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Video presentation

Enabling agile transformation and cultural change

ICMIF Biennial Conference 2019 session: The agile cooperative/mutual insurer

“Changing the culture is hard. Changing the culture at a 140-year-old company is really hard. And, changing the culture at a 140-year-old company that is successful, is really, really hard”.

Founded in 1880, Securian Financial (USA) is the sixth largest US insurer based on direct life insurance in-force, with over USD 1 trillion insurance in-force serving 19 million customers in different markets (individuals/families, employers/employees, financial institutions and institutional investors).

By all major metrics, Securian is a successfully performing company. However, it is aware that it needs to focus on innovation and agility to transform for the future and avoid potential disruption from new entrants. As Alex Rampell, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, says: “the battle between every startup and incumbent comes down to whether the start-up gets distribution before the incumbent gets innovation”.

Enabling transformation at Securian has three elements: strategy (how it creates value for customers); culture (environment in which it operates); and operating model (enabling teams to deliver value).

In terms of strategy, Securian has historically had siloed corporate strategies for its different business lines. In line with its new vision, it undertook its first enterprise-wide strategy to focus on better serving customers through new ideas and initiatives across all of the markets it operates. As it looked at developing new solutions, it realised that it did not have a team in place to incubate new ideas internally, which led to the formation of its first innovation lab. This new agile-operating team ended up creating a cloud-based digital engagement platform (aimme) to serve middle market customers through credit unions. By many measures, this new model was a failure, but by helping to accelerating new learnings and processes it delivered huge value to the rest of the organisation. Securian also began making its first venture investments in emerging companies in the InsurTech space. However, it made the decision to focus on just a couple themes to maintain a strategy alignment, looking for potential partners and pilots that would have a broader impact on the rest of the business.

The process to change the culture at Securian came right from the top, as the CEO worked with a diverse range of employees across the business in focus groups and workshops. This helped to figure out its strengths, weaknesses, and what was holding it back from transforming as an organisation. It also identified three key areas to activate culture change: debate, prioritise and experiment.

Experimentation ties most closely to innovation and agility, as it encourages employees to champion unconventional ideas. However, good experimentation requires a degree of discipline and the correct space, such as Securian’s first hackathon in 2019 and a partnership to create the Minnesota-based OnRamp Insurance Accelerator. By seeing how a start-up operates, which every day of its existence is an experiment, Securian employees were able to learn from these experiences of agility, leading to the first step of its cultural transformation.

The third element was Securian’s operating model. Organisational changes are occurring in the company, aligning teams by markets rather than product to help gain a deeper understanding of customers. More shared solutions are being embedded across the organisation to remove silos and encourage agile at scale.

Securian’s ongoing technology transformation is helping to simplify and modernise the organisation, ultimately accelerating its ability to deliver value to customers. But technology alone is not driving its agile transformation, but in combination with people, processes and structures to deliver experiences aligned to value. Those that initially worked in self-sufficient teams that fostered a culture of collaboration and now training the rest of the organisation on an agile mindset. Ultimately, driving transformation at Securian is an interdependent exercise of alignment and coordination of its strategy, operating model and culture.


Liz Carraro, Director, Digital Strategy + Partnerships, Securian Financial (USA)

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