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June 6, 2016

From Bangalore to Paris: Journey to the heart of AXA innovation

After the briefest of introductions, Paul-Henri Chabrol plugs his iPhone into the overhead projector of the meeting room. AXA's Well-Be homepage appears on the screen. “Here is the app I'm developing,” begins the young engineer who specialises in health issues. “We are going to test it first in Luxemburg.” This new tool aims to become the Spotify of well-being. A social network to find ideas for activities and the motivation to complete them. The app's creator goes on to explain the philosophy behind the project. “If you have a healthy lifestyle, you spend less on medicine.” His guest, Hemant Marriya is duly impressed: “I love hiking; I'll be using your app as soon as it is available.”

This young AXA manager from India, winner of the “Picture our 30” internal competition, is completing a four-day trip to Paris at Digital Agency in order to get acquainted with the Group's innovations. His stay has showed him the importance of the latter but the young man feels right at home. His work in Bangalore, at the heart of the Indian Silicon Valley, revolves in great part around new technologies. This AXA Business Service collaborator heads a team of twenty people, who process six hundred reimbursement claims every day, for British policy holders.

"I got the idea for a navigation instrument when I thought back on my military training at university; the importance of being thorough and staying the course. That's exactly what our clients demand from us!”

Target: Fintech

After a guided tour of the Avenue Matignon head office, Hemant is headed for Paris's 13th arrondissement to visit AXA Strategic Ventures, one of the group's partners who invest in Insurtech. Their general manager, Minh Q. Tran, shows him around: “We're standing next to a breeding ground for a thousand start-ups, which will open in 2017,” he explains, as they look out the window onto a neighbourhood in the midst of change. “We will open offices here for some of our portfolio's companies.” In the meantime, the latter are scattered around Paris.

Minh Q Tran, General Partner, Axa Strategic Ventures

After having lived in half a dozen countries, he settled in Paris. “I wanted to open our Fund here, right across from this gigantic business incubator, which will open in 2017,” he explains from his 13th arrondissement office. For the past two years, this Insead graduate has been acquiring holdings with fintech (new technologies applied to finance) start-ups on AXA's behalf. He already has seven in his portfolio. “I did the same thing for communication and telephone groups when they were switching over to digital,” he smiles, “now, it's the insurance business's turn.” Minh Q. Tran is also an accomplished golfer (handicap 18) and a black belt at karate.

The headquarters of the website, for example, are close to the Champs-Elysées. Hemant heads there the next day to meet with its founder, Loïc Galvier, an ENS Lyon graduate, who used to work for AXA. The place is full of geeks in blue jeans and sweaters. This is a rare sight in a neighbourhood, where suits and ties are more the norm. In the entrance hall, visitors are faced with a plant wall and have to go through the foosball table room to get to the meeting room.

- “Our platform helps first-time buyers deal with the countless administrative routines you have to go through to buy property, Loïc says. We've already recorded 50 000 users.”
- “This service could work in my country, Hemant says, all the more so, since we have an added source of stress, when we buy real estate. Choosing the right developer.”
In India, the quality of a building is often more important than its location. The investment value of real estate varies greatly, depending on the strength of building materials used and the quality of workmanship involved.

Meeting in the «garage»

It's 12:00. It's time to go to the next appointment in Suresnes, near Paris' business area. Hemant is invited to lunch with Philippe Marie-Jeanne, the boss of Data Innovation Lab, who works as Chief Data Officer at AXA. This department, which employs sixty people was created two years ago and was directly attached to AXA's head of operations. They help AXA entities develop their Big Data projects in order to optimise the Group's data value. Philipp explains: “At AXA, we're convinced Big Data is a unique opportunity for our profession, our clients and society. Data Innovation Lab was conceived as a data science and Big Data expertise center to research ways of using data to establish a better understanding with our clients, improve the efficiency of our services and develop new offers, while ensuring data security and confidentiality.”

Hemant is then led to the so called “garage,” named in honor of the one where Hewlett-Packard was created and which stands as a symbol of Silicon Valley's spirit of innovation. At DIL, the average age is 32 and the atmosphere is quite relaxed. A whole series of introductions follows. Hemant's eyes are drawn to a bank of screens in one of the open spaces. They feature a map of the world and different control panels. This is the interface that enables you to visualise the group's telematics, which use the platform that DIL developed. How does it work? Based on the information collected, AXA allows drivers to judge their performance objectively and improve their attitudes. “A user can also benefit from lower rates, depending on his liability,” Tatjana Radakovic, one of the lab's collaborators, explains. Good drivers can obtain major discounts on their premiums so it's a win-win situation.”

Tatjana Radakovic, Project Management Officer, AXA Data Innovation Lab

It's called the pioneering spirit. “I was the second woman hired within Data Innovation Lab,” the program manager, a specialist in agile methodology, explains. “When you run a project, using agile methods, you must respect certain basic principles like working with a small multidisciplinary team, having stand-up meetings and working with the target-users from the very start of the project. It might not seem that way, but it requires a lot of discipline.”
She studied applied mathematics in Zagreb and Paris before working for a software company and joining AXA. “I was a bit afraid I might not find working for an insurance company very stimulating,” she admits. “But I was completely mistaken. The projects here are very innovative and my colleagues are unbelievable.”

Tatjana looks at her watch and apologises, “I have to leave. I'm catching a plane this evening.” To Singapore. She goes there regularly in order to prepare the opening of AXA DIL@Asia, an extension of Data Innovation Lab, which will focus on data projects within Axa Groupe's Asian entities.

Fish & Tips

The next day is the last segment of Hemant's voyage of exploration. He is going to Digital Agency, where forty digital enthusiasts spend their days, imagining and developing apps for different entities within the Group, just two steps away from AXA headquarters. This is where Paul-Henri Chabrol, the creator of “Well-Be by AXA” works. “Half the team works here. The other half is in Barcelona. That's where the developers finalise projects and enter the lines of code.”

Paul-Henri Chabrol, Digital Agency Manager, Group Marketing & Distribution

The creator of "Well Be" has already changed positions three times within AXA. Since he entered the company in 2009 at the age of 27, this INP Grenoble engineer set up a small team of software engineers at AXA Life Invest in Dublin before collaborating on the strategic development pole for the Vie et Epargne division in Paris. He now creates apps with Digital Agency. “I feel like I'm transforming the company, it's exciting,” the Bob Dylan fan says. With a very successful career within the group thanks to the international mobility program the group offers, Paul-Henri is happy: “I was offered a great opportunity.”

Among the various innovations Hemant was shown, there is an early warning system for smartphones that goes off after prolonged lack of movement, which is currently being tested on a hundred Japanese senior AXA clients. Also, MY AXA, the mobile contact-point for AXA and its clients.

My AXA, the application that keeps your insurance in your pocket

Developed by the Digital Agency, My AXA was born out of AXA’s desire to offer services in line with its customers’ real needs. Customers were directly involved throughout the development and evaluation process. The app, available on iOS and Android, provides free access from their smartphone to all accounts and contracts, along with services such as automatic support in case of breakdown (through geolocation), or real-time estimations of reimbursements.

“Hemant, can we tempt you with our weekly «fish and tips»?” Yves Casseau, the director asks, indicating the kitchen at the other end of the open space. The staff's all there, sitting on sofas with plates of sushi on their laps, listening to five minute keynotes prepared by colleagues on current topics from the web. Today's talks focus on “blockchain” technology, a protection against data falsification. AXA has just acquired shares with the area's leader, American company, Blockstream. Hemant takes notes. “This tool is a powerful weapon against fraud. This is essential in my job. To remain competitive in this field, you must keep abreast of all new technological advancement. But if you want to be number one, you have to set the standard, be the first to offer the transformations the market expects. You have to be a trailblazer.”

Before taking leave of his hosts, Hemant pulls small bags of incense and cakes of sandalwood soap from his bag: “these are typical Indian presents,” he explains. “The quest for innovation and respect for ageless traditions aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.”

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