Chalk this up as an impressive display of same-day service.
Wawanesa Insurance cut the ribbon on its new Innovation Outpost at Communitech on Wednesday and simultaneously announced a partnership with a local startup, ProNavigator – leveraging a new, local relationship with a smaller, nimble, tech-based company to generate change in a business built on decades of tradition.
Wawanesa, founded in 1896 and based in Winnipeg, has CDN$3-billion in annual revenue and assets of more than CDN$9 billion. Its Communitech outpost is tasked with helping the company continue its technological transformation.
“Our challenge is, how do we enable that digital flow for our customers,” said Wawanesa Vice-President Al McLeod, “ to make insurance less of a paper-based industry?”
The company’s partnership with ProNavigator, a 14-person company founded in 2016 and based at the Tannery, is centred on a product that will connect Wawanesa’s customers via interactive voice technology with brokers when they want a quote on auto and home insurance. The Excalibur Insurance Group brokerage is also part of the project.
“Consumers get value, speed and convenience,” said ProNavigator CEO Joseph D’Souza.
That Wawanesa was able to cement a partnership so quickly is perhaps testimony to it already being established on a road to transformation: Wawanesa supports a robust innovation lab in Winnipeg that opened in January of 2017. That lab, 4,000 square feet and staffed with 12-14 employees, will work closely with its new, five-person Waterloo Region cousin. The labs are using Amazon’s Echo voice technology as a bridge between the two facilities.
“The key for us is making the transition to a fully digital experience,” said David Arbuthnot, who will run the Communitech outpost.
“We want to change that 5,000-person culture into a 5,000-person startup. We want to drive those cultural changes through the organization so [Wawanesa employees] can go back and innovate in their business groups. We don’t want to be an ivory tower. We want to be open and transparent about what we’re doing and give people the tools to innovate in their day jobs.”
McLeod said Wawanesa was drawn to Waterloo Region by the quality of the available programs, the people and the proximity of other enterprise companies, as well as the region’s established startup ecosystem.
“I saw so many intelligent things here that made me think this place gets it,” he said.
McLeod said the company is determined to remove the layers and the paper that stand between a potential customer and the company’s products, and to better connect with its brokers and help them service their customers.
“It’s about customer experience. The challenge is having a digital experience for customers.
Left to right, David Arbuthnot, Director of the Wawanesa Innovation Outpost at Communitech; Al McLeod, Wawanesa Vice-President of Innovation; and Joseph D’Souza, CEO of ProNavigator. (Communitech photo: Sara Jalali)