“It’s our mutuality which sets us apart,” reads NFU Mutual’s website. “We’re owned and run for you, our 900,000+ members, and we work hard to protect your interests.”
NFU Mutual started life in the UK back in 1910 as a means of attracting new union members for the farming community. The farming community is very much the heart of the company, it says as much in its name – the National Farming Union Mutual Society Ltd.
Fast forward over a century, and NFU Mutual is a market-leading and award-winning provider of insurance, protection investments and investments not just to the majority of UK farmers, but thousands of other businesses, homeowners and drivers too.
Over the course of the company’s long history, it has only been able to achieve its current position through a sustained commitment to its community and its members, but it has been a journey of transformation and modernisation.
This is where Tim Mann, CIO at NFU Mutual, comes into play. Recruited in 2010, Mann entered the company to oversee a complete modernisation of NFU Mutual’s IT infrastructure, with the goal to ultimately better serve its customers.
It is the company’s belief in the customer, Mann is convinced, that truly separates NFU Mutual from other insurance providers.
“The interesting thing about NFU Mutual is it really is a very customer-centric business,” says Mann. “I’ve worked in companies previously where they talked about putting customers and shareholders at the top of the list. NFU Mutual really does do it. We really live it.”
This approach to the customer and providing customer service to the highest standard not only drives the business, it is the sole purpose for the modernising of NFU Mutual’s IT infrastructure.
When Mann entered the business and was set this transformational task, he carved the entire process into what he describes as three phases.
Phase one: Brilliant Basics
For Mann the idea was simple, on the surface at least.
“It was a case of getting everything that we already had, our technology and our processes, and making sure it worked and it was reliable,” he says. “And while that does sound simple, it proved to be quite a challenge.”
An insurance company lives and dies on its relationship with the customer and how it provides an accessible portal or communication between those customers and the company. Brilliant basics was centred on creating a reputation for delivering service.
To this end, Mann and his team worked tirelessly to ensure that from top to bottom, the IT function worked exactly as it should. This phase in particular, proved a key turning point in the whole modernisation process.
“That’s the heartland of any transformational journey really,” he says. “If you can do that, and prove what you’re doing is successful, then people in any company will start to believe in you and start to trust in technology.”
Brilliant Basics may have been the first phase of the process, but Mann is keen to stress that it’s a phase that continues to this day as NFU Mutual still values that promise of service over anything else.
Phase two: Changing the Game
The second phase of modernising NFU Mutual’s IT was, once more, focused on what was already in place. Mann set out to use the existing technology to change the way the company does business.
“It’s trying to get our systems to do more of the routine work,” he says. “This in turn allows our people to do that very special thing that they are good at, that no one else can do.”
Phase three: Changing the Rules
In changing the rules, NFU Mutual is researching, exploring and investing in new ways in which the company writes insurance through technology.
But as Mann points out, it’s a phase that will take some time.
“We are spending a little more time getting into changing the rules and the insurance writing process,” he says. “And if I’m honest, this will be a continuously evolving phase as technology will only continue to advance.”
Naturally, with any transformational process, it’s never going to be completely plain sailing. To redefine and transform the core components of a business, there are of course going to be challenges and hurdles that need to be cleared.
For Mann, first and foremost, there was a cultural challenge.
“In the beginning, there wasn’t any confidence with regards to investing in technology or large technology projects,” he says. “People found it hard to see where we were going to get returns on our investment.
“Over the last seven years, people in the business have become more confident, leading to more investment in technology and more programmes and projects. It’s really exciting right now.”
The second key challenge for Mann and NFU Mutual is partner relationships. When Mann first joined NFU Mutual, the company had an outsourcing contract that was failing to add true value to the business. This was very much the first action that Mann took, exiting that contract safely and working with new partners.
But the challenge lay in finding the right partners, ones that had the capabilities to keep up with NFU Mutual’s ambition. In fact, Mann feels that this is still one of the biggest challenges he faces on a daily basis, even now.
The way that the company handles this challenge is by looking to partner with companies that share the same value and approach to customer service.
“I don’t want to use the slightly clichéd phrase of same culture, but we certainly seek partners that share our values,” says Mann.
“We like to know what's important to our partners. We know what's important to us, and meeting customers' expectations in their moment of truth is key.”
“So, while shared values about customer service and intent are quite important to us, we also ask what their plans are, are they heading in the same direction as us.”
It is this approach to customer service and partners that has seen NFU Mutual strike a strong relationship with one of its biggest partners, Guidewire, to implement one of its biggest technology platforms, ClaimCenter.
ClaimCenter is an end-to-end claims management solution that supports all lines of personal and commercial insurance. Through ClaimCenter, NFU Mutual will be able to utilise automated technology to strengthen its focus on customers, increase operational efficiency and reduce loss costs.
The solution is currently a work in progress, with NFU Mutual looking to build the software into its IT function in two releases – motor insurance, and then household and commercial.
“Release one [motor] is the most straightforward but equally it’s also the biggest volume of claims that we handle,” says Mann. “We will follow that up with household and commercial claims. We won’t be able to tell right away, but we will monitor the data that comes out of that implementation and see just how our customers respond to it.”
That customer focus is what the modernisation of the company’s IT infrastructure has been all about, and Mann is determined that the future of the company will be built on that very customer focused foundation.
So, what next for NFU Mutual? After a century of continuously delivering award-winning, unrivalled insurance services, and with an internal IT infrastructure to back it up, where will Mann and the company go next?
“The last bit of our modernisation journey will see us look at our back-end systems,” says Mann. “Of course, it all depends on where the business is going, but I can say for certain that as a company, no matter where we go or what we do, we will continue to be there for our members.
“That is all that really matters.”