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The future of digital trading and distribution

(Re)thinking Insurance: Season 3 Episode 14

October 30, 2023

Charlie Samolczyk is joined by Louise Smith and Taffy Jo Mayers for the next instalment of Talking Technology.
Insurance Consulting and Technology

In this episode of Talking Tech, part of the Rethinking Insurance podcast, our host Charlie Samolczyk is joined by Louise Smith and Taffy Jo Mayers to discuss the future of digital trading and distribution.

The future of digital trading and distribution

Transcript for this episode:

The future of digital trading and distribution

LOU SMITH: What automation of digital and data has been able to do is power conversations.

SPEAKER: You're listening to (Re)thinking Insurance, a podcast series from WTW, where we discuss the issues facing P&C, life, and composite insurers around the globe, as well as exploring the latest tools, techniques, and innovations that will help you rethink insurance.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: Hello, and welcome to Talking Technology. I'm your host Charlie Samolczyk, and in Talking Technology, we explore the wide range of technology issues facing insurers, from AI and data science, through to open source solutions and cybersecurity. And we look at how we are helping our clients to tackle these issues.

In today's episode, we will be discussing the future of digital trading and distribution. And I am really pleased to be joined today by two of my colleagues, Taffy Jo Mayers, who leads our global commercial lines proposition. Welcome, Taffy Jo.


CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: And Lou Smith, who is our global digital leader and who heads up our digital trading platform Neuron, which is getting a lot of buzz at the moment. So, thank you both for joining, and welcome, Lou.

LOU SMITH: Thank you. Great to be here.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: Both of you guys have really interesting backgrounds. And I see you both as strategic innovative thought leaders within the insurance space. And perhaps as a bit of an icebreaker… my question to you both is, is this what you always wanted to do? And if it was, congratulations, because that's a lot of planning. But if it wasn't, if you could have a time machine and you go back to ‘you’re a person when you were eight years old’ and I asked you that question “what do you want to be when you grow up” how would you answer that? And maybe Taffy Jo, I'll start with you.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: Well, I did not dream as a little girl, I didn't grow up and dream about growing up and being in the insurance industry. I did, however, study risk management insurance at the university level. And really because I took one class to fill my obligations to be a full-time student, fell in love with the concept of risk management. And it has been a wonderful career.

And as I talk to friends and family now about it, they're like, this is what you were meant to do. For your entire life, you were identifying risk and ways around it. So, congratulations, you found your way. But no, growing up, this was not my aspiration. My aspiration, in fact, was actually to be in government.


LOU SMITH: Never heard that before, Taffy Jo.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: It's a long story, Lou. We'll talk about that in our next catchup!

LOU SMITH: Yeah. Well, I was never going to be Beyonce, because I can't sing. which was always going to be a problem. I always wanted to, when I was growing up, I always had this passion for doing a couple of things, whether that was writing or doing something massively creative, actually. I love to draw I love to paint. So a big part of me was like, could I do something that was more in the creative or art type? So that was always where I was drawn to as I was growing up. But my mom said that I wasn't good enough, which was true! So that was where my original passions were.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: But I mean, in a way, you're in a creative space now though, right?

LOU SMITH: Exactly.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: It does lend itself to that. It might not be watercolours, but yeah.

LOU SMITH: Exactly.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: Awesome. Well, so let's jump into the topic. So, thinking about digital trading distribution. What's the opportunity that's in front of us and what do you think the prize is that's out there? I'll open it up whoever wants to respond.

LOU SMITH: Shall I kick off, Taffy Jo?

TAFFY JO MAYERS: Absolutely.

LOU SMITH: So let me start with what our baseline position is. We have a market. And I say that in its global sense, not just the ‘London market’. We have a market that's built on relationships, that's built on a set of networks or ecosystems or various types of skill sets that most industries would actually kill for. It's incredible, the amount that we actually have here.

And don't forget… if you look at history of financial services, most business models have been disrupted by those connected marketplace ecosystems we already have a ready-made one which I think makes this really exciting. We have incredible relationships that have been built over years, those relationships are trusted and all of those things make this such an exciting area when I step back from it. What the opportunity is, is how do we make the things that don't work today better to power those relationships?

So, this isn't about replacing them, which I think is probably one of the biggest myths because people go, ‘well automation could never take on the role of a person’. Of course it can't. It's not done that in any part of industry at the moment. What automation and digital and data has been able to do is power conversations. If you combine that with people - skilled and trusted people, it becomes a really interesting proposition or way forward. So, for me, the exciting thing about this is, is how do we use technology that has advanced so much over recent years at a lower cost that enables us to connect in better ways and faster ways?

If we then take data and we create pathways for that data, we can start to standardize data so we make it more predictable. We can actually improve the quality of data so we have less *inaudible*. We can bring transparency to that so that we understand how decisions are made or if we want to drive decisions. We can look at portfolios in different ways so that we can see ;how do we actually drive our businesses better or more quickly’, so how do we respond to things because we have data at the touch of a button now where we can say, well, actually, how do I respond to these events now in our environment. How do I change rule sets because things have happened?

How do I look at what if scenarios? How do I compare benchmarks with what somebody else might be doing in another part of the industry or even in other industries that make them successful? So, for me, when I think about, and I've been working in the space for the best part of 30 years, having delivered propositions that we all use, like internet banking or mobile banking. We never realized we needed those things.

What it’s been able to do is drive transparency, help us understand things differently. Where our money goes. Help us deliver better for a customer - because we have that data to hand.

So, when I look at how great market our is, I can only see that digital and data will power that relationship in a way that we've yet to understand the opportunity that that will bring. If you then extend that further, we have the opportunity to look at how we then match capital and risk better. How we actually go into new segments potentially or new geographies. How we understand those growing risk areas in a way that they will grow, particularly when we think about cyber that is changing nature all the time, even fraud - how that operates today.

And then obviously when we talk about ESG, which we focus on the ‘E’ bit. But there is a really big ‘S’ and a ‘G’ - how do we think about those areas? And that for me is when I think about the London market and the global market. The opportunity by using digital and data and technology to be able to power those conversations and those business models, I think the opportunity is huge. And I think it's about starting, not thinking about what's that whole thing. Otherwise, it just becomes too big for anybody to get their head around.

But it's about starting and just continuously iterating and moving forward. And as we start to evolve, we'll see where we can actually also take advantage of other things as those things come up. So I think for me, the thing I see so different here, yes, there's fragmentation in the data and how they get connected and how technologies work together and how things connect in simple ways, but the starting point is a great networked community that actually was driven by relationships - and that can only be a good thing. Taffy Jo, I don’t know if you have a different view? You probably don't, because you're smiling.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: No, I really don't-- I mean, I think you guys know I will say I'm a self-proclaimed insurance nerd and underwriter's underwriter, right? And so as I look through my 30 years in this industry and the stops and starts along the way of what we've been trying to accomplish. There's always someone who wants to throw up a, ‘we can't do this because…’, right?

Well, this is a people business. To your point, Lou, of course it's a people business. It's a relationship business, right? So whether you're talking about individuals assets or you're talking about a small business or a big multinational - at the end of the day, you're talking about the risk that impacts the finances, the economy, the lives of people. And so you need to have the wise counsel and the trusted relationships.

The problem has become there's so much data in this industry, it's being able to liberate that data, being able to put the data together in a way that it is sensical and make good risk decisions and become risk informed, right, in order to be risk aware to match the risk and the capital. To find those really, I would say, more sophisticated solutions that we need today and in the future. You need the people to think through that. But that means you've got to take away the mundane task and take the noise out of gathering all of the data and connecting.

You’ve also got to take away these artificial walls that prevent the entirety of the value chain from being connected and trusting each other. So, you've got a customer that's sitting out here that is looking to the brokerage community and the underwriting or the carrier community to solve their problems. But, if we can't get the brokers and the carriers more closely aligned, that customer is the one that loses.

So at the end of the day, it's a customer issue we've got to solve. We're making sure our customers are protected and that they understand the risks that they're facing, they're protected from those risks and that it's at the right speed and at the right cost. The only way to do that is to increase the speed of trust, and you do that by making the people smarter with the data that they have in front of them and utilizing the data in a more efficient and effective way.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: Taffy Jo, I know your area of the business. You're investing a lot in the technology that will drive a lot of this. Same with you, Lou. So I just maybe in your minds, what's the role WTW can play in this? There's certainly lots of excitement and buzz around some of the stuff that we're doing. But it'd be good to get your perspective on how we fit into the landscape.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: I mean, my perspective is first and foremost, why not WTW? It would be crazy for us not to solve for this given our position in the risk world and understanding that we are one of the top three intermediaries in the world. We have some of the best and the brightest risk professionals in the world. As a result, we have a ton of data, global data, that spans all industries, all lines of business, all risk.

We also have a very strong history of understanding the risk and the capital needs associated with that from our consulting business. So, bringing those two things together and building upon our rich foundation of expertise, I don't think there's anybody better to build these technologies. You've got a lot of startups in the world that are looking at point solutions and they're identifying those solutions that may be good for a subset of the risk world, but when we take a look at it and we spread it out, we can produce holistic solutions across the value chain and meet our carrier partners, our buyers and our clients - the insurance buyers, where they are in their journey to transform and help them become more sophisticated as they understand the data, as they use the risk analytics tools.

So, again, I come back and say, who better? Why not us? We can build broker tools because we know the broker way. We can build the underwriting tools because we understand commercial insurance. We can build the pricing tools that they need. Now we can connect, right? We've got the underwriting, we’ve got the broking. Now we connect. And again, we increase that speed of trust, because we know both sides of the transaction.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: And, Lou maybe going back to the 8-year-old Lou Smith who would have been drawing in her sketch pad. What have you now drawn on the whiteboard, if you will? Right, what's the proposition that you're putting together?

LOU SMITH: Yeah, sure.


LOU SMITH: Yeah, let me just build on what Taffy Jo, said because I've been-- I didn't realize when I started doing this stuff that we called it digital transformation or we called it innovation - We didn't call it anything. As I said, what we started to see when I was in the retail banks when we hadn’t even thought of a digital channel. We thought about, ‘OK, we're starting to see customers want to access transactions whilst they're on the move.’

And you start to think about that, and you start to think about that mobile proposition. Or they want to access those transactions from home. And that's why we started to think about internet banks where we used to run across our living room and we used to plug it in as a dial-up when we had our computers at home. So in terms of two things.

When I think about insurance now and I talked about already why the market is so primed for this and the opportunity we have. From a WTW perspective I think about these things in three ways. As I've said, I've been doing this about 30 years and the only reason why I think about it in three ways is because I've got a lot of learns where I haven't thought about it in three ways. And actually, if think about our business model in WTW, we have great brokerage, which Taffy Jo has already talked about. But we also have world class consulting. World class consulting that our deep insurance experts, like Taffy Jo, who has been the underwriter, who understands what underwriting is and has done that day in and day out.

We have technologists in our business that have been doing pricing and have been doing analytical type of capabilities for insurers for years. So actually when you start to think about our business model and you start to think about those three things, that leads you to culture, the skills, the talents, the experience and the capability to do it. And I joined WTW a couple years ago. And there are some incredible people here with that deep experience but also that deep passion.

And that culture, I think, is so important. Because let's face it. Culture trumps strategy any day of the week. And for me, that deep culture of wanting to continuously evolve this industry so that it stays relevant, and it stays fit for purpose as all of those things change and as our environment change, is not-- it's something you feel, and I feel it here. You then think about transformation. That execution focus. That, ‘how do we constantly deliver’? ‘How do we test new concepts?’ Rather than talk about them, but get off paper, test the concept, experiment, move, constantly iterate. So when I think about that triangulation of how these types of things work, I see it all in WTW.

Now let's face it. Every single organization has had digital transformations or a banner of them where they've not worked. We all have. Let's face it, we've all had that. And it isn't about, ‘well actually, we've done it before and it didn't work’, it's about, ‘what have we learned’, and ‘how do we move forward’? And I hear that. I see that all the time –‘the last time I saw that, this is what I learned.’

And that's really important, because so much of this stuff is changing. Each expert is two or three seconds ahead of the next one. And I think that's really important as you start to address this is, not about having all of the answers, not about having all of the steps. But what are those first two or three steps(?) and having the courage to take those first two or three steps?

And that's why I think this organization is so powerful to partner with to be able to do that. And then in terms of what that leads me to is the things that we're looking at. We're looking at addressing those. How do you create connectedness?

So, Neuron in its very, very simple terms is actually a big adapter that sits in the middle of relationships -so the broker and the insurer, which enables a data pathway between those people, those relationships, to enable data to be moved to and from transparently that enables us to actually move that data immediately and quickly so that we can act and we can make decisions on. So that's absolutely critical.

It also allows us to connect to other things over time. How do we think about how that data could help us make decisioning and how could we actively drive our portfolios? So, Neuron is essentially a very simple adapter that enables us to create data pathways to brokers and to insurers. Taffy Jo, I don't know whether you want to add to that? You are a passionate architect and designer of the Neuron digital trading service. But it is all about data.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: What I would say, Lou, is this is a great confirmation of the partnership that you and I have embarked upon over the last 12 months. Hearing you articulate some of the things that I don't think I would have heard a year ago does provide that picture for how when different people from different backgrounds come together to solve real problems and think through that creatively, we can. We can overcome some of those people and those cultural issues about, ‘well, we've done that before, we can't do it again’ and ‘let's try it this way, because this is what I learned’.

It's not just about automation, right? It's not just about cutting the expenses. It is about creating greater agility and greater granularity. And being able to do that interpreting, what one side sees versus what the other side sees, and making that connection. So again, I think from what we're attempting to do, whether it's on the brokerage side, the consulting side, or our technology propositions, is bringing those ideas together.

And understanding that it's a people first business. All change starts with the culture, whether it's the culture of the industry, the culture of the firm, or both, and bringing those ideas together.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: This feels like a genuinely meaningful and impactful kind of journey to take. It's been a pleasure speaking with you. Maybe one final question. And in a line, if you can. That might be a challenge. But what would your call to action to the industry be?

LOU SMITH: Mine's really simple. Start. And that means that-- and I genuinely mean that. These are difficult things, and you don't have all of the answers. Nobody ever does. Things are changing and moving so quickly. Technology's changing and moving so quickly. But this is about the courage to start.

And as you start, learn and continually iterate. And those things then start to build. But this is about and most successful digital executions, data executions. All of that type of thing is starting and learning. And the agility, as Taffy Jo talked about, and the desire to move and iterate as you go. But it's just ‘start’.

TAFFY JO MAYERS: And I would say, yeah, along the same lines, do something. It's not OK to wait. It's not OK to think that it's the problems are going to solve themselves. Or that we as an industry can continue to be immune from what's happening in the rest of the world with digital and data and technology. So, the way business is executed today, the expectation is to have that experience in every aspect of life. So just do something and get on with it. And preserve the richness and the goodness of what this industry brings to our world by understanding more and more every day how to do that in a more consistent and a more real time fashion.

CHARLIE SAMOLCZYK: Really insightful. Pleasure speaking with both of you. Thank you for taking the time. We can end it there. What a great episode and thank you very much.


LOU SMITH: Thanks, Charlie.

SPEAKER: Thank you for joining us for this WTW podcast featuring the latest perspectives on the intersection of people, capital, and risk. For more information, visit the Insights section of

Podcast host

Charlie Samolczyk
Charlie Samolczyk
Global Technology Sales Leader

For over a decade, Charlie has provided transformational insurance solutions with specific focus on automation, cost reduction, internal efficiency, system integration, legacy system modernisation and distribution channel connectivity. Charlie is acutely focussed on ensuring our solutions and services exceed client expectations.

Podcast guests

Louise Smith
Louise Smith
Global Leader of Neuron Digital Trading

Lou joined WTW at the end of 2021 and is our Global Business Leader for Digital Trading at WTW. Lou has spent her entire career shaping the future of an ever-evolving Financial Services industry through digital, data and critically culture. She has been recognised as one of the Top 100 UK leaders in Digital and Top 100 FinTech Leaders globally.

Taffy Jo Mayers
Taffy Jo Mayers
Global Proposition Lead for Commercial and Specialty P&C Insurance

Taffy jo joined WTW Insurance Consulting and Technology (ICT) in July 2022. She is responsible for driving WTW’s increased focus on growth across all aspects of product, pricing, claims, underwriting for commercial and specialty P&C carriers from a software and consulting perspective as well as leading the commercial efforts for Neuron.

Taffy Jo is a recipient of the NAFE (National Association of Female Executives) Women of Excellence Award and recognized for her leadership in developing public and private partnerships to support economic empowerment and advocacy for equity and inclusion.

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