Insurance innovation: fostering a revolution with Ping An 26 October 2021

Jonathan Larsen, Chief Innovation Officer of Ping An Group/ Chairman & CEO of Ping An Global Voyager Fund, talks about the company’s “technology-first” mindset that urges every employee to be an entrepreneur.  

What makes your company truly innovative?

Ping An has a founder mentality, and the right leadership, culture, and mindset to drive continuous innovation within the organization.

Since its founding in 1988, Ping An has been growing at a ~25% CAGR. It started as a P&C insurer. Step by step, Ping An expanded its businesses to life insurance, asset management, banking, healthcare, and other sectors / industries. Today, Ping An operates 30+ direct subsidiaries that together serves 200 million+ individual customers and 600 million+ internet users in China. 

Ping An’s leadership is extremely focused on driving systematic innovation to meet the demands/competition of the future. For example: around 2008, Ping An’s founder and Chairman Peter Ma made a conscious decision to pivot Ping An into a technology-first company. One of the most significant results of that decision was for Ping An to become fully cloud-based. Almost none of its competitors globally have completed such a transformation. Moving to the cloud was a complicated and extensive initiative that involved overhauling existing systems, and building new platforms where necessary for every business that Ping An operated. However, Ping An benefited tremendously as every module of technology built in the process can be reused very easily anywhere else in the company.

Ping An also has a system that encourages and fosters employee entrepreneurialism and innovation at scale. Here, Ping An has an interesting model. We often set up separate businesses run semi-independently from Ping An’s core business. We bring in third party shareholders to provide an immediate external accountability and an immediate reference benchmark for value. We have dedicated management, some of whom are from within Ping An, and some from outside, and empower them as entrepreneurs. To align incentives, they would usually be required to buy stock in the company themselves at a very early stage and commit their own funds, and they would also typically be compensated with stock in the new venture.

What are the major goals and results obtained from your ongoing innovation strategy?

Ping An is constantly thinking about becoming a trendsetter that designs and executes next-generation businesses. After about 30 years of rapid development, we believe we are only at the beginning of the tremendous possibilities that we see for the future. Our goal is to cultivate an organization that will excel over the next 30 years. 

One result of our focus on being a technology-first organization is we now have a rich reservoir of productized technologies that can be easily reused across the organization. We also have 30K+ patent applications, 110K technology employees (including 3,700 scientists), 8 research institutes, and 57 laboratories partnered with top universities. These are invaluable resources for future innovations.

Examples of next-generation businesses created by Ping An include OneConnect, which exports the technology modules that Ping An has developed to other financial institutions. Today, OneConnect serves about 650+ banks and 100+ insurance companies in China. Another example is Ping An Good Doctor, which is the largest telemedicine platform in the world today, with over 400 million registered users.

How is a culture of innovation achieved across your company?

From a top-down perspective, Ping An has coined its “finance + technology” strategy in 2018. In our vision to further transform our businesses for the future, we placed a lot of emphasis on finding ways where technology could empower our core financial services. And Ping An has committed to spend at least 1 to 1.5% of its revenue on R&D every year.

I think for innovations within the company itself, we do have a good bottom-up culture as well. Frequently the best innovations, as you would expect, come from people that deal directly with clients and with pain points in the business themselves. Then we have central resources in areas where the company has said, look, this is going to be important. Visual AI would be one, natural language AI would be one, and conversational AI would be another. But what's more interesting is we are trying to embed technology into the product teams, so that if you're a senior manager, you actually have your own development resources and they're accessible to you and you can produce code and output instantaneously.

How does your company manage the overall innovation process?

Across different ventures at Ping An, the level of autonomy of the management team and the level of interaction with either top management or with other Ping An businesses can vary widely. It is quite a dynamic process. 

In driving innovative businesses, we need a lot of very fine iteration, a lot of course correction, a lot of adaptation, especially in respect to how the new model measures with existing businesses or ecosystems that we have. You have to have a managerial mindset that reflects that. 

Jonathan Larsen will speak at EfmaLIVE on Friday 3 December, a day dedicated to the new challenges in insurance industry. Watch the program and register

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