There is no doubt that COVID-19 has fast tracked the digital transformation of businesses, which is why for many tech companies providing digital services, lockdown periods prove anything but quiet, with many businesses seeing strong growth. For example, we saw the enormous increases in Amazon’s share price, driven by online shopping and cloud services, or of Square’s SME payments offering as small businesses shifted quickly to digital.
For the insurance industry, a sharp shift to digitisation has been experienced, particularly as regards the distribution of insurance. McKinsey reports on an April 2020 survey of German insurance agents (conducted four weeks into lockdown) that found that about half of the agents saw a more than 40 percent decrease in new business, whilst online insurance aggregators and direct channels saw the complete opposite, with around a 40% increase in transactions.
Despite the positive steps during COVID for many digital businesses, accessing global markets remains crucial for growth, and with most borders shut, tactics have had to change. When thinking about international expansion, a natural place to start is a market visit to a desired territory and engagement in business development and learning activities. In the absence of the ability to travel, here are some of the ways that we at Open continue to progress our international objectives.
Open by name, open by nature with distributed teams across the world
At the moment our team of around 40 is split between Australia, New Zealand and Nepal. Breaking the notion that you need to be in one physical location allows us to access the best talent globally, and also allows flexibility for employees that may need to temporarily relocate to be with loved ones through COVID. We have employees from eight different nationalities currently working at Open which will help us move forward as we think about international expansion.
Across Australia and New Zealand, we have seen an influx of people coming home from other markets to seek refuge with their families during the pandemic. They bring with them a plethora of skills and talent that have been harnessed in international markets. For example the latest in digital marketing from London, or the best engineering techniques from the Bay Area. On top of looking abroad, this is also an excellent time to harness talent with new skills locally.
Maintaining a strong focus on our customers evolving needs
In most markets we have seen a sharp shift to online purchasing of insurance, as well as a desire to self-serve when it comes to customer service, and brokers, who may previously have been accustomed to selling insurance in person, leveraging digital tools. In approaching a new market, we always start with the customer. Understanding needs and expectations by market, surveying customers in local markets of interest and speaking with key stakeholders digitally. This allows us to assess whether we have instant product-market fit, or need to adapt.
Creating a remote only salesforce
With the current travel restrictions, the new norm to do international business development meetings online. Whilst face to face is a richer form of communication, Zoom and Google Meet are effective and less costly for early stage technology businesses. Saved travel spend can be reassigned to other areas of the business, such as product development, marketing or operations to name a few. In this unique moment, smaller companies have an opportunity to progress more quickly than ever before.
Adapting marketing strategies and participating in the content explosion
Something we’ve noticed is that content producers that are in lockdown produce a whole lot more. Tied to this social media use skyrocketed. Kantar in a recent survey, found that social media engagement increased by 61% over normal usage rates. A key element of our international approach in new markets through COVID has been adapting marketing strategies to focus on digital. For example, creating local content and participating in online conferences and events, as well as ensuring SEO and digital marketing is appropriate for markets of interest.
COVID has posed new challenges for us all, and accelerated changes in the insurance industry. Rather than looking inward and focusing on the market in which we reside, we believe there are great opportunities to address new customer needs in more agile and innovative ways around the world.