the firm’s data warehouse and key systems”; a data intelligence team which “provides insight to the business”; a data science team which is a “combination of data engineers and data scientists who help the business overcome complicated problems”; as well as a web analytics business which “ensures web optimisation and helps to understand customers’ behaviour on the website”. On top of this, the company also has a Group Data platform which draws upon data from its several companies including GoCompare, MyVoucherCodes, Energylinx and weflip. “The platform is helping us understand our customer base and use cases, and so data excellence is key,” she says. “If we want to cultivate a more data-driven culture, we need to make sure we have the right data literacy, data confidence, and ultimately, a high-quality robust data set that’s accessible to everyone in the business.”
Many businesses like GoCo Group have identified data as the next great frontier, and this means that data literacy is a highly coveted skill. Wanting to attract and retain a strong level of expertise, the company has created the GoFurther Academy, which offers opportunities including sponsored degrees, internships, work placements and more. “It gives people the opportunity to flourish in the data space,” adds Jakomis, noting that the company has also worked hard to increase diversity across the workforce whether through hiring, improved communication or events which celebrate diversity.
While GoCo Group has sought to nurture an innovative and collaborative culture internally, it’s also looking beyond its walls for inspiration. Kieron Nolan, Group Director of Technology, points to the firm’s long-lasting partnership with Certus, which was recently acquired by SYS Group. “Certus has been a key technology partner of ours for several years now. They are our hosting partner for all our back-office estate, and they have also assisted us with the upgrades of core office infrastructure and end-user devices,” he says. “Their values match ours, making it easy to overcome the challenges that technology presents from time to time.” Elsewhere, Jakomis discusses the firm’s fintech community development project, Machine Learning for Fintech. Recognising that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are the future of the financial service market, Goco Group has forged meaningful relationships with players like Money Dashboard. “It’s been a really exciting project,” enthuses Jakomis. “Working together, we’ve built an API that categorises consumer spend by merchant and purpose, aligning with Money Dashboard’s vision of helping people understand their finances, and helping us to accelerate into the fintech community.”
GoCo Group has swiftly moved up the ranks to become a leading technology player and make no mistake: it’s there to stay. On the road ahead, Gilson asserts that GoCo Group aims to make its services “ubiquitous”. “We’re really looking forward to the next few years,” he says. “There’s a lot of exciting opportunities like open banking. That’s the real thrill behind this.” Jakomis agrees, reiterating the firm’s core mission: “It’s about helping people everywhere save time and money, with SaveStack playing a crucial role.”